Leave it to our colleagues in economics to find an efficient way to speed up the journal review and publication process. Inside Higher Ed reports that authors whose papers are rejected by the American Economic Review, one of that discipline's most prominent journals, can opt to have the referee reports forwarded to one of four other journals published by the American Economics Association. The second journal can then use those reports (augmented in some cases by referee reports it solicits) to make a relatively quick publication decision.
The advantages of this are obvious: The publication process takes less time, since the second journal starts its editorial process with reports in hand. It might also help to address the problem of journals finding willing and competent referees. If referee R1 already reviewed a paper for the first-choice journal, then the second-choice journal can rely on R1's report rather than spending time identifying new referees. This might be especially useful for papers on highly specialized topics where the pool of appropriate referees is likely to be small. The process is also entirely voluntary and transparent.
I have to say that I'm attracted to this option. For one thing, I've had several experiences where I had a paper rejected by a highly regarded journal either as a 'close call' or for reasons such as that the journal had recently published a paper on the same topic or because the paper didn''t exactly fit the journal's mission or scope. In those cases, the positive reports I received from the highly regarded journal wouldn't just disappear. They would serve to increase my chances at a less well regarded journal. And it would feel less as if each submission amounts to starting over with a whole new set of referees who may or may not perceive the paper as the previous referee(s) did.
There are some clear challenges in adopting this model in philosophy. Economics journals are more centralized, with the AEA journals playing a more central role in the discipline. Perhaps one of the large publishers, Springer or Brill, say, could try this out. But many of the most important philosophy journals are at university presses that, in many cases, publish few if any other philosophy journals. For example, in order for the Philosophical Review to take part in such an arrangement, it would have to reach an understanding with some other journal at another press.
The other challenge is, well, ego. Implementing this approach would require acknowledging hierarchies of prestige or quality amongst journals, and that may be something journal editors may be loathe to do. I'm not knocking Utilitas when I say that I'd rather publish a paper in Ethics than in Utilitas. But that sort of fact may be too hard for many to publicly countenance.
What do others think of the review process the economists are trying out? Are there other problems or advantages I didn't mention?