Philosophy Journal Horror Stories (updated)


By request, here is a post for people to share their journal “horror stories.”

Why? For one thing, it may be a relief to learn that the universe, or at least the journals, are not out to get you in particular. But also, there is the possibility, suggested by one of those making the request, that the stories, in the aggregate, reveal some patterns or issues that we can then figure out how to address.

Before we begin, now would be a good time to invoke my multi-purpose adage, “philosophers are people, too.” That includes the philosophers who are the editors of and referees for academic journals. People make mistakes, people have multiple demand on their time, people get tired, and so on. Further, these people are often volunteers or inadequately compensated, adding to their busy lives the various responsibilities of maintaining a significant portion of our professional ecosystem. So even when we may be sharing stories that reveal their imperfections, I think it is important to register appreciation for all the work they do.

UPDATE (3/2/21): A few complaints in the comments below about Pacific Philosophical Quarterly prompted a reply from Janet Levin (USC), chair of the editorial committee of the journal. In it, she writes:

We recently discovered that, due to a major error in our record-keeping process, over 100 manuscripts submitted to the PPQ over a period of a little over a year were misclassified as having undergone an initial review. There was a confluence of factors that allowed the error to go undetected for so long, some due to COVID-19, some technological, and others due to a diffusion of responsibility in the reviewing process – these factors also contributed to some failures to respond to author inquiries. When we discovered the extent of the problem we made the difficult decision to try to clear the backlog as quickly as possible, and therefore (i) to do an unusually thorough reading of papers during the internal review process to enable us to get results back to authors as quickly as possible, and (ii) not to give comments on papers that we did not send out for external review. We understand the costs of having a paper tied up at a journal for so long, and recognize the burden it places on authors waiting for a response. I take full responsibility for this unfortunate situation and apologize sincerely for our lapse. We are overhauling our processes for submission and evaluation of manuscripts to make sure not only that nothing like this happens again, but also that, going forward, the PPQ can be exemplary in giving authors quick decisions. We will announce more concrete steps in this regard soon, including a new faculty editor who will be taking over after the end of this semester. 

UPDATE (3/5/21): Regarding Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy (mentioned in a couple of the comments below), current editor Victor Caston (University of Michigan) reports that this past October he told the journal’s publisher, Oxford University Press, that he would not be seeking to renew his contract with them when it expired. It is now expired, and Professor Caston is maintaining the journal while waiting for OUP to put a new editor or editorial team in place. See also this post at Endoxa from Caleb Cohoe (Metropolitan State University of Denver).


Note: The new comment platform appears to have carried over previous email-name affiliations. That is, it will think your name is whatever you previously used as your name when you last commented with that email address. So even if you enter in a new handle, your comment may be sent to subscribers with your old name, or if you edit your comment, it may publicly attribute that edit to your old name. In general, I encourage commenters to use their real names; so I hope that most of the time, for most people, this will not be an issue. But if you think it is important to use a pseudonym on this post, I suggest that when commenting you enter an email address you haven’t previously used here before. (Email addresses are not revealed to the public.)

Additional note about pseudonyms: as per the comments policy, pseudonyms may not contain the words “anonymous, “anon,” etc.

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PP or pp
PP or pp
4 months ago

I submitted a historical work to two journals (successively). The first told me that my interpretation was clearly absurd and that no one could possibly believe I was right. The second told me that my interpretation was so standard that I made no contribution to the relevant literature whatsoever.

It was striking to me how hyperbolic this was. The process took about a year and I was basically told that my work was worthless each time. Since then, I have had no desire to submit anything to any one. They won.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  PP or pp
4 months ago

I’m so sorry!

I had one referee say that a thesis I argued for was “quite trivial”* and say “[o]ne need not be a philosopher to put forth this claim.” The other referee for the same journal provided what I took as an argument that that very thesis was false or at least required more argument.

I licked my wounds for a while, added a little bit to the paper, and sent it to a different journal where it was accepted with no revisions.

Anyway I think the current journal review process in philosophy is overwhelmed with far too much volume, it delivers fairly arbitrary verdicts, and it winds up absorbing a lot of out time and energy, and I wish we could come up with a better system.

*To be fair this may be the UK use of “quite” which I think means “somewhat” as opposed to the US use which means “very.”Report

Curtis Franks
Curtis Franks
Reply to  Matt Weiner
4 months ago

Quite!Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  PP or pp
4 months ago

I’ve got you both beat. I got a desk rejection of a paper in which one and the same editor claimed that thesis was of no interest, because it was defined so as to be trivially true, and also that it was false and subject to counter examples.

Like ‘PP or pp’, this definitely contributed to my losing interest and motivation in participating in the peer review system. Experts (peers and advisors) compliment the quality of a paper and tell me it’s worth submitting to X journal. The editors of X journal reject it out of hand. Send it to Y journal – one expert reviewer thinks it makes a valuable contribution, the other thinks it’s wrong and worthless. What does our putative expertise even amount to in such a field?Report

Fool
Fool
4 months ago

A journal (philosophy-adjacent but technically based in another field) was advertising a special issue on a pedagogy/profession issue close to my heart. I contacted them with a suggestion for a submission on a very niche relevant topic. They said they liked the idea and I should submit.

A variety of mishaps mishappened in my personal life, and I contacted them saying I probably couldn’t get it done on time. No problem, they said, they were going to put back the deadline anyhow. The new deadline approached and I had all my material ready, but more problems arose and I was going to miss this deadline too. I contacted them to let them know. “No problem,” they said, “you can send it to us 2 weeks after the deadline.”

The deadline came and went and I saw that they had reposted the cfp on their site again, now with no deadline.

After a dedicated couple of weeks of nonstop writing, I submitted the very targetted and journal-specific paper – which remember is on a pedagogy/profession issue and so not just the kind of thing you can send on to another research journal – within the 2 weeks they had offered (now about 3 months past the original deadline). “Great, thanks, we’ll send it out to our reviewers and let you know if it’s accepted. That’ll take 2-3 months”

A month later, I happened to check the website, and what did I see? The cfp was gone, perhaps because in its place was the special issue in all its glory, with an intro by the very editor I’d been corresponding with, and neither sight nor mention of my paper.

I immediately inquired about the status of my paper, and got no response to this or to any of the subsequent emails. I wondered whether it might still be accepted for a separate normal issue if the review ever came back.

I have never heard back from either the editor or the reviewer. The paper – quite an interesting thing but with no natural home beyond the one that spurned it – gathers hard-drive dust…Report

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan
4 months ago

I submitted a paper to Business Ethics Quarterly back in 2011. In it, I listed among my premises a position that is entirely standard in economics. One of the referees said that only neoliberals believe this and that it was very controversial. So in my revision, I said, look, I want to explore an interesting implication of this claim of economics, not defend it. However, it’s worth noting that this is not a controversial position in economics. As evidence, I cited the top 15 econ textbooks, plus maybe 10 peer-reviewed review papers on the topic, plus like 3 or so surveys of academic economists, all of which showed, yes, the thing I was saying was very boring and entirely standard from their perspective. The editor didn’t think this counted for squat and rejected the paper. They had some other reasons for rejection, though, which were also as egregious.

I have given up submitting to them.Report

Abimbola
Abimbola
4 months ago

I submitted a paper to a journal where I got an R & R feedback. But while going through the reviewers’ comments, I noticed that the second reviewer just didn’t take any liking to my work. Like, the tone of their comments was unusually defensive of the position I was arguing against, but this is normal. What I found strange was that this second reviewer told me that David Lewis was Australian, not American. I was shocked by this and decided against re-submitting to that journal.Report

SCM
SCM
Reply to  Abimbola
4 months ago

But David Lewis clearly *is* Australian (and Guatemalan, and Mongolian, and Kenyan, and Canadian, and …)

#modalrealismjokesarealwaysfunnyReport

xyz
xyz
4 months ago

I was invited to submit a paper on a recent sub-branch of a recent sub-field in which despite their important differences, the major authors all agreed on a certain literary figure as central to their thinking. The reviewer lambasted my incompetence, saying that they’d never heard of this author having anything to do with the work of most of these scholars, and deemed the paper unfit for publication.

