Rejection After Positive Referee Reports


When an author gets all fairly positive referee reports (acceptance, conditional acceptance) on a manuscript, but the editors decide not to accept it, what kind of explanation, if any, is it reasonable for the author to expect?

[Paul Klee, “The Angler”]

That’s a question recently sent in by a reader, who seeks a public discussion of the norms regarding this:

In February, I submitted an article to [a general mainstream academic philosophy journal]. The decision arrived in August: My paper was rejected due to “editorial factors” despite receiving positive verdicts (“accept” and “conditional accept”) from both referees. The only explanation provided for the rejection was that they “can only publish a relatively small proportion of the good papers [they] receive.”

I find it problematic that journals still have space limitations at the age of paperless publication, but I had no grounds to object to the decision: After all, we submit papers to journals with the prior acceptance that the ultimate verdict is given by the editors, and a paper’s endorsement by the referees does not guarantee publication. Nevertheless, I was still interested in finding out what shortcomings my paper had that made it lose the competition for space among all the papers that were recommended for publication by the reviewers. And as this was the first time that I was receiving a post-review editorial rejection, I was also curious about whether my request for a more detailed explanation would be granted.

So I sent the following inquiry to the managing editor: “Would the editors be ok with disclosing the reasons for rejection? It would be useful feedback for me. I suppose it was not an arbitrary decision, and I suppose it was also not due to the irrelevance of the topic (given that the article is a follow up on a discussion that recently appeared in the journal), so I guess it has something to do with the content.”

I received the following reply: “Thank you for your email. I believe we have already said really all that we can say. This was an editorial decision and as previously stated, we unfortunately can not publish every publishable paper that we receive.”

In response, I wrote the following: “I perfectly understand that you cannot publish every publishable paper that you receive. But I think it would be good academic practice to provide feedback to the authors in the case of an editorial rejection, regarding what was it about the paper that made the editors deem it less publishable than the other papers at hand. It is natural to expect comments from referees that justify their verdict, and I don’t see why it should be any different in the case of an editorial verdict. In the absence of such justification, one is inclined to think that the decision came down to factors which the editors do not want to disclose for they can be considered unreasonable or unfair, such as the editor’s personal view on the subject matter, the presumed identity of the author, or the unpopularity of the topic.”

I have not received a further reply, so I feel I am entitled to think that the decision was unreasonable or unfair. But am I really so entitled? Perhaps the decision was actually reasonable and fair, but the editors would be overloaded with providing feedback to authors if they would grant such requests. This is probably true for pre-review editorial rejection, and it may not be realistic to expect journal editors to provide a justification for each such case, given the huge number of submissions. But I doubt that the numbers are so high in the case of papers which are recommended by referees but which exceed a journal’s publication capacity.

In any case, I suspect that the primary reason why editors do not feel obliged to provide feedback in the case of a post-review editorial rejection is that so far there has not been enough pressure on them to do so, and there are no established norms regarding the practice. This might change with more public discussion about the issue, and I would like to hear others’ thoughts and experiences. 

Readers?

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Kim
Kim
1 month ago

Maybe they threw dice.Report

The Author
The Author
Reply to  Kim
1 month ago

I explicitly wrote them that “I suppose it was not an arbitrary decision”, and I guess they would tell me if my supposition is wrong. So I suppose they didn’t throw dice. Report

Enzo Rossi
1 month ago

This happened to me a couple of times early in my career, and I’ve done it as an editor a few times also. I don’t think the norms can be codified. It’s just that sometimes an editor can’t quite see that a paper isn’t as interesting as it sounds until a referee or two spell out the relevant issues, e.g. in a way that bridges the gap between ultra-specialists and a more generalist perspective. I do agree it’s good practice for editors to explain why they reached their final verdict, but that holds regardless of the verdict and its relationship to the referee reports.Report

David
1 month ago

Early in my reviewing career, I accepted pieces I would not now. When an editor decided to reject something I had conditionally accepted, it forced me to rethink my reviewing practices. I am grateful he did so.
Perhaps something similar happened here?Report

