Dear editor…

Pfff, getting the money for a project is hard work, collecting the data is hard work, analyzing the data and writing up is hard work but getting the resulting paper published can be hard work too… As most readers will be familiar with the process, just a very brief recap of the process by which papers end up in journals:

1. submit paper to a (specialist) journal either with a relatively low (easier to get into) or high (more chance of being rejected and having to reformat and resubmit somewhere else) ‘Impact Factor‘)

2. journal editor decides to send the manuscript out for peer review (editors often ask for suggested reviewers but usually (understandably) also make their own pick)

3. based on the comments from usually 2-5 peers, the editor decides to 1) reject the paper, 2) invite the paper for resubmission after a major overhaul, 3) accept the paper after minor/major revisions or 4) (rarely) accept the paper pretty much ‘as is’.

4. (in case of point 3) submit a revised manuscript plus a point-by-point rebuttal to the reviewers.

5. acceptance of revision, correction of proofs and publication

Lamenting rejection of a manuscript because of negative reviews is somewhat of an everyday occurrence in every hallway of every science institution. Colleagues can be uninterested, lazy, jealous, nitpicky, misguided, hurried or a combination of these and since reviewers usually get more manuscripts than they can publish, and only want the most exciting papers to boost their Impact Factor, they tend to play it safe and not overrule negative (rightfully or wrongfully so) reviews. Lately, I have been so unfortunate that I could not even complain about plainly idiotic peers, as all my efforts have stranded at the stage of plainly idiotic editors. This is relatively new to me. I do remember submitting one paper with my PhD supervisor Greg Velicer that came back to him for review! (He replied that it looked like an awesome piece of work but that there probably was a conflict of interest). My recent encounters with two editors have  been less funny though.

I am the first author on a paper describing a user-friendly webserver for conducting detailed analyses of genome-wide analyses of genome-wide sequence evolution in prokaryotes, described in the next post. The first outright rejection of this paper came about because the journal would not consider short webserver papers: it only would consider long papers or short updates. This does not make a lot of sense to me. A cynical interpretation of this strategy would be that software updates represent potentially higher impact papers (when it is reasoned that the software must have had some success to justify updating it) and so they are allowed to be short (‘easy’), whereas the longer format is used as a hurdle for new pieces of software that not have proven their worth yet.

The second rejection was more frustrating. This journal that shall not be named requires a pre-submission enquiry to check suitability. Fair enough. Quite a lot of information needed to be given in this one-page enquiry, but that was doable. I therefore was very surprised to get an email back from the editor proclaiming that almost none of the information required was to be found in our enquiry, whereas I quite plainly included it. It is dangerous to argue with editors (don’t bite the hand that feeds you blabla) but in this case I just had to (carefully) point it out to him. In the following email, the editor disregarded these objections completely, but instead focused on one issue: namely that the citation I provided of the paper on which our work was based was of the format NAME, YEAR and did not include paper title, journal name, volume number or page number. I used the short format because of the tight one-page limit and because the paper can be readily found using Google Scholar using only this information. Moreover, that it was the long reference format they wanted was not stated in the pre-submission instructions.  The editor also noted, obviously unimpressed, that this particular 2012 paper had only been cited five times. His Google Scholar page evidenced that his own 2012 papers were on average cited less than that, but a co-author persuaded me to not remind him of that fact…

Anywhoo, I’ll end my lament there. The paper has found a good home in the Open Access journal PLoS ONE now. I have recently become a member of the editorial board there, and I will do my best not to misbehave as some other editors do and to keep overly negative reviewers in check!

Michiel

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