The argument in question was a clearly marked quote from one of the philosophers in question.

They also deemed my scholarship outdated since I hadn’t cited a book that was due to come out six months later, using the shorter form of the author’s name (ie Bill for William; I assume the reviewer themselves or one of their friends).

The journal sent out the article to another reviewer and the article was accepted without revisions.Report

abc
abc
4 months ago

Submitted a paper to a specialist journal. Got a response months later with a single referee report recommending publication, which was overridden by the editor, who recommended revision because the view in my paper conflicted with their personal opinion of the treatise I discussed. I revised and resubmitted, and then had to withdraw the paper (for good reasons I will not state to protect anonymity). Within an hour of withdrawing the paper, the editor made up a fake “referee report” which was full of nasty insults towards the paper (and praises of the journal) and sent it to me.

Submitted a different paper to a different specialist journal, which (again) received a single referee report recommending rejection without saying anything helpful except pointing out typos. I wrote to the editor complaining about the quality of the referee report and he replied shrugging that it happens to everyone. The paper was accepted elsewhere.Report

YZY
YZY
4 months ago

I submitted a paper around the time I finished my Ph.D. I had a post-doc for the next year but would be back on the market. After about 10 months, I hadn’t heard anything so emailed the journal. Got a response saying that they expected to get the referee reports back soon. After 3 more months, I wrote back, and this time got a response saying that they had made a mistake: they thought they had sent the paper to referees, but never did. So they’d send it out now. It took 6 more months to get the referee reports back. One was very positive, with some minor suggestions for revisions. The other was more mixed – not terribly enthusiastic, but essentially “with a fair bit of revision could be a valuable contribution.” Verdict: Reject.Report

Curtis Franks
Curtis Franks
4 months ago

The first time I submitted a paper to a journal I was still a graduate student. This was a highly-reputed journal. I didn’t hear anything from them for a little over a year, when the editor wrote to me to say that two referees has recommended publication and so the journal would now “proceed to secure the very best advice.”

About six months later, a colleague told me that he had been asked to referee the paper but had turned the request down because of a perceived conflict of interest. But he told me that the journal had told him who the other referee was and that he had spoken to that referee independently about the submission and learned that this person was in favor of the journal publishing the paper. And he told me who that other referee was.

But I still didn’t hear anything more from the journal directly for another calendar year, so I wrote to them to ask what was going on. The journal did not reply.

Shortly — just weeks — afterwards another venue which was aware of the work invited me to publish it with them, so I immediately wrote again to the journal to say that this request had been made and that if things were not progressing with the submission I would prefer to withdraw the submission and proceed with the invited publication. The editor wrote back immediately — within minutes — to say that I should keep my paper with them because all indications were that it would be accepted soon.

After a few more months of silence, on the 3 year anniversary of my initial submission, I inquired again about the status. The editor wrote back to say that his hard drive malfunctioned a few weeks prior and that he lost a lot of journal records from that, including mine. He said that they had no record of my submission or any correspondence and asked me to send the paper again.

Obviously I shouldn’t have, but I did. (I had a provisional employment at the time and was very concerned about job security), and within a month got a form letter back from the journal saying that the paper was rejected.

I never saw a single referee report.

During those three years I refereed two submissions for this same journal. Within three months of the rejection, I accepted a third refereeing assignment for them.Report

D A
D A
Reply to  Curtis Franks
4 months ago

This is appalling. And too bad the profession hasn’t come up with any decent way to hold these people, who are unfortunately gatekeepers, accountable.Report

Curtis Franks
Curtis Franks
Reply to  D A
4 months ago

That was the third worst experience I ever had with a journal.

On another occasion I was asked by a journal to referee a submission. I read the submission and noticed that several large swaths of it were plagiarized from work of my own. I wrote a patient letter to the editor explaining the situation. I indicated in the letter four instances of verbatim copying of sentences from published essays of mine, without quotation marks or attribution. I also indicated two key claims where the observation and its argumentative support were presented as the author’s own discovery but in fact were first presented in my own essays. And I further indicated that there were other instances both of unattributed verbatim copying of sentences and of presentation of my previously published ideas as the author’s own, but that I did not have the stomach to tabulate them all.

The editor wrote back assuring me that they would take care of the issue.

A few years later, I noticed that the paper in question had been published in that very journal, still containing some of my own sentences without quotation or attribution. So I wrote to the editor to ask what was going on. They replied that they had taken the matter to another expert on the relevant topic and that this expert judged the whole issue to be just a matter of unusual citation conventions, noting that my essays were listed in the submission’s bibliography. They said something like, “Didn’t this other expert contact you about how we were proceeding? He told us that he had.” He had not.

The editor then forwarded to me this other expert’s letter to them about the case. Presumably they did this without his permission, because it contained extensive insults about me as a person, for example the claim that I had an overly inflated opinion about the originality of my own ideas and that my published record contained so little of significance that even if anyone were ever to copy anything from it and pass it off as their own it wouldn’t likely be of any moment.

For four years I was the “chief justice” of a college-level academic honesty court at my university. We were an ecclectic and thoughtful group who often disagreed about our assessment of plagiarism cases. I am, however, confident that every single faculty and student member of this court during that entire time would have found this case to be a “major violation” of the University Honor Code worthy either of zero-credit on the assignment or automatic course failure, had the work been submitted by a university student for a course.

On a couple of occasions I have been asked by evaluation committees, “Wy don’t you ever publish with JOURNAL X? Your work would be very fitting for them, and it would diversify your CV.” Rather than reply that the very idea of CV-gamesmanship is so embarrassing that I hope never to stoop to it, I just said, “I do not have a favorable opinion of JOURNAL X and don’t think my work belongs there.” I have been careful not to say more explicitly, “I do not think that the work of mine that does appear there belongs there.”Report

CA or C
CA or C
4 months ago

After about twenty years of submitting to journals, I don’t have any real horror stories, but the things that still rankle a bit are the R&Rs that, in my view, the journals in question handled badly. In one of them, amazingly, I got generally positive reviews, was asked to revise the paper, did so, and got a note back congratulating me on the job I’d done but saying that regrettably they had to reject, because the topic wasn’t quite right for the journal. I had the sense the editorial assistant was embarrassed to pass that message on. In another two cases, I’ve revised a paper so as to clearly meet all of the recommendations of the reviewers, and one reviewer, in each case, has introduced a round of new objections and the editor has taken that as an opportunity to reject. I thought that was bad editorial practice. If they give you an R&R with clear instructions and you do exactly what you’re asked to do (there was no dispute about this!), they really ought to accept at that point. Otherwise you’re just wilfully wasting an author’s time.Report

CCC
CCC
4 months ago

My horror story is not the kind of thing that will happen again at the relevant journal thanks to changes in the way that it is now run, but when I was first starting out I had this idea that I thought was pretty good. (I thought it gave us a new way for trying to resolve a longstanding debate.) At the time, I was trying to publish my way out of a year to year teaching job with bad pay. This was going to be my big paper, the one that would help me land a decent job.

Sent the paper to Mind. After 18 months, three referees recommended R&R. The comments are overall helpful. The reception was far less negative than I expected. Lots of suggestions about restructuring (which led to changes that, naturally, referees complained about after resubmitting…), a few questions here and there about relatively minor points, but nothing that made me think the refs hated it. They sort of made me think they might even like the paper. (Most referee reports had been really harsh at that point in my career, so this was very surprising.) I resubmit after taking a few months to revise. After 12 months, three different referees recommend R&R. The comments again weren’t particularly negative, but the editors said that a 7th referee who didn’t submit a report recommended rejection for reasons they wouldn’t share. And that killed it. Rejected for secret reasons after waiting over 30 months for the process to resolve itself.

The paper was never published, but I eventually put some of the material into a book which seems to have not been read. I still think it’s my best work. Since then a few people have published some very similar stuff, stuff that everyone tells me I really should read and remember to cite. I stayed in that crappy job for a few more years, but escaped eventually. Felt like I would have escaped a few years earlier if things had been ever so slightly different.