The Author
The Author
Reply to  David
1 month ago

Perhaps. But the question remains: If that’s what happened, what prevents the editors from providing an explanation in the form of “As one of the reviewers accepted your paper only conditionally, we, the editors, decided to review the paper ourselves to judge whether it’s good enough for inclusion in this journal, and we concluded that it is not.” But note that in such a case the final verdict is that the article is not publishable, contrary to what has been conveyed to me in the above case (“we unfortunately cannot publish every publishable paper we receive”), so if that was really what happened, they were not being honest about how they judged the paper.Report

Anca Gheaus
1 month ago

It may be that editors are overloaded even without providing the kind of feedback to authors which I think you reasonably wish to receive.Report

James Collinsworth
1 month ago

I think we should separate here (i) the fact that it’s annoying for the author to not get a better explanation in such cases with (ii) whether the author has been treated in a way that was “unreasonable or unfair.” They simply don’t owe you any explanation at all. If they had promised to give substantive feedback on all rejections made on the basis of editorial reasons, then you’d have a claim. But that aint how the cow ate the cabbage. A separate further issue is: even if they didn’t treat you unreasonably/unfairly given that they made no such promises for feedback on rejections, SHOULD they have made such a guarantee and then upheld it? Maybe? That said, I don’t know of any journals that do make any such guarantee, and for a good reason, which is that they have too many submissions to process.Report

Leszek Wroński
1 month ago

Years ago me and my colleague received 3 positive reports from a top-tier journal (there were no negative reports), and *then* the editor wrote that the paper was being rejected since it didn’t fit the scope of the journal 🙂Report

Bartosz Kaluziński
1 month ago

Why the name of the journal has been removed? I would like to know which journal has crappy editorial policies so I will not waste my time for submitting my papers there.Report

Omar Little
Omar Little
Reply to  Bartosz Kaluziński
1 month ago

Three points:

(1) The article should never have been sent out for review, insofar as the rejection was preordained, as it were. Just desk reject it. What a waste of the reviewer’s time and effort.

One can only hope that this author was not a junior faculty member or graduate student, where having the paper go through the process for half a year (only for the process to then be unilaterally overruled without explanation) can have far reaching implications for that person’s career.

Of course we don’t know (as a matter of fact) what role the reviews played in the editor’s judgment in this case. Which brings me to the second point:

(2) This is not to say that the reviewer’s judgment must be the decisive factor in all cases; rather, it seems in cases where an editor overrules two anonymous experts that agree that a manuscript merits publication (and the editor nevertheless rejects the manuscript), the author’s request for explanation seems entirely appropriate. This is especially so, insofar as the manuscript is one that is not in the editor’s AOS.

(3) Finally, the practice of overruling two anonymous experts seems less troubling in cases where the review process is triple blind. If the editor knows the author and is playing the role of a third (or fourth) reviewer, one is left wondering: why bother with anonymity?Report

Bartosz Kaluziński
Reply to  Omar Little
1 month ago

I suspect that sometimes editors migh feel that the quality of referee’s reports is poor but, IMHO, they should still not reject the paper but rather find out 3rd ref.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Bartosz Kaluziński
1 month ago

The editor is the one who has the job of accepting or rejecting the paper. I don’t think they have a duty to follow what the referees recommend, or ask for a third referee to overrule the previous ones.

I think that if the editor thinks the quality of the referee’s report is poor, they probably would find another referee. But I would expect in a case like this that they think the quality of the referee’s report is fine, and the editor just has a different judgment of whether this report supports a final verdict of “accept” or “reject”.

Consider the following report:

“Verdict: Accept.

Five years ago, in the pages of a related journal, there was a scholarly dispute about whether we should accept X’s reply to Y’s theory of Z or whether a further epicycle would lead us to reject it. This paper does a good job of summarizing that literature, and adequately responds to much of it by making one more point. It doesn’t have any technical flaws, but I don’t quite see any further implications of this new point. I haven’t seen much else on this topic in the literature in the intervening years, and this paper seems to be just as good as the ones that were published then, so I think this paper can be accepted.”

If I were an editor and I received two reports like this, I may well decide to reject the paper. I wouldn’t feel a need to find some third referee who would either find the fatal flaw in this paper, or clarify the nugget of value this paper has that the other referees were responding to with their positive verdicts, but which failed to come through in their lukewarm reports. Finding a third referee would just seem like a waste both of the referee’s time and the author’s time.Report

Bartosz Kaluziński
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
1 month ago

It is totally possible that a ref wrote such a report! However, I still find it controversial to reject the paper on such grounds, unless the journal has triple-blind rev policy. I just want to make sure that people are getting equal treatment regardless their gender, affiliation, professional status etc, without triple-blind policy there is too much room for implicit bias to affect editors’ decision.

