Monday, July 19, 2010

A Tale of Two Rejections

I had two papers come back with rejections last week. One had been under review for something like nine months; I submitted the other one the first week of July. One came back with two sets of relatively extensive comments; the other came back with literally no explanation whatsoever. It should come as no surprise that the fast decision was the explanation-free decision. This journal told me that they aim to make these decisions quickly, and that this makes it impossible for them to explain the reasons for the decision. But while I appreciate a swift decision as much as anybody, this is the third paper I've sent them in the last four years or so, and it's never taken them longer than eight days to come back with a rejection. That makes me wonder what editorial procedures they follow.

The other one was rejected for what I think are decent reasons. While I think (in my unbiased opinion) that an R&R might also have been appropriate given the stated reasons, it is clear that the paper should not be published in its present form. (Also, this wasn't surprising--there were several times during the wait that I found myself wishing for another an opportunity to revise the paper.) And I am grateful to this journal for a) putting me in a position to know that the reasons were good by sharing them with me; b) putting me in a position to change the paper in response to the criticisms by sharing them with me, and in so doing, to use this experience in a positive way.

I don't really have a larger point, other than that I wish it was more common to get helpful feedback with rejections, and that it was more common to get a decision in under six months (I really wish it were four, but let's not get carried away here).

--Mr. Zero

28 comments:

Euthyphronics said...

I've got as fiver that knows the identity of the short, no-explanation journal. FWIW, I think that particular journal/editor pairing has jumped the shark, but I understand it was giving similarly fast turnarounds back when it was good, too.

Anonymous said...

If it makes you feel better, in the space of one week a couple months ago I got two papers rejected, one large grant denied, and also found out that a person with seniority and lots of political connections at my U. was planning on taking over my (relatively big) office-space. On the other hand, my good friends at Joe's Liquor, then and now, are always happy to see me . . .

Ben said...

I really think it shouldn't take journals too long to give some kind of reason. Even if not providing substantive comments, it would be useful if they were to say whether the paper was rejected for reasons of fit/suitability, quality, etc and - if quality - roughly how far off it was...

Hanuman said...

Those who haven't seen it might enjoy Spiros's open letter to journal referees over at Philosophers Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Is it Analysis? I've always had my papers rejected quickly and almost always without explanation. (Well, apart from the form letter that reads much like the letter it seems you received).

Some weird things get into Analysis these days. Further reason journals should practice blind review at the stage of the editor. Who can reign these editors in? It's getting bad. We have unblinded review at Analysis and Phil Studies. Meanwhile, we cannot turn to PPR and Nous. Forget sending things to Mind and J Phil. You'll be long dead before they reject your work.

Anonymous said...

It's odd that we as teachers/professors are required to justify the grades we give our students, yet as editors/referees we are not required to defend our decisions to reject our peers' work for publication. It makes one wonder whether there is a conspiracy, such that all this blind-review stuff is really just a front, in the same way that students would wonder when we did not use a rubric or give reasons to justify their grade if we just graded them on the basis of their looks or whether we liked them.

Anonymous said...

I just received a rejection letter from Philosophy and Social Criticism that reads:

"As you probably know, Philosophy & Social Criticism is a journal committed to covering a variety of subject areas. Given this commitment it is sometimes necessary to restrict the number of articles we can accept in one subject area (in this case, articles on ______)."

Please do not think that this rejection reflects on the quality of your submission; I hope that you succeed in publishing your article elsewhere.

Thank you for your interest in publishing with Philosophy & Social Criticism. I hope that you will give us the opportunity to consider your work in the future."

Is the fact that they receive too many submissions on one topic, apart from the quality of the submission before them, a good reason to reject it? So, what the editor is saying is that many lower quality papers might have been considered, and some even published, in this subject area, but since I did not beat these authors to the punch, then mine will not be considered, no matter how good it is. Am I misunderstanding this? It seems totally absurd.

Anonymous said...

I have recently been asked to review papers for journals for the first time, for two different journals. Neither is the top in the field, but I'd be happy to publish in either. In the first case I was asked to return the report w/in 45 days (and did so, just barely) and in the second I was asked to do so in 4 weeks (I think I'll make it in no more than 3.) I don't know if it's just because this is the summer, if I'm a junior person, or if the journals are just trying to get a good rep, but this doesn't seem unreasonable to me at all. If anything, it motivates me to get it done.

Anon 5:52- I don't think there's any reason to assume that the papers that were accepted were of lower quality than yours. At least, that's not implied.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:14,

5:52 here. Notice that I wrote "might," since it is possible that my paper was better than at least one of those on the same topic previously published. This possibility follows from the editor's rationale for rejection: namely, that the paper was on a popular subject, irregardless of the paper's quality. Everyone who beat me to submission could have submitted better papers. That's possible too. But my paper was rejected not because it was of low quality, but because of the order in which it was received.