(I’m pleased that Mind has moved away from the old practice of using different referees and have reasonably good turnaround times.)Report

Minded
Minded
Reply to  CCC
4 months ago

Speaking from recent experience, Mind does still use different referees for different rounds of review, at least sometimes.Report

Historian of Ancient Philosophy
Historian of Ancient Philosophy
4 months ago

I submitted a paper to one of the most prestigious venues for scholarship in ancient philosophy when I was a postdoc. This venue is technically a series and not a journal, though it publishes two volumes a year and most people consider it a journal. The series does not follow blind review and the editor apparently reviews most submissions himself.

I waited about a year for a response and got a rejection only after bugging the editor about it. After venting about the wait time to some of my junior colleagues, I found that they all had the same experience. This would not be such a surprising thing, but then I spoke to some of my senior friends about it and they all reported a radically different experience, receiving replies within a couple months. Moreover, my senior friends told me that they had heard that their junior colleagues had had experiences similar to mine. The picture that quickly emerged is that under the leadership of this editor the series appears to have adopted a two-tier review system: senior, well-known people in the field can count on quick response times, while junior, low-status people (for whom, incidentally, publishing is more important and time-sensitive) generally have to wait a year or more.

I no longer submit there and would counsel any junior person not to do so either. (In the interest of full disclosure, this was several years ago and it is possible that the editor has changed his practice since then.)Report

Caleb Cohoe
Reply to  Historian of Ancient Philosophy
4 months ago

To make it clear to readers, I think the author is referring to Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy. Their recent journal surveys reports back up this observation: many cases of junior people waiting very long for rejections or just withdrawing. https://journalsurveys.apaonline.org/journals/2482Report

Caleb Cohoe
Reply to  Historian of Ancient Philosophy
4 months ago

I’m looking to gather more information on experiences from people who have submitted to OSAP recently. https://endoxa.blog/2021/03/04/response-time-problems-at-oxford-studies-in-ancient-philosophy/Report

Tushar Irani
Reply to  Historian of Ancient Philosophy
4 months ago

FWIW, I’ve shared a more positive experience with submitting to OSAP here: https://dailynous.com/2021/03/03/notably-good-experiences-with-philosophy-journals/#comment-422582

To be clear, my experience also involved a considerable delay after initial submission (9 months) and after the first R&R (8 months). However, this was due on both occasions to a dilatory reader. I contacted Caston every 3 months or so and he was responsive throughout both wait periods, letting me know he would prod the reader. At the 8-month mark following the initial submission he got in touch to say the reader needed another month and asked whether I was fine with that or I wanted a decision based on the first report. I opted to wait the extra month and the second report in fact ended up far more helpful than the first.

I should also say that after both wait periods, once the reader reports came in, Caston’s own extensive editorial reports were tremendously helpful and, as far as I could tell, written up in a matter of days. After the second R&R, when I was just dealing with Caston, the paper went from resubmission to conditional acceptance in just 5 days. (And the “conditions” weren’t small ones either but detailed in another 7-page editorial report.)

So my good experience is based solely on how it improved the quality of my work. Of course, this can be in tension with other goals for a quick turnaround, and I totally sympathize with the pressure on junior faculty to publish a lot and to publish quickly. I have no clue whether senior, well-known people in the field are treated differently at OSAP. Still, I can say as a non-senior person that I didn’t feel overlooked and I appreciated that Caston (with whom I had no connection and have never met personally) overruled the first rejection report when it was very likely written by a senior person, and took the time and obvious care to read and understand my ideas, and provide the best feedback to date that I’ve received on the paper. Further, it doesn’t seem as though the work of junior faculty has been poorly represented in the latest issues of OSAP and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover the excellent work of scholars not as high on the prestige totem pole published in the series while it’s been under Caston’s stewardship.

Like Historian of Ancient Philosophy above, I’d advise any faculty member for whom turnaround time is an issue to send their work to journals with a proven track record of speedy responses. But without significant editorial oversight and engagement, I think I also have less faith than others do in the ability of the peer review system to ensure promising work isn’t dismissed unfairly.Report

Naturally Nongifted Writer
Naturally Nongifted Writer
Reply to  Historian of Ancient Philosophy
3 months ago

After waiting a year for review, I did an R&R for them which followed all recommendations yet was rejected anyway because, over the long span of time, a new editor came in who wanted to go another direction. I realize an R&R is not an acceptance but the lengthy times elapsed to obtain this response had difficult repercussions. The paper was subsequently quickly accepted and published elsewhere.

I have only received one other rejection, luckily, but it was so harsh and unfairly judgmental, and came at such a vulnerable moment, that I was turned off from further attempts to submit work to journals for a period of years. Editors should read the comments and, even if they will not recommend changes to those comments, might consider sending mitigating advice along as well. It is difficult for junior faculty to be told that a submission is so poor that they should leave the profession and live in shame for ever having submitted it, especially when they are under constant pressure from the employer side to submit as many papers as possible to demonstrate progress.

That said, one of the best things about the publication process is reading the informative comments of excellent, careful readers who try their best to give constructive criticism. This outweighs the few bad experiences, so hearty thanks to those of you who are so generous with good advice.Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
4 months ago

Not a horror story, but the main plot line of the 1979 novel Zinger and Me, by the late University of Toronto political scientist Jack MacLeod.

Young political scientist at the U of Toronto is denied tenure for lack of publications but is told he can reapply in a year if he has a stronger c.v. He sets to turning his dissertation on the influence of Harold Innis on Marshall McLuhan (a very Toronto topic) into a book and, after frantic work, submits his ms. to U of Toronto Press. After a while the editor writes back saying the referees think the ms. is promising but doesn’t address some important issues; he needs to add some chapters on these. Working even more frantically, he writes those chapters and resubmits. Now he’s told the referees think the ms. is too long an needs to be pruned. Too close to his tenure deadline and not knowing what to do, he consults a more experienced academic friend who advises him to just resubmit the original ms. He does and gets a letter saying the referees are now pleased to recommend publication and are especially gratified that the process of review and revision has led to such substantial improvements.Report

Instructor Gadget
Instructor Gadget
4 months ago

I’m surprised this hasn’t come up yet. But many people, including me, have recently had a really bad experience with Pacific Philosophical Quarterly. Basically, PPQ told a bunch of people that it was sending their papers out for review and soliciting names for referees. Then, months and months later, PPQ told them there was a mistake their paper hadn’t gone through an initial review, and that it was actually being desk rejected.Report

DisgruntledGrad
DisgruntledGrad
Reply to  Instructor Gadget
4 months ago

Same, happened just a few days ago. After hearing nothing for 7 months – they said that the internal review would last ca. 6 weeks – I contact them and they tell me that it passed the internal review and they managed to secure one reviewer but were having troubles securing a second referee and solicited possible names. After replying them prontly, silence for 5 more months followed. I contacted them again to ask if there were any news (basically if they managed to secure the second reviewer). In a couple of days I got the email saying “whoops, we made a mess with our records, your paper wasn’t actually sent to reviewers and was desk-rejected. We apologize that we can’t offer reasons for the rejection”. I probably won’t be submitting again to PPQ for a long time.Report

PPQ, seriously?
PPQ, seriously?
Reply to  Instructor Gadget
4 months ago

Same here! PPQ told me several times that they were finding referees for my paper. However, after 5 months, the paper was desk rejected!Report

Last edited 4 months ago by PPQ, seriously?
Another PPQ victim
Another PPQ victim
Reply to  Instructor Gadget
4 months ago

Sad to learn that this is a wider issue and not just something unfortunate that happened to me! After hearing nothing from PPQ for 10 months, I sent a follow-up email. They wrote back a week later saying that “Due to a recently discovered mistake” in their records, my submission hadn’t yet passed through initial review. They did of course do me the honour of swiftly passing it through review after 10 months, before promptly desk-rejecting it. Ouch!Report

Janet Levin
Janet Levin
Reply to  Instructor Gadget
4 months ago

I am writing in my capacity as chair of the editorial committee for the Pacific Philosophical Quarterly. We recently discovered that, due to a major error in our record-keeping process, over 100 manuscripts submitted to the PPQ over a period of a little over a year were misclassified as having undergone an initial review. There was a confluence of factors that allowed the error to go undetected for so long, some due to COVID-19, some technological, and others due to a diffusion of responsibility in the reviewing process – these factors also contributed to some failures to respond to author inquiries. When we discovered the extent of the problem we made the difficult decision to try to clear the backlog as quickly as possible, and therefore (i) to do an unusually thorough reading of papers during the internal review process to enable us to get results back to authors as quickly as possible, and (ii) not to give comments on papers that we did not send out for external review. We understand the costs of having a paper tied up at a journal for so long, and recognize the burden it places on authors waiting for a response. I take full responsibility for this unfortunate situation and apologize sincerely for our lapse. We are overhauling our processes for submission and evaluation of manuscripts to make sure not only that nothing like this happens again, but also that, going forward, the PPQ can be exemplary in giving authors quick decisions. We will announce more concrete steps in this regard soon, including a new faculty editor who will be taking over after the end of this semester. 