And, even if reports are along the lines you’ve suggested, some explanation to the author should be given: suppose that he/she submitted the paper to “”Mind and he/she received no informative feedback from the editors. I bet that he/she will send the paper next day to, say, “Nous”. If the feedback has been given, the author would know that submitting to, say, “Synthese” is a better idea. Much time and effort could be saved by that.Report

The Author
The Author
Reply to  Omar Little
1 month ago

This particular case involved a journal which commits itself to triple blind review. But of course even a blind manuscript can include some clues that indicate, for instance, whether the author is junior or senior, which may affect the decision. And this is why, in my email, I worded it as “factors which […] can be considered unreasonable or unfair, such as […] the presumed identity of the author” – as I did not want to sound like accusing the editors of violating the triple blind process.

(Note: I’m neither a grad student nor a junior faculty member, I’m an “independent” postdoctoral researcher.) Report

Nick Zangwill
1 month ago

As a referee, I find it annoying if editors make decisions contrary to referee’s advice. It makes a mockery of the seriousness with which one referees papers if the editors may disregard one’s voice and that of the other referees, and make their own decision. Ethics used to do this, both accepting things rejected by referees and rejecting things accepted by referees. I stopped refereeing for them for this reason.Report

Annoyed referee
Annoyed referee
Reply to  Nick Zangwill
1 month ago

Agree. For one paper I reviewed, Synthese decided to allow the author to re-submit with major revisions, even after I and the other referee recommended straight-up rejection. On top of that, the letter they sent to the author repeatedly insulted us referees — the letter said that we were young and that younger philosophers tended to be too harsh in our reviews, and they even speculated that we had rejected the paper “for reasons of self-interest.” Really turned me off from reviewing there again.Report

stunned
stunned
Reply to  Annoyed referee
1 month ago

Holy crap, that is outrageous! Who was the editor at the time? Was this for a special issue?Report

Annoyed referee
Annoyed referee
Reply to  stunned
1 month ago

Yes, it was for a special issue. Happened a couple years ago. I don’t know who the editor was — the letter was visible to referees but the name of the editor was removed. I was pretty shocked.Report

Stunned
Stunned
Reply to  Annoyed referee
1 month ago

Extremely unprofessional of Synthese. Seems like not these special issues are often sources of embarrassment.Report

James Collinsworth
Reply to  Stunned
1 month ago

Synthese tightened up its policy with special issues several years ago. The situation described here would not be allowed under the more recent special issue (what they call Topical Collection) rules now. Two reject verdicts prior to two accept verdicts in a Synthese topical collection contribution automatically triggers rejection – in a way that cannot be overridden by the topical collection’s guest editors. This is worth pointing out because Synthese (following the scandal with a special issue years ago) has made commendable and very clear moves that limit guest editors’ discretion and that should be recognised.Report

Michel
1 month ago

I don’t think that, generally, editors are required to justify their editorial decisions. I do think that when you’re overruling referee recommendations, some token explanation is owed both to the author and the referees.

But I just want to point out that “we can only publish a relatively small proportion of the good papers we receive” isn’t an explanation. It’s an overgeneral excuse. Or, at least, it’s not a sufficient explanation, since the question is why is this particular paper not among that relatively small proportion?

The answer, presumably, is that the journal ultimately requires two unconditional acceptances to publish a paper. A few journals explicitly state as much. That’s fine. And that’s the explanation that should be given with the verdict.Report

apostdoc
1 month ago

Whether or not anyone acted unreasonably here (and I suspect that the editors did), isn’t it a sign that something is going wrong with how our publishing system works? This situation represents a vast investment of time on the part of referees, editors and the author, as the author now must restart the process and submit to another journal. This is likely to at least double the investment of time by the profession as a whole for this one paper. And this is despite the fact that the paper is, by everyone’s admission, publishable in the initial journal. This is not a good situation! And it appears tied to our unnecessary space limitations in journals.

