Friday, September 18, 2009

You're Great. Take a Hike.

These are the summary comments from recent reviews for a manuscript of mine:

This is an intriguing and important paper. It will be of great interest and should have a great impact.

This is an interesting paper. It got me thinking.


Editor decision: Reject

This is one of those cases in which I feel intense hostility for a day or three. I set the reviews and editor letter aside. I take them out again when I am feeling a bit calmer. I re-read everything. I look closely at the reviewer comments for substantive reasons for the rejection.

I still feel angry. I wait a few more days, and then I write a calm but forceful letter to the editor who will then tell me that there are lots of excellent papers that can't be published and he has to make some hard decisions and this was one of them and I should take a hike (down the journal food-chain).

And that is exactly what I will do because this intriguing, important, interesting, and thought-provoking paper, of which I am very fond, is getting published (eventually.. somewhere).

21 comments:

Bee said...

That sucks.

I'll tell you a different story. We recently sent a paper to a journal and got (after a long delay) two lengthy reports that were... well, unpleased about our paper, criticizing, not the content, but the way it is written, and added some vacuous reasons for their dismay (the actual reason is that we've expressed an opinion that runs contrary to the majority of people in the field). One of them wrote it's interesting, but not really research.

The third report was from the editorial board and said obviously the paper got the referees thinking and he or she would thus be in favor of publishing it. I have to add it hasn't yet been published. We resubmitted a revised version (there wasn't much revision because the referees didn't actually have anything to say to the main argument anyway), but no decision so far. In any case, I was pleasantly surprised to read the report from the editorial board.

kate.parr said...

Try going up the foodchain - it's worked for me before!

Alethea said...

Much sympathy. It happens - more frequently the way you describe than the way Bee does. At least in my personal experience.

You might consider including the first reviews and possibly the editor's (lack of) justification for their decision, upon your next submission to another journal. It might speed things up a bit, and can't hurt in the second editor's decision-making process.

qaz said...

The journal system, like the grant system, is a flawed mechanism trying to limit a resource to good science.

While I understand the two issues it is trying to limit (making sure that only valid stuff is published [peer review] and trying to reduce the over-stimulation of infinite papers [editorial decisions]), I think the time has come to find better ways to do both.

Peer review is very important, and in many cases still really works. But in many cases, it also has become a hoop to jump through. No one says "That's a good paper, publish it on the first pass." Peer review often spends its time talking about interpretation and importance rather than validity of the work. We need to find a way for peer review to become a discussion rather than a gate-keeping. Imagine if you really could respond to peer-review rather than having to appease them.

The larger problem today (IMHO) is with the editorship of journals, who hold the keys to the gates of impact, fame, and grant-getting. What we really need is a citeable arXiv-like system that anyone can publish to without an editor deciding what's "important" and what "has impact" and what doesn't. Of course, such a system would still need peer review, but with modern information systems, it should be possible to provide peer-review to guarantee validity without an external editor making decisions about impact (particularly under the very unpleasant guise of "there are many excellent papers that we can't publish").

Notorious Ph.D. said...

FSP, that's so very strange. I mean, I hate to feed even righteous anger, but it seems like the editors rejected the article for reasons having nothing to do with the readers' reports. If so, then these were reasons that they should have seen before sending it out for review, right?

There are journals in the Humanities -- especially the flagship journal of my discipline -- who regularly send back article MSS within 48 hours of receipt because they know it's not publishable in their journal. Such a quick rejection may sting, but at least it's fair, and allows people to move on to another, more appropriate venue without delay.

Your situation just seems like an editor not doing his/her job.

Lorac said...

The crowning moment for me was when I submitted a manuscript to a specialty journal, where it was rejected (of course) and the editors helpful suggestion was to submit it to a specialty journal.!

PS I'm now a patent lawyer.

ME said...

I hate those kind of reviews they are so frustrating. And, other times you get harsh reviews where you know the editor and they allow you to revise. There is no logical pattern to peer review/publishing.

I'm always debating if it is worth appealing the decision of rejection or if I should just avoid wasting time and move on to another journal.

John V said...

It seems to me the issue is how they cull the submissions into accepts and rejects, not the deduction of an absolute standard for accepts, which seems the topic of most commentary here.

Another wild card is that some fraction of reviews, both good and bad, are clueless and hence ignored, so hanging one's hat on a phase or two plucked from reviews is dicey.

"This is an interesting paper. It got me thinking." brings to mind an attempt to telegraph "This is wrong". In fact, the best guy in my field was famous for refusing to say more than "it is interesting" when pressed on papers he didn't like.