With sincere apologies,
Janet LevinReport

PPQ, seriously?
PPQ, seriously?
Reply to  Janet Levin
4 months ago

Thanks for the message! I think most people are fine with being desk-rejected without comments. The point is that they don’t want to wait for five months or longer to get a desk-rejection.Report

H.T. Adriaenssen
H.T. Adriaenssen
Reply to  Janet Levin
4 months ago

Just wondering whether an electronic submission system is being considered? Between 2019-present I’ve acted as a referee for PPQ and submitted work myself. In both cases, communication with the journal has been difficult and slow. The discrepancy between the 4 weeks I was given to submit a report and the 13 months I’ve had to wait for a first decision on my own submission strikes me as remarkable.Report

PPQ, seriously?
PPQ, seriously?
Reply to  H.T. Adriaenssen
4 months ago

Cannot agree more! My worst experiences are always with journals without an electronic submission system. It took more than one month for PPQ to just confirm that they have received my paper.Report

In limbo
In limbo
Reply to  Instructor Gadget
4 months ago

Not meaning to pick on PPQ unnecessarily, but I had a similar experience in 2017, when the area editor had yet to decide on whether to invite referees for the article 6 months after submission.Report

Instructor Gadget
Instructor Gadget
Reply to  In limbo
4 months ago

Totally agree with this. It isn’t a one time problem with PPQ. It is part of a larger pattern.Report

Junior Person
Junior Person
Reply to  Instructor Gadget
4 months ago

A manuscript of mine was one of those rejected. I submitted the manuscript in February of 2020 only to receive a desk rejection with no comments in February of 2021. I was led to believe that that the paper had gone through internal review and that they were seeking external referees.Report

insecurely employed
insecurely employed
4 months ago

A journal that was known to have had serious issues with communication and lost papers (but had supposedly resolved them) failed to respond to multiple inquiries about my submission – which they’d never acknowledged receipt of.

It turns out it was reviewed positively, but for some reason I wasn’t contacted until *four years later* when the editor stumbled across it by accident (when looking me up to offer me a position on the journal’s editorial board).

At that point they apologized profusely and offered to publish the paper immediately, as well as inviting me to join the board. I told them to publish the paper (which they did) and said I would join the board if they were willing to discuss the problems and look for ways to address them. They said they’d get back to me but it’s be over a year and I haven’t heard anything more.

I don’t think this is the fault of any one person. I think (as Justin points out in the OP) that it’s an inevitable consequence of journal staff being so under-resourced. But in my opinion that makes it even worse. Early careers are utterly dependent on a system which is barely functioning, and we could be losing excellent philosophers because of it.Report

Robert A Gressis
Robert A Gressis
4 months ago

Do any of these stories do anything to undermine anyone’s competence in the peer review system? Like, should we continue to think of peer review as the gold standard?

If paper X is accepted into journal Y, should we think of X as good, on the grounds that so many papers get rejected for spurious reasons (consequently, if X got into Y, it must have been REALLY good)? Or should we conclude that X’s being accepted into is no evidence that X is any good, on the grounds that reviewers’ verdicts are arbitrary? Or should we conclude that these horror stories are outliers, and that acceptance into a peer reviewed journal is still a valuable measure of paper quality?Report

Chris
Chris
Reply to  Robert A Gressis
4 months ago

What an unhelpful straw-man. Has any one claimed that journal acceptances are completely random? That they don’t count as evidence of quality at all? The question is how strong the evidence of quality is.Report

Robert A Gressis
Robert A Gressis
Reply to  Chris
4 months ago

You’re right! I’m not sorry I posted my comment, because it’s just a comment and it didn’t harm anyone, but I guess these stories don’t lead to a strong conclusion about the peer review system.Report

DisgruntledGrad
DisgruntledGrad
4 months ago

This is a minor occurrence, but as a grad student trying to publish it really managed to start off my experiences with the peer review system on the wrong foot.
Sent a paper to good journal in Europe, and after one month I get a rejection with a single referee report. The report is completely unhelpful because it is clear that the referee read the first three pages and then jumped to conclusions on my behalf, including ascribing to me the position I’m quite clearly criticizing in the paper. After getting some feedback from colleagues that had read my paper in order to ascertain whether I was completely blind to a massive flaw in it or if it was the referee that had carried out a lousy job (the feedback was unanimous on the referee not having read the paper carefully) I send it to another european journal, well-regarded for the area of my paper.
After three months I got a rejection with the report being the verbatim copy of the review I got at journal n°1.
In order to avoid that reviewer again I hopped the pond and sent it to PPQ, and you can see what happened there in a comment in this thread.Report

Emanon
Emanon
4 months ago

I wouldn’t call this a horror story, but it was unpleasant:

I had a paper that had been slowly amassing rejections for a few years. Nothing surprising there: my early attempts were a little under-developed, and the later attempts, well… it’s an unusual paper. The comments were generally so-so, when I even got any. Finally, I sent it to a mid-ranked generalist journal which advertised itself as a place for unusual papers. After taking more than twice as long as it does on average (which, in fairness, wasn’t super long), I got back a rejection with a few sentences, including that the paper wasn’t suitable for publication in philosophy journals. I didn’t mind the rejection too much, but I was struggling to publish at the time and that comment really stung.

I’d pretty much given up on it at that point, so I sent it as-is (as-was?) to the AJP, where it promptly garnered a very positive R&R with extremely helpful comments, and where it was accepted shortly after I turned in the R&R.

That positive experience with the AJP did an enormous amount to boost my confidence. I’d started to doubt my ability not just to publish, or to judge what was of publishable quality, but my ability to judge what counts as philosophy in the first place. And now I know that I shouldn’t. It’s been a few years now, but I still draw a lot of strength from it.

I have heard of some absolute horrors from friends, but I’ll leave it to them to tell the stories.Report

phil person
phil person
4 months ago

I once submitted a paper to a very reputable journal and, after a few months, I received an email asking if I would consider rewriting it as a discussion note. This meant chopping ~8000 words down to less than half of that. A challenge, of course, but something I was more than happy to attempt given that it seemed the journal was interested in my paper in *some* form.

After painstakingly rewriting it, I then waited several more months only to receive a desk rejection. I always felt like that was bad form on their part.Report

Last edited 4 months ago by phil person
Alan Hájek
Alan Hájek
4 months ago

In a paper that I once submitted to a journal, I argued for a particular thesis, and then I immediately had an ‘Objections and Replies’ section. I received just one referee report, recommending rejection. The main reason was that I “didn’t even consider the obvious objection that …” I not only considered and replied to the objection; it received an entire subsection, under an italicised heading in the referee’s exact words. (A different complaint, which might or might not have been fair, could have been that my reply was inadequate. But that was not the complaint here.)Report

Ed Elliott
Ed Elliott
Reply to  Alan Hájek
4 months ago

Exact same thing happened to me for a recent paper of mine. Rejected from Phil Studies on the basis of a referee complaining that I made “little attempt to consider obvious objections”, and then proceeded to highlight two objections each of which had their own sub-section in ‘Objections & Replies’, and a third objection which was literally nonsensical.Report

Christopher Hitchcock
4 months ago

I sent a paper to prominent journal X on topic Y, which was (at the time) a hot topic. A year later I got a rejection. One of the main reasons for rejection was that my paper ignored the literature that had appeared in the intervening year. (This was in the olden days when people didn’t post preprints online.)Report

Chris Surprenant
Chris Surprenant
4 months ago

Unless folks are going to name names with journals, how is this not just like that website we were just criticizing? The only way these problems get fixed is if identify the bad actors publicly.Report

Curtis Franks
Curtis Franks
Reply to  Chris Surprenant
4 months ago

Were we criticizing a website?