I have had this situation happen to me more than once in my brief publishing career. This suggests that there is a huge amount of wasted effort from situations like this.Report

Caligula's Goat
1 month ago

Some neglected possibilities:

(a) Reviewers may have sent the editor a more candid assessment that led the editor to determine that the paper may simply not be interesting enough to publish in that journal (most editorial manager software has a space for comments that will go only to the editor)

(b) An article may not have any real problems and yet still not rise to the level considered publishable by the journal. This is not unusual and is neither an injustice on the part of the journal doing the rejecting nor is it a flaw in the system (the same is true, we can easily imagine, about admissions to graduate school, tenure-stream job applicants, and so on).

(c) Authors may have trouble discerning a lukewarm conditional acceptance from a strong conditional acceptance. Editors have no such trouble. We’re often too close to our work to read praise critically.

(d) Editors may have prior experience with these reviewers that has led them to believe that the reviewers are, in general, to lax with acceptances relative to the standards sought by the journal and thus focus on their comments instead of their verdicts (and their comments may lead the editor to justifiably reject)

A final note: If people want substantive and/or timely feedback from editors then they better get used to paying for submissions because that’s a lot of labor and none of us should want that labor done entirely for free. It’s already criminal, in my view, that we review articles for free but that’s a different story in the sense that I can understand, so long as someone is not review happy, that reviewing a few articles a year might be a service “to the profession.”Report

Bartosz Kaluziński
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
1 month ago

“Editors may have prior experience with these reviewers that has led them to believe that the reviewers are, in general, to lax with acceptances”

So the editors made bad choice of two refs, who tend to accept almost everything and now the author of the paper is going to pay for they incompetence.Report

Caligula's Goat
Reply to  Bartosz Kaluziński
1 month ago

I didn’t say that they were bad reviewers. The job of the editor is to make an all-things-considered judgment about the article, the reviewers, and the needs of the journal. When I go to department meetings, I don’t always agree with all of my colleagues (who does?!) but this doesn’t mean that I don’t think their feedback is helpful, even vital, to the department. Editors struggle to find reviewers and different reviewers are going to have different virtues and different vices.

It’s too easy to strawperson this into “INCOMPETENT REVIEWERS AND INCOMPETENT EDITORS ARE RUINING EVERYTHING” but this isn’t what’s going on. At least not in my experience. More charitably, reviewers who give good feedback, but who are perhaps a little too kind on their ultimate decisions,* could still provide very useful information to an editor.

*And keep in mind, these same reviewers may have given the editor more discrete feedback as well (i.e., “There’s a good idea in this paper but, honestly, I don’t see this paper improving enough to do what it needs to do. It’s a conditional acceptance for me but a distant one.”).Report

JTD
JTD
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
1 month ago

Yes, (a) is possible, but this is lazy reviewing. In such circumstances I have always included in the author comments something like: “while I am happy to recommend acceptance for this paper, I have reservations about whether this paper is sufficiently interesting to be worthy of this journal. I leave this for the editors to decide.” And, if the editors decide “no”, they should briefly mention this to the author: “In light of the reservations expressed by the referee, we have decided that the papers thesis, despite being well-defended, was not sufficiently interesting to be worthy of this highly selective venue”.

On (b), the editors should be making this judgement call before sending the paper out and then desk rejecting rather then sending it out. Circumstances where (positive) referee reports are required before the editors are able to make this judgment call are rare.

Option (c) is possible. But I suspect that most authors would be able to discern a lukewarm conditional acceptance. To be safe, authors should have a trusted mentor read the reports and then advise on whether they are failing to read through the lines.

Option (d) is also possible. Again, I think the editors owe the referee a brief comment on this. It is not hard to write: “Although both referee reports were positive, we note that both highlighted substantial weaknesses with the article (such as x, y and, z). Neither referee thought these weaknesses were sufficient to merit a negative verdict, but we disagree and judge that these weaknesses make the paper unsuitable for this journal.”Report

Mary
1 month ago

I am managing editor at a fairly small but competitive journal, so I want to point out that the response the author received might be a completely truthful one. Journals *do* have space limitations, since most journals, mine included, still issue a print edition. We do not publish things online that aren’t published in print. His article has good – but not great – reviews (there is a significant difference between accept and conditional accept). When deciding which twenty of five hundred plus papers to publish, some articles that are good but not great will not be selected. Usually in these cases our editors like to reiterate the significant criticisms in the reviews that indicate a paper has some flaws, to avoid exchanges like this one. However, accusing the editor of being (potentially?) unreasonable and unfair is impolitic at best — your manuscript might be blinded, but your nasty emails certainly aren’t!Report

