Friday, February 02, 2007

Publication Perplexities

A manuscript just came back from review:

Reviewer #1 says: interesting and important paper, publish with minor revisions

Reviewer #2 says: interesting and important paper, publish with moderate revisions

Reviewer #3 says: reject! "Table 1 is flawed because it is incomplete and does not follow the conventions for this type of data so I can't believe anything else in this paper."

Reviewer #3's further comments are strange and a bit patronizing. I have never met this particular European gentleman, so I don't know if he tends to write rude, flawed reviews like this or if he has some reason for loathing my manuscript in particular.

The Editor says: You should revise and resubmit and fix your deeply flawed data table, and also please rethink your interpretations because I think the most likely explanation for your data is that there are swarms of tiny purple kangaroos living on the moons of Jupiter.

OK, so I made that last part up, but what the editor really wrote makes just as much sense.

The first thing I did was stare at Table 1 to see what Reviewer #3 was talking about -- had I left something out, screwed up the column headings, or what? I couldn't see anything wrong with it. I downloaded some of Reviewer #3's papers that have similar data tabulated. Our tables are identical! I can see no difference in the table format. Another comment he made is that we didn't do enough analyses, but the numbers in our data table were based on even more analyses than his; this information is clearly provided in the table in the standard format. Bizarre. What was the reviewer thinking? It is also unfortunate that the editor couldn't evaluate this criticism himself. Under normal circumstances, I would just deal with the Reviewer #3 situation in a cover letter to the editor with my resubmission.

But here's the thing: it took a year to get this manuscript back, and the editor's comments suggest that he may be insane. If I'd gotten the ms back quickly with the same reviews, I probably wouldn't have minded so much, but if I send it back, do I wait another year before I hear the decision about it?

So I am trying to decide: resubmit to that same journal or cut my losses in terms of time and send it elsewhere and start over? I am sure the paper would be published eventually in that journal, but I am nevertheless inclined to do the latter. I just sent a revised manuscript to my co-authors to get their opinions.

I should say that I chose the journal, one in which I have not previously published, because it has a wide audience in Europe. It isn't as highly ranked as the one I will send it to now if my co-authors agree, but a lot of my European colleagues publish in that journal and some of them have asked me why North Americans seldom submit papers to this journal. I don't know the general answer to that question, but I know why I am not going to race to send anything to that journal again.

A year is much too long for a review process. I have two others papers in review since last summer, and another paper that has been in press for 3 years. This makes me very hyper, and would be excruciating if I were at an earlier stage of my career.

Editors and reviewers are volunteers, and provide their time and insight as a professional service to the community, so although I am very critical of these particular people, in general I appreciate their efforts.


Male Humanities Professor said...

Very interesting. My gut feeling is also that you should cut losses and go to another journal.
I'm in the humanities, and the journal dynamics must be very different. Still, on two occasions I've gotten rejections that included one referee who made completely bizarre comments. The first time I was junior and did the prudent thing: I sent the paper to a different journal. The second time I was senior. I wrote to the editor pointing out that the main criticism betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of methodology. And he agreed! (And published the paper.) That was gratifying.

But it sounds like the editor of your journal is either unqualified or spineless (I couldn't tell which).

Ianqui said...

A year is much too long for a review process. I have two others papers in review since last summer, and another paper that has been in press for 3 years. This makes me very hyper, and would be excruciating if I were at an earlier stage of my career.

Yeah, seriously. And every time one of my papers takes a year to come back, I wonder if these people are especially trying to prevent me from getting tenure.

Laura said...

A *year*?!? Goodness, one of our papers was out for review for 2 months recently, and we were pretty miffed.

Mr. B. said...


In for a dime, in for a dollar. We will push the peanut up the hill with our nose if that is what it takes - what I tell my students.

I would revise, carefully addressing any comments and justfying why you have not changed whatever you think should not be changed.

Once this little matter has been taken care of, don't ever send another paper to the journal in question and if your European friends ask why, tell them.

With sympathy having been there,


anon said...

One journal in my field accepts papers on a reasonable timescale, but then has a 9-month publishing backlog. Oh well - at least I can list it as "in press", despite the fact that the dates are ever-delayed on my CV.

anon said...