I don’t know what comparison you have in mind, but just on the topic of horror stories in publishing, to which I meant to contribute two items above, it seems that we can convey the idea that “the universe is not out to get you in particular” and even maybe “reveal some patterns,” without also engaging in any sort of vigilante public shaming of individual persons. No one has asked about my #1 publishing horror story, but let me submit that it is far, far worse than the two I described above, although I would never discuss it publicly because it does not seem possible to do so without publicly revealing specific persons’ wrongdoing, which not only I but many people, cultures, and institutions find to be a wrongdoing of its own.Report

Chris Surprenant
Chris Surprenant
Reply to  Curtis Franks
4 months ago

Sorry you had that experience. You should state which journals those were so that the editors (perhaps new editors) can jump on and say that those things don’t happen anymore, or, minimally, people may be able to avoid similar situations.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Curtis Franks
4 months ago

I think Chris was referring to this: https://dailynous.com/2021/02/26/philosopher-launches-anti-trans-website-colleagues-others-object/

I agree with Chris that folks should name names, while exercising caution and charity, especially if they’re going post anonymously anyway. We can’t identify patterns (as with e.g. PPQ) if we don’t know what journals folks are talking about. And we can name journals without targeting individual people. Journals are, by and large, institutions, and the people that constitute them are much less vulnerable than junior scholars. Junior scholars are individuals. Some folks’ career prospects can get derailed or significantly altered because of egregious delays in the peer review process.

I’m fortunate enough not to have horror stories, although I’ve had my share of unacceptably long delays and mean referee reports. I will simply point out that the *Journal of Ethics* will return your submission to you after many weeks requesting that you format the paper according to their style before they can proceed. The review process then starts afresh. This adds weeks and weeks of unnecessary delays for something that most journals don’t and shouldn’t care about. They also, much much later, sent me one of the most uncharitable and mean spirited set of referee reports I’ve ever gotten.

I’m surprised by the number of people who will wait like a year or more to contact editors. People should not hesitate to inquire earlier, at least as early as the journal indicates they take to review on their website, and, if they don’t explicitly state a timeline, 3-4 months appears reasonable for a gentle inquiry. Of my recent experiences, most journals have returned a verdict, not always but sometimes with comments, in less than four months, sometimes faster. There’s no excuse for taking months to desk-reject.Report

Last edited 4 months ago by Nicolas Delon
Christa Peterson
Reply to  Chris Surprenant
4 months ago

If the website you’re declining to name (?!) really is “No Conflict, They Said,” is not “just like” it in that it is about philosophy journals, not a hugely stigmatized group of human beings it will be used to motivate discriminatory policies towards.Report

Daniele Mezzadri
Daniele Mezzadri
4 months ago

about ten years ago I sent a paper to a journal that had a special issue on the topic the paper was about. After 9 months of silence I politely asked if there was any news. The editor replied saying they were still waiting for a referee report. Few more months, another polite enquiry, the editor replied saying “I think I have good news for you!”, and sent me two referee reports recommending minor revisions. The problem was that these referee reports were about a *different* paper, not mine. I asked: what is going on? The editor replied: “sorry for the mistake, let me look into it and I’ll get back to you”. Then silence. I asked again, not a word from the journal ever since. Obviously I withdrew the paper and submitted elsewhere, where it got published.Report

Last edited 4 months ago by Daniele Mezzadri
Joona Räsänen
Joona Räsänen
Reply to  Daniele Mezzadri
4 months ago

I only had one bad experience. I wrote a paper that contained philosophical argumentation and some empirical data. I submitted it to an interdisciplinary journal that publishes empirical work as well. Two referees liked the paper and it was decisioned minor revision (the editor wrote: “The reviewers have recommended publication, but also suggest some revisions to your manuscript). After making the revisions the editor did not send the paper back to the referees but checked the paper themselves. The editor said that the structure of the paper is problematic and that I should either focus on the philosophy or the empirical material. So we removed the empirical material (as suggested by the editor) and submitted it as a pure philosophy paper. The editor then said that the paper “reads like a philosophy essay rather than an academic paper”, so it was rejected. After a couple of desk-rejections elsewhere the paper (containing some empirical material as well) was accepted in a philosophy journal.Report

Daniel Weltman
4 months ago

I wouldn’t quite characterize this as a horror story – I don’t come up for tenure for a while, the paper is not one that I prefer to get published sooner rather than later, etc., but since one useful aspect of threads like this is to communicate information to colleagues about the speed at which various journals move: I submitted a paper to Metaphilosophy in late 2018. When 2 years passed I emailed them for an update and they said it is still under review. (No update since then, either.) I’m not horrified, for the above-mentioned reasons and also because I knew it had a reputation for slow response times back when I submitted, but if I were differently situated (e.g. if this paper getting published were tremendously important to my professional standing and if I didn’t know it would likely take so long) then I might feel differently.Report

Jussi Suikkanen
Jussi Suikkanen
4 months ago

This isn’t really a horror story but it is something I do remember and occasionally laugh about. Years and years ago I got a comment from a referee saying something along the lines that, yes, you have shown that there is a possible world where p is the case but you still haven’t shown that it is possible that p. To this day, I haven’t been able to figure out what they meant – whether they were slightly confused or had some exciting deeper philosophical point in mind.Report

James Camien McGuiggan
James Camien McGuiggan
4 months ago

I finished work on a paper in December 2016. Since then, it’s spent a total of eight months lost in journals’ electronic submission systems, and has been with its current journal for about twenty months.Report

Ryan
Ryan
4 months ago

This doesn’t rise to the level of horror story for me, but it raises broader issues that may be of interest. Once I had a paper rejected exclusively because it did not engage in sufficient detail with my own previous work. I didn’t engage more with the work because I was trying to preserve my anonymity. Later, for a different paper, I had it rejected solely because the reviewer thought I had misinterpreted my own earlier paper. In both instances it seemed to me that it would be desirable, and perhaps also possible, for authors to have some way of flagging to editors (perhaps via managing editors, to preserve anonymity) when these issues are occurring in the review process. But the only options I could see available in these cases got me no response.Report

Curtis Franks
Curtis Franks
Reply to  Ryan
4 months ago

Ryan,

There was a discussion at this ‘blog recently about self-citation conventions that might pertain to what you are interested in: https://dailynous.com/2020/09/24/norm-self-citation-guest-post-colin-klein/

I will just note, though, that in situations like what you describe you should definitely be in touch directly with the editor who is handling your submission. Just write to them and explain that the referee’s assessment seems to be based on their observation that you have misunderstood Ryan 2006, which is evidence that something is wrong. The editor will understand the problem and communicate to the referee and most likely clear things up while preserving the anonymity that is needed.

In general I think that there is a wide-spread misconception especially among early career scholars in philosophy that editors are entirely deferential to the referees they use. Editors look to referees for advice, but make their own publication decisions. When editors solicit advice from referees, they in no way are turning the publication decision over to them. They are just asking for advice, and they might be looking for different things from different referees (what does this person think about the use of their own work in this novel setting? does this project just talk to insiders or does it provide a framework that makes contact with scientific developments that this expert outsider will appreciate? etc). I have seen good things happen from every angle of this dynamic.