The Author
The Author
Reply to  Mary
1 month ago

Thanks for your comment. A few points:

(1) The space limitation issue wasn’t the main topic I was seeking to discuss, and I was serious when I wrote to the journal that “I perfectly understand that [they] cannot publish every publishable paper that [they] receive.” But now that I found an insider, let me ask: For journals that issue a print edition, what precludes them from publishing some papers exclusively online? I suppose there’s some technical reason that precludes them from doing so, but I wonder if it’s one that really couldn’t be overcome if there was the will to do so.

(2) It would also be interesting to know, in the case of your journal, how many papers there are, roughly, per each issue, that do not make it despite receiving positive reviews. (I’m supposing that by “five hundred plus papers” you are referring to the total number of submissions.) I think this would help us have an idea of what’s a realistic number of papers for which the editors can provide feedback (given that your journal does, at least to some extent.)

(3) The journal in question is committed to a triple blind process, so, ideally, only the managing editor should have access to the identity of the author of the “nasty” emails, though I’m not concerned about that, as I have not said anything in the emails that I wouldn’t directly say to the editors in a face-to-face converstions.Report

Still on the market
1 month ago

Does this journal state that they basically send everything out for review (except those that fail to meet some formal standards such as word count)? If this is the case, then perhaps a case can be made for the editorial decision. Basically, we submit to this journal to let referees speak for us, to help us persuade the editor that the paper warrants publication; other journals, i.e., those that desk reject a lot, lets the editorial board make the initial decision before seeking advice from referees. So these are different mechanisms for publication, and when we choose the former over the latter, we are “gambling” our time in a different way.

It’s possible that I am talking about a different journal, but here’s one possibility.Report

Jon Light
1 month ago

Part of the issue here is that the *reviewers* have no idea what sort of volume the *editors* are looking at. If a journal can publish 20 articles a year due to space constraints (more shortly), the reviewers have no idea how the article in front of them maps up against those constraints. If hundreds (thousands?) of articles are submitted a year, you can imagine that, say, 100 papers get a green light from the reviewers, for only 20 spaces. Then the editors obviously have to make decisions, based on anything from good reasons to any reasons at all (i.e., ex hypothesi, they can’t publish 100).

Imo, the solution to this isn’t to publish all 100. Or to give up on paper journals and just “throw everything online”. Then we have a complete separate set of problems involving there being “too many publications” for the discipline to process. As it stands, there is too much stuff for anyone to read, even without our sub-specialties. Idk what the solution is, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong, per se, with the journals having to triage articles due to space constraints.Report

JTD
JTD
Reply to  Jon Light
1 month ago

If a journal finds that “100 papers get a green light from the reviewers, for only 20 spaces” then its editors need to do a lot more desk rejecting until the former number is much closer to the latter. I get that the editors might find it easier to choose the 20 best after reading referee reports, but many of the factors they might use to ultimately decide which 20 to include (e.g., which topics they are most interested in right now) would already be evident before the paper is sent out to referees. And it is simply wasting the time of authors and referees to send papers through a long review process if they are likely to be rejected anyway for reasons that the editor could fairly accurately foresee prior to this process.Report

On the market
Reply to  Jon Light
1 month ago

So I gather that you think our journals should begin accepting even fewer papers, so that there is not as much work being published?Report

Tom Cochrane
1 month ago

A reminder to all referees: If you genuinely like a paper, you need to actively make the case to the editor to publish it!