Anonymous said...

I for one think that we should start outing journals that provide no reasons or poor reasons for rejection. Then we should make a concerted effort to tell our horror stories and boycott them (whether submitting to them or ordering subscriptions). Academic publishers are now under serious financial pressure, so it is the perfect time to put the stake in the hearts of these monsters.

Anonymous said...

I have a theory about Analysis. Tell me how it sounds. Michael Clark doesn't actually read most of the submissions. Noone does. If something catches his eye (name, institution, topic) then he reads a bit. Otherwise he just presses a big red button on his keyboard, and the standard rejection email is sent. Very quick turnaround time once again.

Even if this isn't actually what's happening, it's worrying that we've no evidence that it's not - not a trace of evidence that anyone ever reads most of the submissions. Other journals are too slow and have their own problems. But I no longer have any confidence that Analysis is even reading the submissions they receive. That's not the case with, say, Phil Studies, even though I share the worries with the editor taking on refereeing duties while standing in front of the veil of ignorance. Analysis has a uniquely terrible and opaque system. Is it really worth this just to have a journal that will reject us in less than two weeks?

Anonymous said...

@Anon. 7:56:

The best thing we have for getting this information collected and available is probably http://www.andrewcullison.com/journal-surveys/ - it includes fields for the number and quality of comments received.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:42 AM,

Just out of curiosity, how do you know that the editor of Phil Studies referees from the wrong side of the veil of ignorance? (I plan on using that frequently, btw.) I'm not skeptical, mind you, I have my reasons for thinking that this is done. I just wonder what reasons other have for thinking, suspecting, knowing this.

If the editor is refereeing papers with full knowledge of the identity of the authors, they should probably stop advertising Phil Studies as a journal that practices blind review. It's very misleading in the way that false propositions are.

Anonymous said...

Once again, a Smoker thread that started off interesting degenerates into moaning. Ugh.

Anonymous said...

I am frequently asked to review for specialty and interdisciplinary journals; typically I am given 4-8 weeks for a review. But that's time for my review once I accept, and it's common for those editors to have difficulty identifying appropriate reviewers and then getting them to accept. I know this, because editors I know tell me this and ask for suggestions. So that explains at least part of the long delay in getting answers from some journals, although it's not an excuse for all of them.

Refereeing journal articles properly is enormously time-consuming and there is no compensation at all. (In contrast, book publishers at least pay token honoraria for reviewing proposals and manuscripts -- anything from $50-$300, in my experience.) I am at a point where I only accept a referee invitation if it is squarely in my own areas of interest and expertise and will not require work to check references I'm not already very familiar with. So I can understand why the recruitment of refereees takes a lot of time for many articles.

Editors also tell me that they typically send very fast rejections when it's clear that a paper is not worth sending out for review -- either it's hopelessly outside the scope of the journal or hopelessly incompetent and editors don't want to waste the good will of reliable reviewers on that stuff. I don't know if that explains the quick turnaround mentioned in other comments, but it might account for at least some of it.

I wish humanities journals would switch to the approach of law reviews that allow multiple submissions. For a really great article that a journal wants, there's a race to get the author to commit to publication in that venue. But for junior academics on a tight timeframe (for hiring or tenure), this multiple submission tolerance helps them out. This suggestion has been aired repeatedly over the years, but I don't see anything changing.

(I'm not a "big name" in philosophy but I have a publication record and apparently credibility on some very narrow questions -- I suspect there are many like me in the profession.)

Anonymous said...

So, we've outed Analysis and Philosophy & Social Criticism...any others? Which other journals and editors are crossing the bounds of fairness to make their jobs easier? Which journals and editors are on the friends and family plan (i.e. publish your friends, family and any other members of your tribe)?

Xenophon said...

Weird things get into Analysis? Maybe I should give them a go. All my stuff's weird.

Anonymous said...

Any connections between the authors of the weird stuff and the editors of Analysis? E.g. one is the advisee of an ex-colleague?

Anonymous said...

@Anon 5.46,

Personal experience backed up with anecdotal evidence of similar experiences from other people. I've heard of maybe 7 or 8 cases. I should stress that this only happens when they have serious trouble finding referees for a paper. So it may be that it's a necessary evil to keep papers from sitting at the journal for much longer, which isn't in the author's interest either. Still, it does seem undesirable, so hopefully they'll discover a better system at some point soon. (Philosophical Quarterly, Mind and other places have an editorial assistant, which might help here, though I guess the online submission thingamajig is *supposed* to render that unnecessary.)

zombie said...