  1. As a referee, I have submitted evaluations that were partially based on a mistaken evaluation of a proof. When the author pointed out my mistake, the editor didn’t know right away who was right, and just asked me to look at what the author said. I saw my mistake right away (and learned something interesting) and revised my assessment.
  2. As an author, I have received referee reports that allege that various of my claims or interpretations are wrong, and I have explained to the editor that the referee seems to have made a mistake here or there. Sometimes the editor has taken these remarks back to the referee and sometimes hasn’t needed to do so.
  3. As an editor, I have seen referee reports that complain that an otherwise thoughtful paper is too derivative of the thought of person X and have published the paper because person X is in fact the author.

It is perfectly appropriate for an author to be part of these conversations. An editor will organize things so that anonymity is preserved. Don’t suffer in silence.Report

Ryan
Ryan
Reply to  Curtis Franks
4 months ago

Thanks for your comments, Curtis. I wonder what you think about a couple of follow-up questions. In one of the cases (perhaps both—I don’t remember) the standard decision letter included a sentence saying the editor could not enter into conversations with authors about the basis for decisions because of the volume of submissions. Would you still recommend writing to the editor in that case? And would you recommend using the email connected to the journal, if there is one, rather than a personal their university email? Lastly, I wondered if you recommend contacting the editor (as opposed to managing editor) where there is a triple blind review?Report

Curtis Franks
Curtis Franks
Reply to  Ryan
4 months ago

I suppose these sorts of situations are different. In the journals I have worked with, I have always been under the impression that (at most) the referee sees a blind copy of the author’s submission but nothing else about the process is “blind.”

If a form letter says that the editor cannot enter into conversations about decisions, I would take that to mean that you should not expect a reply and certainly not expect the referee to have to defend the decision. But if you think there was a mistake, miscommunication, or the like such as the two sorts of things that you mentioned, then I think that even those editors handling the largest volume of submissions would welcome the information.Report

CA or C
CA or C
Reply to  Ryan
4 months ago

I’ve had a very similar experience – rejected twice I think for not engaging with my own work. In this kind of situation it seems obvious that the editors should discount any negative inferences about the paper based on that omission. Unless the process is triple-blind and the editor simply didn’t realise what was going on, in which case I probably should have said something to the editor about the issue…Report

Curtis Franks
Curtis Franks
Reply to  CA or C
4 months ago

Yes, definitely. The more open communication, the better the editor can do their job. The editor wants to put together the best possible journal, where this may be the product of some combination of quality of submissions, diversity of topics, representation of multicultural/national perspectives and research trends, balance between emerging unorthodox ideas and advances in the standard paradigm. They do not accomplish this by applying a simplistic algorthim like “two positive reports and you’re in, one negative one and you’re out.” They struggle to get quality expert advice (I’ve had as many as 20 people turn down an invitation before securing a single referee) and generally seek as much information as possible. Authors might think that their inquiries are intrusive, but actually they are typically helpful and welcome — especially when it corrects an erroneous judgement.Report

Ed Elliott
Ed Elliott
Reply to  CA or C
4 months ago

Why should a paper be *rejected* for failing to engage with a particular author? That seems like the sort of thing that, in most cases, is readily fixable in a revision.Report

David Faraci
4 months ago

At the end of 2019, I received “minor revisions” from Philosophical Studies on a reply to a paper in that journal. This decision was based on two referee reports. One was the most positive I’ve ever received; it called my paper “snappy, original, deeply informed, and impeccably argued” and said that it “is sure to inspire, and be a touchstone in, future discussion at the intersection of these topics.” The other, which I later learned came from one of the authors of the article I was responding to, claimed I was being uncharitable but suggested that my paper might help correct some confusion about their article and so should be published. (I learned who this was because the system mistakenly gave me access to a letter to the editor in which the author made it clear they were hoping my reply would be published so they could reply in return.) 

I did not believe I was uncharitable, but some of the interpretive claims I offered weren’t necessary for my core point, so I simply removed those elements and left the theoretical points. I received a second round of “minor revisions” in April 2020: more positive comments from the one referee (they called my revisions “splendid”); more complaints, now with a number of points of basic theoretical confusion, from my target. I still received no guidance from the editor, other than to address the comments, so I simply set out to clarify as much as possible.

In June, I received a rejection, alongside more confused complaints from my target. The other referee wrote another positive review, adding: “I would oppose further requests for revisions, and very strongly oppose rejection. This paper is excellent and deserves to be read ASAP.”

I complained to the editor that a rejection after two rounds of minor revisions seemed a bit unfair, and was offered a chance to send in one more version, which the editor sent to a single, new referee. That referee (who may well have been the other author of the original piece) indicated in their report that they were not given access to any of the previous reports or my responses to them, and so made a judgement based only on the final version. This they rejected as “uncharitable,” claiming that the authors could easily avoid my arguments by making a series of claims that made absolutely no sense.Report

Junior Scholar
Junior Scholar
Reply to  David Faraci
4 months ago

This story illustrates a sincere confusion/frustration I have about how peer review works in our field. There are two reviewers, with two different conclusions, and the managing editor seems to defer to the negative review despite a glowing positive review. Is this the norm? I have had a paper reviewed at two different journals (consecutively) where both times one reviewer was enthusiastic and recommended publication (possibly with some minor revisions, but to accept with revisions) and the other reviewer was supportive and provided notes but did not recommend publication. In each instance, the paper was rejected – which I found odd given one glowing review. Why not offer an R&R to address the shortcomings the second reviewer identified if they were the barriers to acceptance and the other reviewer recommended publication of the paper basically as is? Is the idea that journals want to be selective so if any one reviewer has concerns about the paper that perspective ends up making the final determination? In the end this paper submitted to journal #3 got an acceptance pending minor revisions (which was the recommendation of both reviewers). It isn’t a horror, necessarily, but it isn’t great either.Report

David Faraci
Reply to  Junior Scholar
4 months ago

I have received a number of R&Rs in cases like you’re describing, so I wouldn’t say it’s quite the norm. But I do think it happens a fair amount, for basically the reasons you suggest: many journals get so many submissions that they end up using a heuristic on which only universal acclaim from the referees moves the submission forward. (Indeed, I’m pretty sure I’ve had editors say almost precisely this to me with a rejection.)Report

Not given
Not given
4 months ago

My favorite journal, Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, has a wonderful review process and super nice staff. Every issue is a feast of content. The word must be out, because they get a ton of submissions and seem to have accepted a lot of articles. Mine was accepted two years ago and still hasn’t been printed. I am told I may have to wait 9 months to another year. Always forthcoming, I guess!

(Maybe go to a monthly format to speed things up?).Report

Kaila Draper
Kaila Draper
4 months ago

Maybe we should have a thread about really good experiences with referees and journals so that more patterns can be detected.Report

not yet tenured
not yet tenured
4 months ago

I wish people–especially senior people–would name names when it comes to journals for which there is an established record of horror stories. I know the system is overwhelmed, editors and referees often work for free, etc., but a) this doesn’t excuse everything and b) naming and shaming is one of the only mechanisms that exists for rectifying problems that are fixable even in our current context (for example, even if they work for free, an editor can reply to an email inquiring about the status of a paper under review for years).Report

Douglas W. Portmore
4 months ago

Many of these are not what I would call “Philosophy Journal Horror Stories.” The fact that some reviewer made some horrible mistake doesn’t entail that the journal or its editorial team made any mistake. I’ve known some very appropriately chosen reviewers to make some horrible mistakes. And editors often identify such mistakes and use that as evidence to downgrade their confidence in other aspects of the reviewer’s report. And they often do so without letting the author of the submission know. It seems to me that a philosophy journal horror story should be one where we know that the journal or its editorial team made some horrendous mistake, not one where a reviewer (who may have been appropriately chosen) made some horrendous mistake (that the editorial team identified and appropriately dealt with in their deliberations).Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Douglas W. Portmore
4 months ago

This is a totally fair point. Surely patterns are worthwhile to note, though. No? We now know there’s something wrong at PPQ and AJP and Ergo are extremely well run. The outlier bad referee doesn’t say much about a journal but once a number of folks have had similar experiences you start to wonder. I think that’s the point of these stories and why it’s worth naming the offenders.Report

Lisa Miracchi
Lisa Miracchi
4 months ago

I’m glad that Janet Levin has issued this apology. I’m glad that she and the journal are committed to improving their practices, and to improving transparency.