In my experience, if an editor likes a paper, they’ll let it go through any number of revisions to be accepted. And if they don’t like a paper, the smallest flaw will be grounds for rejection.Report

On the market
1 month ago

If a paper were written on a topic I am working on that was good enough to get “accept” and “conditionally accept” verdicts from the two referees, I want to read and cite it. Quite apart from any potential grievances *authors* may or may not be entitled to, I think one of the problems with having such high standards is that it can really decelerate scholarship.Report

Last edited 1 month ago by On the market
David Wallace
Reply to  On the market
1 month ago

This is why people should put their submitted papers on a preprint archive.Report

On the market
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

I think a lot of junior people (whose papers won’t be read widely enough for anyone to know) worry that their ideas will be stolen if they do. I am sorry to say I think it’s not an unreasonable worry. I have been advised not to put my unpublished work on my website. Do you have a solution?Report

Last edited 1 month ago by On the market
David Wallace
Reply to  On the market
1 month ago

That’s a very surprising objection. In physics, one of the minor advantages of the arxiv has been that it’s cut down on stealing of ideas (e.g. by referees), because the article is publicly available with a reliable time stamp. If something demonstrably taken from your arxived paper turns up without attribution in another paper, you have a pretty clear case to write to the journal editor and allege plagiarism.

Now, in philosophy ideas are sometimes a bit more amorphous; maybe it’s harder to establish reliably that an idea has been stolen. But insofar as that’s true, it ought to apply for published articles as much as preprints.

What probably is true is that you should put your work on an actual preprint archive (PhilPapers or, for philosophy of science, philsci-archive). I can see how the risk you describe arises for a personal website; more importantly, I think the rules of the game are clearer and less ambiguous if you use an archive.

(I’d also add that I think ideas are cheap and implementation is usually what matters, and that implementation is much harder to copy and get away with… but that’s another, longer conversation.)Report

Bram Vaassen
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

I agree with all of this.

Even so, I never publish preprints before acceptance.

This is probably partially out of habit, but also because I heard that some journals won’t accept papers that are already made available online for peer review. The idea is (I guess) that it hampers the blindness of the process. Some of the people who told me this are brave enough to have prepints online anyway and just take them offline when they submit. Others emphasized very strongly that I should never publish preprints before having received an acceptance, let alone before submitting.

Interested to hear what the attitude to this is in physics and other disciplines that use arXiv etc.Report

David Wallace
Reply to  Bram Vaassen
1 month ago

The short answer is that physics doesn’t really use double-blind review.

I’m not sure I’ve seen an explicit defense of that decision (use of something like arxiv is ancient in at least high-energy physics, actually predating the internet) but a rational reconstruction would probably be:
(i) In practice you can very often guess who wrote something if you’re an expert on it yourself, so the value is limited;
(ii) much more importantly, delaying access to ideas until they’ve gone through the publication process is way too high a price for scholarship to pay in exchange for the supposed virtues of double-blind reviewing.

My own view (in philosophy), for what it’s worth, is that formal double-blind review is worth having, not least for the messages it sends and the mindset it inculcates, but it’s not sufficiently important that we should slow the dissemination of research for it. (And after all, in theory these objections apply not just to archives but to sending your paper to other people for comments and to giving talks.)

Of course, if a journal has a policy of not considering papers on archives, that’s different. Do you know any concrete examples? I haven’t seen it myself, but then philosophy-of-science journals tend to be more aware of/sympathetic to archiving.Report

Bram Vaassen
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

I think it was Jim Woodward who told me he was asked to take his ‘explanatory autonomy’ preprint offline when it was being reviewed by Synthese.

I am 90 percent certain it was that paper. I am less certain that it was Synthese who asked. The paper eventually got published there, so that could be why I think it was them. One could ask Jim for more details.

Aside from that anecdote, I only recall general statements of the kind ‘some journals will not consider such papers.’

There does seem to be difference between publishing preprints and asking for comments via private communication. Preprints are ‘googleable’ and referees could in principle go and check who wrote it with very little effort.

I’m not sure whether that risk outweighs the possible benefit of faster development in research. In my experience philosophy papers are very slow to see the public light, and that is probably bad.Report

Bram Vaassen
Reply to  Bram Vaassen
1 month ago

(I feel I should add that I have only had positive experiences with Synthese myself.)Report

Last edited 1 month ago by Bram Vaassen
david
david
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

Wow. The notion of a referee stealing ideas from a paper under his/her review is pretty high on the corruption scale. Have we really gotten to this point?Report

David Wallace
Reply to  david
1 month ago

I won’t name names, obviously, but I’ve heard very occasional stories of it from sources I deem reliable. (In physics, not in philosophy.)Report

David Wallace
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

Stories from some while ago, I should clarify – arxiv.org has basically made it impossible.Report

