comments on pettit’s discussion of social problems’ editorial trends

The editor of Social Problems, Becky Pettit, recently posted a review of submission practices and trends, with a focus on gender. Comments,* in no particular order:

  • 8% accept? Holy canoli! I knew it was competitive, but that’s in the realm of ASR/AJS.  ASR accept rate was 6%. AJS accepts 10%.
  • Thankfully, SP does a lot of desk rejection.** About 30%.
  • Even with desk rejection, it does seem to take a while – a mean time of 135 days. That’s about 4.5 months. So many papers take 5, 6 or 7 months. After dealing with the lightning fast world of biomedical journals, this is snail like.
  • Senior profs review less than juniors. Female assistants review the most.
  • Men are *way* more likely to appeal. As Phil Cohen notes, it would be good to know if it’s just that women have more accepts or if men just whine more. Ie, we want the appeal/reject ratio.

Bottom line: Social Problems is a de-facto top general journal in soc, it behaves like a typical social science journal in terms of turn around and some other factors, and there is definitely gender inequality in reviewer and author behavior.

What the Cool Kids are Reading: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

* Disclosure: I have a soon to be rejected paper under review at Social Problems.

** Yes, I know – “deflection!”

Written by fabiorojas

November 19, 2013 at 12:25 am

Posted in academia, fabio, sociology

15 Responses

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  1. FYI, based on the rank of authors on published pieces – that is, without revealing more non-public data – Becky showed me it’s unlikely a denominator discrepancy explains the high senior-male-appeal rate. Looks like a good rank*gender effect on odds of appealing.


    Philip N. Cohen

    November 19, 2013 at 12:40 am

  2. Another journal editor told me a very similar story from her experience: virtually all of the appeals came from men, even though at this particular journal a huge proportion of the submissions are from women (and it’s blind review, so in theory reviewers aren’t penalizing male authors). According to this editor, men are also much more likely to inquire about review times and acceptance rates before submitting, and to prod for a decision on a paper. More anecdotal evidence, but the point is the gender differences in appeals at Social Problems is probably not just an oddity of a small N.

    Notably, in both cases the EiC is female. It’d be interesting to know if the same pattern holds with a male EiC. And, of course, if appeals and other personal communications with editors have any effect — positive or negative — on editorial decisions about either the focal paper or future papers.



    November 19, 2013 at 11:59 am

  3. I’ll second Krippendorf’s inquiry about the efficacy of appeals in peer-review. Does that ever work? As a grad student who writes a lot (and get’s rejected a lot), I’ve never even thought about appealing an editor’s decision for fear of hurting my chances at publishing future articles in that journal. But I guess if you’re senior faculty you might figure “what the hell? It’s already rejected. I’ll send an e-mail of protest and ask them to reconsider.” I can’t exactly afford to risk burning bridges.

    And Pettit’s study also confirms that I will likely not be submitting anything to Social Problems for a long, long time. The stakes in the publish-or-perish game are too high for job candidates and junior faculty to spend that much time waiting for decisions (very likely rejections) from a journal that’s not ASR or AJS. It’s honestly not the high rejection rate at Social Problems that’s the issue, it’s the unnecessarily long wait times for what is a 1.7ish impact factor journal. And the journal’s developing a reputation for giving BS R&Rs that they don’t intend to move forward. But that’s been discussed on earlier posts.


    Doc Student

    November 19, 2013 at 12:25 pm

  4. Like Krippendorf, I wondered if senior men’s propensity to appeal isn’t exacerbated by a senior woman as editor. I’d love to see the data across journals and editorships.



    November 19, 2013 at 1:30 pm

  5. Doc Student: I wouldn’t read too much into acceptance rates at the various journals. Many people are fond of using acceptance rates to argue that X journal — where X is often the journal they edit or the journal that just accepted their paper — is just as selective as AJS or ASR. But, the pool of submissions isn’t the same, and it isn’t random with respect to quality. Seasoned authors develop a pretty good sense of which of their papers have a shot at AJS or ASR and which don’t, and they won’t even bother sending their good-but-not-great papers, unabashedly descriptive papers, or “incremental knowledge” papers to those journals. These papers, plus the papers that get rejected from specialty journals and papers that are really too raw to be sent out at all, drive up the denominator at mid- and lower-tier journals.

    As a grad student, your best bet is to find advisers who will give you honest assessments about whether your paper has even a remote shot at the gatekeeper journals. Early in your grad career, you can afford to take more risks with the long-shot papers. If those risks don’t pan out and you’re approaching your last couple of years, it’s probably more important to simply publish, thereby demonstrating to potential academic employers that you can. (This is meant to be general advice, not directed at Doc Student who may know all this already.)



