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Bizarre Rejection.

6 June 2012

My most recent effort at publishing some science was rejected again. Another desk reject*. That’s three now, for this paper. Which is understandable given the first two journals I submitted to. Aim high, gradually hone in on the right venue. I thought I had found a good place for it, one that would really be a nice fit. The editor had it for a month, so I had assumed it wasn’t going to be desk rejected.

But I was wrong. The paper was given a desk reject because they couldn’t find reviewers. Choice quotes from the editor: “Alas, we were unable to identify sufficient numbers of qualified reviewers within our sphere to ensure an acceptable depth of review” and “I’m sorry for the delayed response, but that is a result of the time spent in seeking reviewers”.

This was the first time I’d ever heard of such a thing. It’s sort of an editor’s job (among other things, of course) to find reviewers. It’s not like this work is so far on the fringe that there aren’t people doing the work. This paper should be reviewed by a systems engineer or computer scientist, and a diabetologist. Such people are not in short supply. No scientist I talked to had ever heard of a paper being rejected because an editor who wanted the paper reviewed couldn’t find reviewers.

In my conversations about this over on twitter, several people have suggested I protest the decision. Journals have such mechanisms in place. But I’ve never even heard of a protest being made, much less a successful one. It’s like arguing with an umpire. You might do it for show, or to influence their next decision. But these decisions, once made, do not change. The editor has the right to reject for any reason.

Another question was if I had recommended reviewers. I had not. Many journals request you submit recommended reviewers along with the manuscript. But many journals also forgo this step, and this journal was one of them. I’m told by Namnezia that I should always submit recommended reviewers even if the journal doesn’t ask. So, from now on, I’ll put it in the cover letters. Apparently, this is something other people already knew.

I’ve resubmitted the paper – outside of medicine, actually – to a very high quality journal with an a propos special edition upcoming. Another British journal. My last paper was in a BMJ affiliate. Maybe I’ll move there.

So, hey out there, scientists, or other writers/artists/submitters of things, what’s the weirdest rejection you’ve ever gotten?


*Desk rejects are when the editor rejects the paper as not suitable for consideration based on the journal’s priorities, prior to peer review. It may be a comment on the quality of the paper, but more likely it’s simply a statement that the fit isn’t right.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Geeka permalink
    6 June 2012 09:49

    I had a paper rejected because they wanted me to do nothern blots for all of my microarray data. I think that I calculated that it would have taken me a year of work to do. (for one sub figure)

    • 6 June 2012 10:29

      I don’t know what a “nothern blot” is, but it sounds like and insane request.

  2. Angela permalink
    6 June 2012 11:09

    If that happened to me, I’d write a ‘protest’ letter, or just a letter to the editor, asking to resubmit the paper providing a super extensive list of recommended reviewers. The paper rejection sounds unwarranted. I have heard of a successful protest before.

  3. 6 June 2012 11:36

    Twice I have had a rejection turn into acceptance after complaining to the editor that all of the reviewer concerns were indeed addressable. Geeka: real time PCR to validate the microarray data should have been sufficient in lieu of Northerns and can be done quickly.

  4. 6 June 2012 11:39

    I would suggest reviewers for every manuscript I submitted. Whether the editor used them or not was up to them. The weirdest review was one in which one reviewer died and another lost the manuscript! So the editor relied on the sole remaining reviewer who recommended publication after revision. But it took over a year!

  5. fenfatale permalink
    8 June 2012 13:35

    Hmm, the umpire analogy is good, since arguing or protesting an editor’s decision is usually not helpful. Instead, try thanking the editor for his/her time and asking what you can do in the future to make it easier to help him find reviewers (include names, perhaps?) I was once rejected by a sci-fi mag editor who said she only published articles “firmly planted in reality” and it was a science fiction/fantasy genre publication, so I thought she must be using the wrong word. Editors are imperfect, remember. (I am an editor, so I can only speak for myself.)

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