JTD
JTD
1 month ago

Lot’s of comments here about how the editors don’t have time to comment. We all understand this, however, this has to be balanced against the problem of journals holding onto papers for a long time without ever giving sufficient justification for their final verdict. The bare minimum norm here that all journals should meet is the three month rule. If you don’t have time to give any comments then reject the paper within three months. If you hold onto it longer than three months then you owe the author some kind of informative explanation for your ultimate decision. Journals that don’t meet this norm are bad journals and their editors are bad actors. Journals that surpass this bare minimum, like Ergo who work with a four week norm, are outstanding journals and their editors are stars.Report

Surprised
1 month ago

I find it rather surprising how lenient many here seem to be towards the editor. In the age of conversations about conscious and unconscious biases, linguistic and other kinds of disadvantages and so on, an editor’s decision to reject a paper which was recommended acceptance certainly requires proper explanation rather than a dishonest ‘there was no space for your article’ – at the very least the editor should have been upfront about the obvious fact that he/she didn’t like it, even without providing further reasons (assuming that this is why he/she rejected it, and that rejection had nothing to do with unfair reasons, such as the author’s identity).Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Surprised
1 month ago

The journal in question was triple blind, so it would be fairly difficult for most forms of bias to have affected the decision. (At least as I understand things.)Report

Elizabeth Finneron-Burns
1 month ago

The current publishing model doesn’t allow for the most selective journals to publish every ‘accept’ paper they receive, so editors obviously need to make those decisions. However, the problem is, a paper that gets two ‘accepts’ at a top journal is likely very very good, if not quite good enough to get into that particular journal, given the competition. It seems like a huge waste of time and resources for that paper to then go through the entire multi-month peer review process at another journal when it was already deemed very good. It’s too bad there is no facility for top journals to refer very good rejected papers to other journals, along with the referee reports and the editors at the second journal can make a decision based on the existing reports.Report

Matt L
Reply to  Elizabeth Finneron-Burns
1 month ago

In the case of some of the journals that I have refereed for, there is a question in the editorial manager system about the paper being transferred to another journal. However, in my experience (obviously a limited set) I’ve never seen this done, and don’t know if it every happens. (I don’t think I’ve heard of it, either.) Perhaps it’s something that should be considered.Report

Michael Freeman
Michael Freeman
Reply to  Matt L
1 month ago

I would note that I’ve had positive experiences with this approach in my field (medicine/bioethics). At the editors discretion they simply pass along the manuscript and reports to the other (typically less prominent journals). This allows for subsequent rapid publication without re inititiating the review process. In fact, as a reviewer I did my second evaluation a re-submission manuscript techincally split between two journals on one occasion. The paper ended up being accepted, as it was a perfectly fine paper to publish, it just wasn’t groundbreaking enough to merit publication at it’s initial site.

Here is the text from the consortium I am most familiar with: The Transplant Peer Review Network (Tx PRN) is a consortium formed to simplify the publication process for authors and reduce the time and effort involved in the peer review of transplantation research.
Recognizing the growing burden on their peer reviewers and authors, the Editors of the transplant journals published by Wiley agreed to form a collaborative network to facilitate the sharing of peer review with other journals participating in the Network. The goals of the Tx PRN are to support efficient and thorough peer review, to ease the burden on peer reviewers, and to improve the publication process for authors. By providing a referral recommendation and automatically sharing manuscripts and peer reviews, the Tx PRN hopes to further streamline peer review – sharing processes employed by similar networks in other disciplines and improve the publishing experience for the transplantation community.Report

Simon
Simon
Reply to  Elizabeth Finneron-Burns
1 month ago

I would publish in ‘The Journal of Almost Good Enough for Phil Review’Report

Chris
Chris
Reply to  Simon
1 month ago

Isn’t that, in fact, where most of us publish?Report

ehz
ehz
1 month ago

Maybe this is a good opportunity to remind people about the APA Journal Survey Project: https://apasurvey.philx.org/, where you can anonymously submit information about time to decision, quality of comments, and satisfaction with editors. This really helps to get a better sense of journal practices and to know where to submit our stuff and which journals to avoid.Report

