The review times for most journals in our field are ridiculous. Check out Figure 1 here. A careful review takes time, but not six months. Let’s be honest, those papers are sitting on desks for the great majority of those six months. But here is what really kills me: waiting six months for a review basically saying the paper is not of sufficient interest to the readership of the journal. That decision you can come to in half a day. If you don’t have time, don’t accept the responsibility to review a paper.
I like sharing my work with my statistician colleagues, but the Biology journals never do this to me. When my paper is not of sufficient interest, these journals reject me in days not months. I sometimes work on topics that are fast pace and many of my competitors are not statisticians. If I have to wait six months for each rejection, I can’t compete. By the time the top three applied statistics journals reject the paper, more than a year goes by and the paper is no longer novel. Meanwhile I can go through Nature Methods, Genome Research, and Bioinformatics in less than 3 months.
Nick Jewell once shared an idea that I really liked. It goes something like this. Journals in our field will accept every paper that is correct. The editorial board, with the help of referees, assigns each paper into one of five categories A, B, C, D, E based on novelty, importance, etc… If you don’t like the category you are assigned, you can try your luck elsewhere. But before you go, note that the paper’s category can improve after publication based on readership feedback. While we wait for this idea to get implemented, I please ask that if you get one of my papers and you don’t like it, reject it quickly. You can write this review: “This paper rubbed me the wrong way and I heard you like being rejected fast so that’s all I am going to say.” Your comments and critiques are valuable, but not worth the six month wait.
ps - I have to admit that the newer journals have not been bad to me in this regard. Unfortunately, for the sake of my students/postdocs going into the job market and my untenured jr colleagues, I feel I have to try the established top journals first as they still impress more on a CV.