Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Summarily Rejected (reprise)

A reader writes with a query about some manuscripts that were rejected without review; in one case the summary rejection was sort of understandable, but in the other, not at all. Summary rejection was a topic of a post last summer, but it is a perennial topic. In fact, I recently recommended rejection of a manuscript without review.

Why did I do it?

I don't do this often, but in this case the manuscript failed to cite or even mention (e.g., in a cover letter) a paper with a similar title published by the same authors in another journal last year, it was a matter of minutes to compare the two and see they were essentially the same, and, as if that weren't enough, it was a poorly written paper with conclusions unsupported by the inadequate dataset. I think that decision was quite reasonable.

Other situations involving rejection-without-review, like one described by my correspondent, are more difficult to understand, especially if the editor does not explain the basis for his/her decision to reject without review. Editors should explain the reason(s), even if it is as simple as "We can only publish 0.2% of the manuscripts we receive, we glanced at yours and weren't immediately gripped, end of story."

If you think a particular rejection-without-review is completely unwarranted given the interest-level of the paper and the fit with the journal, then it's worth trying to argue with the editor in a clear and calm way. Marshall your arguments for why your manuscript should at least be reviewed, and give it your best shot.

3 comments:

GMP said...

I don't do this often, but in this case the manuscript failed to cite or even mention (e.g., in a cover letter) a paper with a similar title published by the same authors in another journal last year, it was a matter of minutes to compare the two and see they were essentially the same, and, as if that weren't enough, it was a poorly written paper with conclusions unsupported by the inadequate dataset. I think that decision was quite reasonable.

I did this as a reviewer a few times. The authors were trying to publish trivial extensions of old work (and sometimes not cite it). But since I acted as a reviewer, this would have been grounds for rejection after a review; I suppose FSP was acting in the capacity of an editor.

My policy on getting rejected without review is that it is rarely worth fighting. A more specialized journal is in order. For the sake of students and postdocs, a published paper is always better than one in perpertual review, so I think speed is a significant factor. And good papers get cited even if not published in the shiniest of venues.

missphd said...

There is an interesting editorial on The Scientist online called "Is Peer Review Broken?". It discusses the increase in submissions to top-tiered journals and thus the increase in rejections from these journal. I think that sometimes, especially given the seemingly agonizingly long turn-around time for manuscripts in certain cases, it may be worth it to "low ball" a paper to get accepted quickly.

Tamara said...

I strongly agree with you. When the paper is obviously a copycat of a previous one, it is a lack of time to even considering reading it. You did right and if "it was a poorly written paper with conclusions unsupported by the inadequate dataset" you were even more in your right to refuse to review it.
It is essential to explain to someone why his/her paper has been refused as it will help the person to make a better job next time. After all, we all learn from our mistakes.