Sam Duncan
1 month ago

There are a lot of reasons to be outraged by this and many of them have been sketched by previous comments, though I think it worth repeating that this shows just incredible contempt for both the referees and the author. The journal wasted the referees time and disregarded their professional judgment. That’s beyond insulting. It also wasted the author’s time in ways that can be very damaging to junior faculty. But beyond all that I think it’s worth emphasizing that the real issue here comes back to the whole suspicion of corruption that hangs over the whole peer review process. If editors can completely disregard the judgments of referees and offer no account of why they do so then they are free to put their thumbs on the scale in all sorts of underhanded ways, and if they can I’d bet my next year’s salary at any odds you want to name that more than a few of them do. In fact, I know some do since I had a journal editor treat a “reject with the possibility but not encouragement to resubmit” verdict I once rendered as a conditional acceptance because the person who submitted it was a big deal and they wanted to publish him in their journal. They were also kind enough to let me know that they and not I would read the resubmission to see if the changes had been made, since I was so busy and had already done enough work for them. I’ll add that the editor was at the time my boss and I was contingent faculty, so obviously I couldn’t raise the stink over this it merited. At any rate editors’ arbitrary power leaves them free to reward the well connected, as they did in the case I mentioned, and to punish those without connections since they usually know who wrote the paper. And it also leaves them free to privilege certain kinds of philosophy (usually LEMM) and devalue others (pretty much everything else but especially applied ethics, continental philosophy, and non-western philosophy as far as I can tell). Journals really need explicit rules on what editors can and can’t do both to stop obvious abuses and even more so to remove the appearance of corruption. Ergo, as usual, is a model on this and I’m glad to hear that Synthese has also adopted some clear rules about this as well.Report

Rob Wilson
1 month ago

A few years ago, we had a paper rejected at Ethics after it had undergone a lengthy review-and-resubmit process that ended with both reviewers, clearly experts from their comments, satisfied with the final version and with recommendations to publish. The Associate Editor nonetheless rejected the paper, which was focused on disability, giving some puzzlingly weak objections to the line of argument in the paper. We were a bit stunned and debated whether to pursue this further with the editor concerned or more generally with Ethics. Instead we sent it straight to Mind, who accepted the paper after a fairly rigorous review process. My sense was that the stated basis for the Ethics editorial decision reflected a lack of sophistication about the philosophy of disability that is fairly common beyond specialists in the area, which added another layer of profession-level frustration with the outcome at Ethics. The paper is “Well-Being, Disability, and Choosing Children”.Report

Thomas Nadelhoffer
Reply to  Rob Wilson
1 month ago

Rob,

That paper is amazing! I am glad you sent it to Mind. Those sorts of prestigious journals rarely publish work on the philosophy of disability.Report

Recent UK PhD Grad
1 month ago

The comments defending the editor and general status quo of peer review are hilarious. The earnestness of the defence i think belies people’s real view that peer review in philosophy is in fact corrupt and full of self-interest but no one likes to admit it.

  1. Do people really think the publication of an ever so slightly sub-optimal paper will ruin the journal or the field as a whole? After positive referee journals, just publish the damn thing. Let people discuss and criticise.
  2. Space limitations in the age of the internet! Even in print journals, just put it in the next issue, whats the big deal? There’s no limit on the number issues a journal can put out in its lifetime!
  3. The OP is an example of how people with jobs and status in the field control what can be published. There is no actual intellectual freedom.

Report

ehz
ehz
Reply to  Recent UK PhD Grad
1 month ago

I have no editorial experience but I imagine that journals may reasonably want to limit the number of papers they publish in a given time period, even if they are entirely online.Report

Last edited 1 month ago by ehz
David Wallace
Reply to  Recent UK PhD Grad
1 month ago

“Even in print journals, just put it in the next issue, whats the big deal? There’s no limit on the number issues a journal can put out in its lifetime!”

No, but equally there’s no limit to how large the backlog will become if a journal consistently accepts more papers per year than it publishes per year.Report

Recent UK PhD Grad
Reply to  Recent UK PhD Grad
1 month ago

The solution to large backlogs is stopping submissions until the backlog goes down. Not wasting people’s time with peer review. Also I’ve never been told explcitly what the reasons would be for journals to actively limit publications. People always just say it might be reasonable do so. As the field grows more papers will be published. There is already more published than most people can read, more will hardly make a difference. Keeping in mind this is all still after a referee reports like the OP. No one is saying journals should publish papers with referee reports recommending rejection.Report