Paper submitted to Axios Review

A few months ago, my colleagues and I submitted to Fish and Fisheries a manuscript on the trade-offs between complexity and accuracy in random-effects models of body growth.

The paper was rejected mostly on the basis of lack of fit (i.e. the topic was only marginally interesting for the journal's readership). One Reviewer found the paper interesting and valuable, and recommended the submission of the manuscript to a more general journal, such as Ecology or Oikos. The other Reviewer commented on some unclear technical aspects of the work (the review was quite detailed and the recommendations/suggestions/critiques were valuable, thanks anonymous Reviewer).

I believe the paper should be of interest for a large audience of biologists, ecologists, computational scientists/statisticians. The main motivation of the paper is quite simple and very general: "We often face trade-offs between model complexity, biological interpretability of parameters, and goodness of fit." Then, with reference to models of growth: "Depending on formulation, parameters of some growth models may or may not be biologically interpretable. For instance the parameters of the widely used von Bertalanffy growth function (von Bertalanffy 1957) to model growth of fish may be considered either curve fitting parameters with no biological interpretation (i.e. providing phenomenological description of growth) or parameters that describe how anabolic and catabolic processes govern the growth of the organism (i.e. mechanistic description); see Mangel (2006). The classic von Bertalanffy growth function has 3 parameters: asymptotic size, growth coefficient, and theoretical age at which size is equal to 0. In the original mechanistic formulation of von Bertalanffy, asymptotic size results from the relationship between environmental conditions and behavioral traits and the growth coefficient is closely related to metabolic rates and behavioral traits (i.e. the same physiological processes affects both growth and asymptotic size). However, in the literature asymptotic size and growth rate are commonly treated as independent parameters with no connection to physiological functions, thus offering just a phenomenological description of growth."

However, I understand Editors may not fully grasp the relevance of the paper for their journal. For instance, the manuscript was previously submitted to another journal, but the Editor wrote: "I feel that the work is too specialised, as relatively few researcher work on growth curves". I might disagree on the claim that few researchers work on growth curves. I am sure that lots of scientists use growth models in their work, but I might agree on the number of people working on the development of growth models or methods for the estimation of growth model parameters (it is also quite hard).

My colleagues and I (my idea, my colleagues agreed) decided to submit the manuscript to Axios Review, a new service that should help authors publish their papers in higher profile journals. This is how it works: "Axios Review solves this problem by putting papers through rigorous external peer review and then referring them to the appropriate journal. When a journal asks the authors to revise and submit, the journal has effectively said that: i) the paper is within their scope, ii) that it is not fatally flawed, and iii) that it could be published in their journal. The Axios Review process effectively eliminates rejections on the grounds of novelty and significantly reduces the chances of rejection on quality. It’s similar to getting a ‘reject, encourage resubmission’ decision from the journal itself; for comparison, about 75% of resubmissions to top tier evolution journals get accepted. Authors submitting to Axios Review can have the reviewers comment on the suitability of their paper for any journal they choose, allowing them to aim for a high profile journal without the effort of formally submitting."

I submitted the manuscript to Axios Review a couple of days ago (target journals following an order that may or may not be the one I chose: Oikos, Ecology, Journal of Theoretical Biology, Ecological Applications). So far, communication with the Editorial staff has been excellent.

I did not upload the manuscript on arxiv or bioRxiv (I don't know where the manuscript will end up and thus which policy related to uploading of pre-print should I follow), please send an email if you'd like to read a pre-print.