It is hard to do more than empathize without much more context than the examples contained.

Ms.PhD said...

what qaz said. we need information discussion and dissemination, not gate-keeping. And I'll add this- many of the best editors are completely unaware of their own bias and subjectivity. The worst editors are just corrupt. The last time an editor encouraged me to submit my paper to their journal, I'm pretty sure it was so they could send it directly to my competitors (who trashed it in the most unprofessional, obviously biased fashion). Not making that mistake again.
But I think that if this keeps up, I'm going to run out of editors and journals. Qaz, we need a solution and fast!

Kea said...

Hmmm, yes. I am still awaiting an editorial decision on one of the papers that I submitted some months ago.

A friend of mine here had a good suggestion for making the system more honest: all referee reports should be sent to the authors and editors simultaneously, and the editors should be held accountable for their decisions.

Shannon said...

I really feel you on this. I just looked at some reviews from a paper that got rejected a few weeks back (I was too steamed to read them then). All three of the reviews suggested a revise and resubmit; one identified a "major" problem, but it's not really a major problem - I could easily address it. Nonetheless, the editors rejected it. I too want to write a letter, but also know that it's probably pointless. Grrr.

critcal student said...

Without trying to be mean, but there must be some criticism from the reviewers on the paper...
A paper with an interesting idea can get me thinking, but if the authors do not have the data to completely support their ideas, or if there's something else wrong with the research, then it should not be published - especially when it comes to ground-breaking ideas.
Science is really quite conservative, and it takes a while before new ideas are accepted- this is bad, while new insights are delayed, but also good, because it limits the amounts of kook-theories that are being proposed.

Kea said...

...because it limits the amounts of kook-theories that are being proposed.

Hah! ROFLOL!! Dear student, we assure you that there is no shortage of completely kooky and/or stupid theories being published every week.

Anonymous said...

Two words:

PLoS ONE.

Physics Grad Student said...

"Science is really quite conservative, and it takes a while before new ideas are accepted- this is bad,"

Physics Grad Student said...

"Science is really quite conservative, and it takes a while before new ideas are accepted- this is bad"

Some of us in my group were discussing this issue the other day. We were trying to name all the seminal papers in our field that were published in obscure journals due to the fact that they weren't accepted by the major ones. I think having a well cited paper that was rejected by major journals is really a good mark in the long run because it just shows how far ahead the authors were in comparison to the rest of the field.

Anonymous said...

This exact same thing happened to us. Two very positive reviews and a comment from the editor assigned that he/she didn't see anything new in it, so reject.

But it all turned out fine and was a real lesson to me (I had just finished my PhD). We wrote a letter expressing our surprise and wondering if we could have more motivation to understand the rejection. We also suggested getting a third reviewer to perhaps settle the issue more objectively. The main editor did that and the paper was accepted. It's now my most cited paper. The whole experience made clear to me that what we were proposing might be a bit controversial, even threatening, to some of the established theories. Because of it both my co-author and I made a real effort to communicate with other researchers who might see us as stepping on their toes rather than as people contributing to a question they are also trying to answer. Before this happened I hadn't realized how important this type of "PR" was.

FemgineerPhD said...

Ditto on comments of "that sucks."

I think it's interesting (ugly?) how political some of these decisions can be. I've seen a paper get rejected, have an additional author mysteriously added, and then be accepted upon resubmission. (Hint: the additional author was on the editorial board. Yes, this really happened.)

Anonymous said...

Here's the reverse of your situation. A (famous) colleague received the following report:

"I read the author's manuscript with great interest... Unfortunately after reading his main conclusion in great detail I am not sure that I understand completely whether the arguments made are logical... In the past, though, the author has often been right, and so I recommend publication of the manuscript."

CC said...

There are journals in the Humanities -- especially the flagship journal of my discipline -- who regularly send back article MSS within 48 hours of receipt because they know it's not publishable in their journal.

My personal record is rejection for lack of impact in under 15 minutes. It may well have been considerably less than that but my email client only checks every ten minutes.

Esteves said...

I still think I've a short research-and-publishing career myself (but I've publ'd my first ms of the dozen in 1995). This enabled me to "overcome" a very similar but enigmatic response from the editor of a fish biology-related journal: (...) As our submission rate increases so must our rejection rate. (...) We suggest that you might consider submitting your manuscript to a journal dealing with (...).
After, "confronting" the editor, I understood (i.e. "accepted") that it was considered to be outside the scope of the journal... and went sidewards (not downwards) to another journal since I was convinced it was nothing to do with ms quality. The ms is in review.
ps-this was my 1st international comment
ps2-I "know" the post was a long time ago...