However, I cannot help but think that the apology misses something really important. My paper was one of these papers, and while I was initially frustrated at the decision and of course it comes at some cost to me, I personally will be fine losing a year in trying to get this paper published. However, the costs of such a loss are serious for many. The job market is absolutely dismal, and many people are in professionally precarious positions. Many of our colleagues need publications in order to stay or become professionally and economically secure. For colleagues in this position, a single publication can make a huge difference, and a year is a long time to lose trying to publish a paper.

In light of these considerations, I think it was wrong for the journal to clear their plate by rejecting all of these papers. This effectively pushes the burden of mismanagement of the journal onto very professionally vulnerable people.

I understand that these issues are complex and difficult, and I genuinely believe that Janet Levin and everyone involved are trying to do the right thing. But I believe that taking responsibility here requires more than was done. It would have been much, much better to figure out a speedy referee process, and perhaps those of us who are professionally secure could opt out, and perhaps even offer to help review other papers. This is just one idea, and I’m sure the PPQ editorial board has considered other ideas too. The important thing here is that, in this time of scarcity, we work together to mitigate the harms of our mistakes for the more vulnerable in our profession.Report

Douglas W. Portmore
Reply to  Lisa Miracchi
4 months ago

To say that “it was wrong for the journal to clear their plate by rejecting all of these papers” seems like a gross misrepresentation of what Levin said that they did. According to her, what they did was “an unusually thorough reading of papers during the internal review process to enable us to get results back to authors as quickly as possible.” Presumably, the result of this process was not that all the papers were rejected after this internal review. And I think that if they just automatically sent all the papers for external review, this would likely waste the time of many external reviewers as well of many authors given that the external review process takes much longer.Report

Lisa Miracchi
Lisa Miracchi
Reply to  Lisa Miracchi
4 months ago

Clarification: I have just been informed that this was at roughly the proportion they have in previous years. This makes me feel somewhat better about the whole thing, as they did not clear their plates by rejecting a disproportionate number of these papers, as it at first seemed to me.

I do still think we should pay attention to how receiving a rejection without a report after a year has a disparate impact on more vulnerable members of our profession.Report

Prabhpal Singh
4 months ago

I would not consider this a horror story, but it is extremely annoying. In Oct 2019, I submitted a paper to Bioethics that was a reply to another recently published paper. It was rejected in a few months because a review felt that enough had already been said on the subject and any attentive reader would be able to see the inconsistencies I argued were in the paper I was replying to. Ok cool. I re-submit to another journal, a generalist journal this time, which desk rejects because my paper ‘would be better-suited for a bioethics journal’. Aight. I then re-submit to a biomedical ethics/phil of medicine journal, which desk rejects because my paper ‘would be better-suited for a bioethics journal’. Bruh. Fast forward to today and I’m still searching for a venue, but discover that Bioethcs published 2 papers both on the same topic as mine and with practically the same points being made. The papers were NOT plagiarized. What annoys me is that a year or so ago, supposedly enough had already been said on the subject and the points I made in my paper were too obvious to warrant publication. What changed in a year? In all likelihood, I’ll have to abandon the paper now, which sucks. Report

Eric Lewis
Eric Lewis
4 months ago

Ok, it is not a journal, but a book series, but here it is….. I was asked to, on short notice, write a chapter for a prestigious book series, which I did, dropping everything. After submitting the piece I basically heard nothing from the editors until receiving a request for a bibliography to be turned around in very, very short order. So what is odd about this—-I sent the completed chapter in in 1992, and received my response from them in…..2018! To this day the delay has never been explained, or even addressed at all. The delay in submission to publication which is standard across journals and books in our field sends the following message to the public, and our colleagues in other disciplines: “Our research does not matter.”Report

Ed Elliott
Ed Elliott
4 months ago

This isn’t really a horror story, since the paper was conditionally accepted on first submission. But still, my first ever referee report had the following gem:

However, both those claims appear to be wrong, for ‘the unique man’ cannot be instantiated by something different from ‘the unique inventor’ at any scenario, on the assumption that ‘being an inventor’ entails ‘being a man’.

I find it hard to understand how anyone could write that sentence and not stop to think twice about it. There was no comment on it from the editor, whose only concern was the final wordcount.

(To pre-empt: many people have said “Maybe the referee understood ‘man’ to mean ‘human person’?” But this wouldn’t make the objection more reasonable, since there can obviously be non-human inventors, and moreover because the argument in question concerns the stipulated definition ‘Julius = the man who invented the zip, if such exists’, and the argument would have worked just fine if we’d have replaced ‘man’ with ‘adult human male’ — so to interpret ‘man’ in any other way would be absurdly uncharitable.)Report

Anti-Climactic-us
Anti-Climactic-us
4 months ago

It’s fun to dish about one’s bad treatment by journals and it might be helpful to junior scholars to know where to avoid, and I’d love to settle some scores here myself. But I’ll resist because I’m not sure that this really gets at what many of us think is most deeply wrong with the journal system. So instead of horror stories that have negatively affected me personally as an author I’ll share two unsettling refereeing experiences. Neither were horrible for me, but they have done more to erode my faith in the system than any blatantly horrible experience I’ve had as an author.
When I was still in graduate school, I was asked to review a paper on a topic on which I’d previously published. The paper looked a lot like a previously published paper of someone on my dissertation committee. So much so that I thought it was a pretty clear case of plagiarism. But I had this vague suspicion that I wanted to rule out before making that claim, so I did something that I’d usually never do as a referee and googled the title and bits of the paper. And sure enough this was another paper by the person in question where they more or less just restated the argument and conclusion of the previously published paper though with enough minimal differences that one could argue that it was a different paper. To be clear this was a different paper in that the words were different, but the actual conclusions and important bits weren’t or at least not in any meaningful way.  I’m not sure what you’d call this—self-plagiarism, double publishing—and I know that a lot of academics publish multiple papers with only slightly different conclusions so I’m not sure there was any conscious ill intent but the whole thing rubbed me the wrong way. It certainly didn’t make any new and important contribution to the debates it dealt with. (If the first paper was “Under Pressure” this one was “Ice, Ice Baby”.) My response was to just beg off as a referee on the grounds that it turned out that I was familiar with this particular work and so the review wouldn’t be blind. But I find the whole thing unsettling on a few levels. I’m not certain about anything and I certainly couldn’t prove anything, but I do know that this journal allowed authors to suggest referees. So hopefully you can see why I still find this pretty unsettling and why it would undermine my faith in the system a bit. This was a specialist journal but one that’s well respected in its specialty.
I have an even worse referee story from my years adjuncting and working as a VAP. The head of the department at one place I worked in these years asked me to referee a paper for a journal where he was one of the editors. I was happy enough to do it, though maybe I should have been more cognizant of power issues here. The paper it turned out was really bad. It seemed sloppily and hastily written and the conclusions in my judgment were neither all that interesting nor important. In those days I was very hesitant to recommend a full-on reject so I recommended rejection with a possibility to resubmit after major revisions but with no encouragement to do so. There were clearly marked options here I’ll add for revise and resubmit with minor revisions and encouragement to do so, and conditional acceptance as well as the option I chose. Some time later the editor caught me in the hallway and asked, or maybe said I’m still not sure which I’d call it, that he was going to treat my review as a conditional acceptance and that I wouldn’t need to review the resubmission. He added that this paper was by a major scholar in the field and the journal was really happy to publish anything by him. It didn’t sit well with me, but I didn’t feel comfortable really raising a stink about it for obvious reasons. This was another specialty journal and one that, while not a top journal, is pretty well respected.
I’m not sure how common things like this are, but to my mind incidents like this are like cockroaches. If I’ve seen two myself, I suspect there are a whole lot more running around in the house of peer review.Report

historygrrrl
historygrrrl
4 months ago

Here’s the story of the paper that would not die.

