Thought of the Day

February 4, 2016

We always seem to go through a run of manuscript rejections and then a run of accepts. I wish we could figure out how to spread these out a little bit more. Would alternation be too much trouble, world?

This is going to be another one of those posts where we mix up what should be so, what is so and what is best for the individual scientist’s career.

Our good blog friend iBAM was musing about reading a self-empowerment book.

The career prescription here…I agree with.

It took me quite awhile to realize that you can appeal when a journal editor rejects your manuscript. I thought a reject was a reject when I first started in this business. It certainly always read like one.

It turns out that you can appeal that decision.

And you should. The process does not end with the initial decision to reject your manuscript.

So what you do is, you email the Editor and you outline why the decision was a mistake, what you can do to revise the manuscript to address the major concerns, why your paper would be a fit for the journal, etc.

You may be ignored. You may be told “Nope, it is still a rejection”.

OR. You may be given the opportunity to resubmit a revised version of the manuscript as if it were a new one. Which of course you could do anyway but it would be likely to get hammered down if you have not already solicited the invitation to do so from the Editor.

So you will see here that with a simple email, you have given yourself another chance to get the paper accepted. So do it.

After this we get into the fun part.

Should you appeal each and every decision? I think my natural stance is no, you don’t want to get a rep as a chronic whiner. But you know what? There are probably people in science who rebut and complain about every decision. Does it work for them? I dunno. And by extension to sports, you know that phenomenon of working the ref about bad calls, hoping to get a makeup call later? That logic maybe applies here.

I do know there are plenty of testimonials like those of Kaye Tye that complaining about a rejection ended up with a published manuscript in the initially-rejecting journal.

Do appeals work the same for everyone? That is, given the same approximate merits of the case is the Editor going to respond similarly to appeals from anyone? I can’t say. This is a human decision making business and I have always believed that when an editor knows you personally, they can’t help but treat your submissions a little better. Similarly when an editor knows your work, your pedigree, your department, etc it probably helps your appeal gain traction.

But who knows? Maybe what helps is having a good argument on the merits. Maybe what helps is that the Editor liked the paper and slightly disagrees with the review outcome themselves.

HAHAHA, I crack myself up.

Okay so where do we end up?

First, you need to add the post-rejection appeal into your repertoire of strategies if you don’t already include it. I would use it judiciously, personally, but this is something to ask your subfield colleagues about. People who publish in the journals you are targeting. Ask them how often they appeal.

Second, realize that the appeal game is going to add up over time in a person’s career. If there are little personal biases on the part of Editors (which there are) then this factor is going to further amplify the insider club advantage. And when you sit and wonder why that series of papers that are no better than your own just happen to end up in that higher rank of journal well…..there may be reasons other than merit. What you choose to do with that information is up to you. I see a few options.

  • Pout.
  • Up your game so that you don’t need to use those little bennies to get over the hurdle.
  • Schmooze journal editors as hard as you can.
  • Ignore the whole thing and keep doing your science the way you want and publishing in lower journals than your work deserves.

*not a fan of this myself but some people (including one of my kids’ soccer coaches) appear to believe very strongly in this theory.