If reviews take longer than two months to come back in chemistry, then it's trouble. The reviewer is probably trying to scoop you. A friend of my had a similar situation. The first two said to publish, and the third was nonsensical and said major revisions and do not publish. The problem was, the third review came back after the one (or two) months' review deadline for the journal. The editor included it in a later email, but said that it was late and does not count. The information was passed on to the reviewer and the article was published. This was a really good chemistry journal too.

If you accept a paper for reviewer, being late is one of the worst things you can do regardless of anything else. Editors should adopt a zero tolerance policy towards this. After all, reviewing also gives you some sort of prestige and that's why people agree to it. If you're bad at it, then you get no love.

Liberal Arts Chemist said...

You cannot win you can only learn. Do what you have to do and move on.

As my Dad always said ...

"When you wrestle with pigs you both get dirty and the pigs like it"

landau said...

How did you know who referee #3 was so that you could download his papers?? As far as I know, all referee reports are anonymous unless the referee decides to contact you privately. This story makes no sense...

Anonymous said...

i find it scary that you know who reviewer #3 is. i guess there is no such thing as anonymous peer review?

Anonymous said...

A year is too long. Period. I would tell (a) the editor and (b) the editor in chief of that journal that the long time delay is one of the reasons you send the paper to another journal. If at least one of them has at least some sanity left, this might help to improve the journal.

gs said...

My first reaction was that the third reviewer was trying to sabotage your paper (cf. anon 2/03/2007 01:01:00 PM). Maybe you had scooped the reviewer's similar project, or maybe he wanted to steal the idea. Since you're confident of eventually getting the paper into the current journal, staying the course will preserve your priority.

Malicious prejudice is another possibility. It's repugnant to think that a reviewer would attack a paper because the submitting author is female; I view that as unlikely but not impossible. Another possibility is anti-American prejudice. Not only are there political flashpoints at present, but some Europeans just don't like America(ns).

A less dire possibility (cf. anon 2/02/2007 11:45:00 PM) is that the editor has an allocation of pages from the publisher. If he is overdrawn, he may be trying to defer the publication of your paper.

Are such long gaps between submission and publication typical in this journal, or is your case an exception? As you imply, you may have learned "why North Americans seldom submit papers to this journal." I take it that your field does not have an online repository like or; there may be a need waiting to be identified.

Good luck.

Female Science Professor said...

landau, the review was signed by the reviewer.

Female Science Professor said...

anonymous: reviewers for this journal have the option of signing or being anonymous. Of the 3 reviews, 2 were signed (#1 and #3).

Ms.PhD said...

This is bizarre to me only because it took a year to get the reviews. Were you nagging them diligently, or being deliberately patient? In my field, as in chemistry, if it takes longer than 2 months, someone is definitely up to no good.

Otherwise, it sounds quite typical to me in terms of how reviews are distributed in my field (exactly the same actually, as my last paper and one my partner recently dealt with) and the way the #$%! editor handled it.

In our field, we would write a long (read: longer than the original paper), forceful response to the editor detailing how your stuff is not just equal to but better than that of reviewer #3's own work. Of course, in our field, reviewer #3 would NEVER sign his/her name, so instead we would compare our work to examples previously published in the same journal. This usually works, especially if you also make some effort to address the other, more reasonable, comments.

Good luck with this. If it hadn't taken a year, it would be obvious. Given the lag time, though, I'd be cautious about bothering with these people even for this paper. Shameful unprofessionalism. But maybe they're going out of business anyway, when all publishing goes to internet peer review with no editors (let's hope).

Rebizman said...

Although it wasn't a scientific paper, I wrote a magazine article and didn't hear back for a year- when I received a letter from a different publication accepting it (this publication bought the first one). A year after that I received a check from a third publication (which bought the assets of the first). It took me another year to find a copy of the magazine that published it. It was my first sale, and an interesting lesson in publishing.

Anonymous said...

I got my reviews back and the authors did not at all understand about my paper, and the editor agreed with the reviewers-although one reviewer said publish with revision. This is simply because the misinterpretation of one word and I accept it is my oversight. So I was yelled at by my boss for putting his name down and saying that I will get my PhD in a year and he has no time to bby sit me (I am a female student) and I accepted it more of it as my fault as I am a student. But I did not take it personally. Next time, I will question every detail in the paper...and will consider to send to another journal. As I am not a chemist, the journal I sent to is not my best shot as most chemistry related work are sent there and that the work might not be relevant to the journal. But it is scary when my boss said that he has no time to bby sit me and that it is entirely my fault (in a paper for 7 authors). So I guess it is :)