As a referee, I've been given between 3 and 4 weeks to turn around a review. The last paper I reviewed was both outside the purview of the journal, and incompetent. It was a waste of my time to read it, although I suppose the author got some useful comments from me. I did my best to provide helpful and constructive comments. Still, strikes me that it would not be a bad thing for a paper like this to be rejected outright before it ever gets to a referee, esp. since finding referees seems to be so difficult.

Journal of Medical Ethics requires authors to provide the names and contact info for a minimum of two potential referees during the online submission process. I thought it was kind of strange that I would be asked to name my own referees (they also give you a chance to request that someone NOT referee). But I suppose it saves the editor some effort and maybe it moves the process along faster.

Aristophanes Hiccups said...

A friend of mine in another humanities field revised a paper that he waited four months for, but got helpful comments. He resubmitted it and received the paper in 3 weeks with very poor comments, so bad that it is clear the reviewer didn't read the paper carefully enough since some of the comments were simply inaccurate. This was at a well-respected journal in his subfield. My worry is that quick turn-around times could essentially mean sloppy referring. On the other hand, there isn't much way to prevent sloppy referring with long turn-around times either. After all, it doesn't take 6 months to read the article, it takes 6 months (or more) to get around to reading the article.

Anonymous said...

The option to suggest your own referee worries me. It encourages cronyism. The situation is already bad enough. Heavily networked people (especially those with lots of academic siblings) get a much easier ride. I've seen several cases where articles are mock refereed by pals. I can't imagine that the suggest your own option will help make this better. Perhaps it will level the field, making it possible for widespread corruption. I'm not sure what's preferable.

I saw one form that had a "non-preferred referee" I thought it meant "prefer not". Boy was I wrong. I take it that it means second choice. At least that's how some editors see it.

Anonymous said...

I wish humanities journals would switch to the approach of law reviews that allow multiple submissions. For a really great article that a journal wants, there's a race to get the author to commit to publication in that venue.

As someone who has published in both law reviews and peer-reviewed journals, let me suggest that the law review model isn't so great. For one, it only works because there is really very little review at all. With a few partial exceptions, "review" is the opposite of blind- you submit your CV with the paper, for example, and "letter-head bias" plays a huge role. The "expedite" process is a fairly gross one, and is only possible because of huge law-review boards who must do the work, and don't do serious competent reviews. I don't see how you could do something similar with blind-reviewed journals without it making the already long lag time absolutely unbearable.

Anonymous said...

Original post ends with: "I don't really have a larger point, other than that I wish it was more common to get helpful feedback with rejections, and that it was more common to get a decision in under six months (I really wish it were four, but let's not get carried away here)."

Of course, these two desiderata are in tension, and as authors we should all recognize this: getting helpful feedback requires of referees that they put in a lot more time to the refereeing process. Nonetheless, I agree that it still shouldn't take as long as it does at some journals to get an initial decision, and that if it does take forever, a rejection should be accompanied by some detailed feedback.

word verification: bioninge

Ben said...

I don't think there's any real tension. Ordinarily, if referees have X months to review a paper, they leave it lying on their desk for between (X-1) and (X+1) months and then do it within a week.

Of course, it would be nice if, on the occasions you waited a long time, you were guaranteed helpful and informative reviews, rather than brief and dismissive replies from people who still didn't bother to read the paper properly. (Even worse, of course, is being criticized for failing to incorporate work that appeared in the time that the paper's been under review...)

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what an _Analysis_ acceptance looks like? How long do those take to get, and are they letters or e-mails? If someone could provide the text, that would be awesome!

glucose said...

2:23, I got an ANALYSIS R&R a few years ago. It was not a form letter but an email from the editor. The paper was eventually accepted, and at that point the editor just sent me another email saying that they'd publish it.

But things may have changed -- do they have automated editorial manager or something now?

Anonymous said...

Here is something you might want to post about. I work in a mixed department. Phil and Religious Studies.

What's very odd to me is how easy it is for my RS colleagues to get published. The AAR (their APA) meeting doesn't require full papers, but abstracts only. Acceptance rates are very, very high. One of my colleagues says he has never missed in 25 years. He usually doesn't even have a paper, but just talks. (In all the time I have been in my job no one has been turned down by the AAR.)

Then guess what. If an editor in the audience likes to talk, they ask him to send them the paper. Before you know it, it's a published paper. From abstract to publication in not a lot of time or effort.

The RS people didn't understand how hard it is to get on the APA program or that we have to submit full papers.

Recently I was on a search committee for a high ranking administrative position, and a chemist was highly critical of a philosopher who didn't have many publications (the pubs were in very good places, however).

So, if you have job interviews at places with mixed departments, some people may think you aren't really doing much if you haven't published a lot or presented at every APA year in and year out.

It's just an oddity between disciplines I thought I would share.