Journal #1: Took about 6 months; got a revise and resubmit. I resubmitted and got back two positive referee reports – both recommended publication – but the editor rejected it. Sucks, but it happens.

So, off to Journal #2. After 13 months, I finally got a decision – revise and resubmit.

I took my sweet time resubmitting to Journal #2 (another 6 months – which was completely my fault, but didn’t feel too zippy after 13 months.) So, I submitted it again. They got me a decision in just 4 months: revise and resubmit.

This time I got it turned around in about a month; off to Journal #2 for yet a third time. This time, they took 15 months. Guess what the decision was? Revise and resubmit.

One of the reviews was pretty clearly someone pushing their own agenda (I was unwilling to make the suggested revisions). I was also mildly annoyed that one of the reviewers kept referring to the author as ‘he’ (which I’m not).

So, I politely let them know that I would not be resubmitting. I still haven’t published that paper.Report

Stilpo
Stilpo
4 months ago

So I submit a piece to a History of Philosophy journal (no: not *that* one!). Piece is sent to two referees. First one gets back pretty quickly: oh yeah this is a great piece, groundbreaking, well-written; here’s some points you may want to discuss but don’t feel you need to.

Second reviewer takes six months. More pessimistic: what about these objections? Also, isn’t the piece too long? So I included responses to her objections in the piece (which were already there, I just made them more explicit); couldn’t really shorten it, as it was already very tightly written.

Three months pass. No response. I write to the editor. No response. Two more months pass. I write to the editor. Oh, sorry, the second reviewer has recently suffered a bereavement and isn’t reviewing. A few more months pass. The reviewer rejects my piece because it is not shortened, and because of ‘sloppiness’.

What was this sloppiness? Well, I mentioned a journal article in the body of the text which I hadn’t included in the bibliography. Hence the editor said no.

The editor did, however, say that reviewer 1 enjoyed my thoughtful responses to his comments; he reiterated his recommendation that the piece be published immediately.Report

Stephen Menn
Stephen Menn
4 months ago

In 1990 I wrote a short paper on a textual-critical issue in a French writer with larger implications for the interpretation of his work. Since it was on a French writer who is much more widely read in France than elsewhere, I wrote it in French as an experiment, and sent it off to a French journal. I never heard back from them. When I later moved to a French-speaking country, I realized that my French writing had been full of mistakes. I assumed that the journal had considered it too embarrassing to respond to, and I was so ashamed that I never tried writing any scholarly work in French again. In 2008 I tried searching some keywords on Google Scholar to see whether anyone else had made and published the same discovery that I had made in the late 80’s and written up in 1990; if not, I was going to try writing it up again, probably in English this time, and sending it somewhere else. What came up on Google Scholar were snippets of what I recognized as my own paper. The journal had published it in 1990, without even correcting the French mistakes, and without telling me either before or after, much less sending me a copy. My career might have gone in a different direction if the journal had acted differently.Report

E E
E E
4 months ago

This one is more funny than a horror story. Still.

Following acceptance, I submitted a final version for proofing. I put a lot of effort into the final version, making sure it fits with every last dot-point of the journal’s extensive stylistic requirements.

A couple of months later I get the initial proofs sent back. The proofs were riddled with newly introduced errors. Some of these were major, like whole paragraphs converted to smallcaps. Others were smaller, like randomly deleted symbols and spaces, and quite a few grammatically incorrect commas inserted throughout.

Anyway, in typical fashion they ask me to check for errors and get back to them within 3 days. (Not 3 working days, mind you, but 3 days. In the middle of teaching term. So bye bye Sunday.) I end up sending them 2 pages of corrections in the required format, e.g.,

“Page 8, Line 293 (equation): ‘Rotherwise’ should be ‘R otherwise’.”

It was basically just a 2-page list of all the places they need to revert back to the previous submission.

A few days later I get an email explaining that one of the corrections I had “demanded” was delaying publication, and

“your “corrective instructions” seem to be completely wrong.”

It turns out I’d put the wrong symbol back in for one of the many that were mysteriously deleted. So I responded that my “demand” was indeed not only wrong but completely wrong, and corrected the error.

The next day get a (more tersely worded) email that yet another of my “demanded corrections” was delaying the publication process. This time,

“your instruction is mistaken, and wrong.”

As opposed to mistaken and right, I suppose. This was another typo; I’d accidentally typed ‘P&~P’ instead of ‘R&~P’, and it was caught because the correction conflicted with the original (and error-free!) submission.

Fortunately, the remainder of my “demands” were neither wrong, nor mistaken. I do wonder whether, had I been given more than 3 days to go through this error-ridden proof, things might have been different. (For one thing, I would have caught more of those pesky incorrect commas that slipped through…)Report

A. Jouis
A. Jouis
4 months ago

I won’t share a horror story but a sentiment, I think that 2 months for a desk rejection, and even more so the outrageous delays mentioned in the other comments, is disrespectful. I understand that journals are overburdened but note it is often peer review that is mentioned, not desk checks, and it is longer than the norm in other areas for the whole process. If it’s longer on average, to desk reject, than let’s say 2 weeks, say so, have statistics up, otherwise it’s not just a waste of time, with the new comment-less peer review, it is taking the appearance of something that is not. With all that said thanks to the work of all the editors anyways, but consider either limiting submissions, taking in more AEs, streamlining the processes, ask for a small financial contribution, have some standards for manuscripts in terms of the layout, be more descriptive and explicit in what is and isn’t acceptable, have staff in different timezones, get temporary editors or AEs for periods of crunch, have limited windows of submission, require a cover letter explaining the novelty, and most of all be transparent about the various steps rather than hiding behind an after all hypothetical review. Doing good work doesn’t mean you can’t do better, especially when individual acts of good work are separated from the overall bad of delay, since every act of editing, in isolation, is short.Report

aaa
aaa
4 months ago

I had a paper under review at BJPS for months. After several email exchanges, the editor told me that one referee report was in and they were waiting for a second referee. When they finally delivered the verdict of reject, they told me that there were no comments on my paper. Surprising, isn’t it?Report

Kevin Lynch
Kevin Lynch
3 months ago

I submitted a paper to American Philosophical Quarterly over a year ago. After six months I messaged them for an update and didn’t get a response. I messaged again and eventually was told the paper was sent to three reviewers and none got back about it. I was told further reviewers would be solicited, so I waited another months. Six months passed again with no reply so I checked the website and found that my paper was no longer registered on their system, though I had been sent no rejection. I emailed to ask what was going on, and no response.Report

Rejected Acceptance
Rejected Acceptance
3 months ago

I had an accepted paper rejected.

An editor of a journal emailed me: “I am happy to tell you that your submission has been accepted for publication…. I strongly suggest that you consider making whatever minor revisions necessary to redress the points of criticism (if any) registered in the reviewer comments below. Since these points of criticism are minor, the offer to publish your manuscript does not depend on making these changes. However, making these changes might well strengthen your paper. If you decide not make these changes, please let me know with a brief explanation as to why. If you decide to make these changes, please detail them in an email to me… Upon receipt of this final version of your manuscript, I will move it into production and inform you that this has taken place.

I then made some minor changes that I thought would prevent the sort of misunderstanding that the reviewer had in the reviewer comments provided. I briefly notified the editor on this point.

Two months later my paper was rejected, citing the reviewer’s response: “I don’t think the author took the reviewer comments very seriously. Not very much is different between version #1 and#2…” I was shocked that the paper underwent another round of review after having initially been told that the paper was “accepted for publication” and that “upon receipt of this final version of your manuscript, I will move it into production”. I wasn’t at all surprised the reviewer thought I hadn’t taken the comments seriously. Had I known the paper would be returned to them instead of going directly to production as promised, I would have included a much more lengthier explanation (in a response to reviewers document) explaining why I thought the reviewer’s misunderstanding arose and why I thought the small revisions I made were sufficient to address it.

I subsequently emailed the editor asking if they were willing to pass along the explanation of how the revisions address the reviewer’s comments. But the editor never replied to that or later requests to revisit the matter.

I guess the lesson is: editors, be careful what you promise; authors, be careful about what’s been promised.Report