    November 19, 2013 at 1:56 pm

  6. An alternative explanation is that there is another factor correlated with gender that is driving sex differences in appeal rates. For example, if men are more likely to employ quant methods, then such differences in appeal rates could be driven by disagreements over reviewers’ understanding of the used methodology. There are other omitted factors that could drive these trends such as gender differences in topics, coauthoring, etc. This is not to say that no male entitlement exists. I suspect that it does, but we need to consider alternative explanations too.


    devil's advocate

    November 19, 2013 at 3:07 pm

  7. Devils advocate,

    The choice of research approach is not gendered? Feminist critiques of positivism? Also, qualitative researchers do not have disagreement over methods? This “anything but gender” argument is not convincing to this male quantitative researcher.


    Eric s

    November 19, 2013 at 5:45 pm

  8. As an early-to-mid career scholar, I’ve never heard of, let alone ever used this “appeal” option though I do think 20-30% of the rejections that I received probably deserve editors’ second thoughts. As some of the previous posts asked, I am just curious as to whether appeal would ever work or simply a waste of time, the latter of which may I guess is much more likely to occur. Who wants to admit that they made a mistake? Of course, the same applies to the other side.



    November 19, 2013 at 6:02 pm

  9. @john: Appeals are pretty rare. I have only appealed a single paper in 10+ years of publishing. As journal staff, I saw that appeals are few.

    I only did it because of circumstance. First, there was a lot of inconsistency in the review process. Second, an additional pub would definitely help the co-author. Otherwise, I just respect the editor and take it elsewhere.

    @krippendorf: I wouldn’t make too much out of different submission pools. There’s a lot of overlap. I’m now old enough too see how papers drift around. Also, there is research on halo effects of journal pubs. When you have hundreds of submissions and 8%, it is very elite no matter how you cut it.



    November 19, 2013 at 6:18 pm

  10. In most cases, I think, the need for an appeal (which usually comes in the form of a polite email) can be avoided if the editor gives an explicit reason in the rejection letter for why the paper was rejected. It can be puzzling for authors when the reviewers seem generally positive, but the editor still rejects the paper without much explanation. As an author, I have politely followed up on a couple of rejection letters with an email to the editor. In these cases the editors gave me a helpful reponse and did, in fact, have valid reasons for rejecting the papers (I still might not have agreed completly with the decision, but I at least understood their decision).


    Rory McVeigh

    November 19, 2013 at 6:21 pm

  11. I was given the advice by a faculty member (admittedly, a junior faculty member) to “appeal” a decision when one of the reviewers was, for lack of a better phrase, outrageously dismissive on non-substantive grounds. This reviewer’s tone and comments were very different than the other reviewer(s). So the faculty member suggested an “appeal”–but more so to signal to the editor to seriously consider not soliciting that reviewer again on future submissions. I had also heard a story of another faculty member (again, admittedly, a junior faculty member) who appealed a rejection at a comparable journal, and it was changed to an R&R and subsequently published.

    My decision was not changed (deservedly so), and I can only hope it doesn’t affect the editor of that journal’s opinion of me.


    Another doc student

    November 20, 2013 at 12:39 am

  12. I’m surprised that the review times are so high for SF, given that I receive review requests which *require* turnaround times of 3-4 weeks


    doc student on JM

    November 20, 2013 at 9:43 am

  13. In most cases, I think it is important to keep in mind that editors can only publish a relatively small proportion of submitted papers. So good papers will often get rejected and the best thing to do is use the reviews to improve the paper and try another journal. But editors and reviewers can make mistakes. And when it appears that a reviewer made a serious mistake in evaluating your paper and it does not appear as if the editor caught the mistake, I don’t think that authors (even graduate students or assistant professors) should fear consequences of bringing the mistake to the editor’s attention. I think a polite (and brief) email to the editor calling attention to the issue–with an offer to provide a more detailed explanation of the alleged mistake if the editor requests it–is the best way to go. I can’t imagine that any editor would be put off by something like that–orhold it against you in the future. I know I wouldn’t have a problem with it.


    Rory McVeigh

    November 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm

  14. Editors and reviewers are not infallible. On at least two occasions, I had reviewers make methodological critiques of manuscripts that were factually incorrect. In one of those instances, the editor’s letter instructed me to take ‘particular notice’ of that reviewer’s comments. There’s little more frustrating than that.



    November 20, 2013 at 3:43 pm

  15. Addendum, I am not referring to Social Problems (which was edited in the department where I did my graduate work).



    November 20, 2013 at 3:44 pm

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