some really bad journal experiences i have had
Rejection is never fun, but I don’t think it’s unfair. Vague and conflicting reviews aren’t fun either, but that’s life. What I do think is unfair is when editors are negligent and incompetent, which leads to enormous wasting of time and, in some cases, can end careers. In this post, I’d like to share a few of my personal horror stories with journals so you know what often happens in the review process. Here are a few of my “favorites:”
- The Journal of Mathematical Sociology (previous editor, not current) once waited 24 months to send me a rejection based on a 1 sentence review.
- Social Networks (also a previous editor) lost a manuscript twice, resulting in a paper being tied in review for almost two years before it got a review.*
- The American Journal of Public Health never reviewed a paper that was submitted. After a few months, I was asked to review my own paper! Then, after I complained, they never obtained reviews. About a year later, after me and my co-author complained, the paper was not reviewed or even desk rejected. Technically, I suppose, it might still be under review!
On top of this, some folks are plain dishonest. For example, a previous editor of Sociology of Education rejected a paper of mine after the R&R (which is fair) and said that they don’t do 2nd R&Rs but then asked me to review a paper on the 2nd R&R. A book editor, after rejecting my manuscript told me face to face that they simply didn’t accept books by first time authors. That press, and most others, actually publish first time book authors, including friends of mine.
I am under no pretense that we can eliminate incompetence and dishonesty. But there are simple reforms that can lessen the cost of poor editing. For example, I am an advocate of multiple submission for journals – you can submit to as many journals at once. That way, if you get an incompetent editor, you can simply take your business elsewhere and not bother waiting for a response or dealing with chaotic and contradictory reviews. I also think Sam Lucas is onto something when he suggests that we should not allow reviewers to write open ended and vague reviews. Bottom line: the journal system allows people to do all kinds of bad things, but simple reforms can reduce the risk to authors.
* The paper was rejected on “frustrating” grounds – a computer simulation was sent to experimentalists who wanted to see an experiment. Not unfair, but frustrating and a waste of time. If the journal doesn’t accept computational papers, it should have been desk rejected.