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does asr, or any other very competitive journal, ever need to r&r ever again? probably not

When I was a student editor of AJS, I took a little bit of pride in the fact that almost every manuscript went through a long and painful review process. My memory is that of the 300+ manuscripts we reviewed that year, only 1 (!) was accepted with minor revisions and the rest went into the long tunnel of revision. No pain, no gain, I thought back then.

Now that I’m older, I’d like to argue that this is a bit looney. My current view is that the most competitive journals probably don’t need to R&R any papers. They should hand out all accepts with minor or no revisions. Why? Here’s the argument.

The top social science journals now get 600+ papers per year, or even more. This includes our top general journals, like ASR or AJS, and many field journals. Let’s just say that in our model, every paper has a quality level called “Q.” Unless you are bonkers, you will believe that Q has a normal, or sort-of-normal, distribution.

If you are AJS or ASR, you are probably publishing about 40 papers per year. That is about 7% of 600 papers per year. Think about it. That is almost two standard deviations above the average of Q. Now, what would it mean that you have to a really high Q upon submission? Given that most authors are PhDs, papers are presented at conferences, and workshopped, you would expect most papers to have a lot of stuff going right for them. Also, since getting a hit in a top journal means getting tenure for a lot of people, then you’d expect that these papers have gotten a lot of love. So, then, to be at the top of the Q curve, you probably have a fairly clear argument, an interesting question, reasonable data and analysis, and a reasonable lit review. The only way you’d simultaneously believe that a paper has high Q and severe defects is if you have some weird model of paper quality where you put super high weight on some Q inputs and not on others.

So why on earth would these papers need to be massively revised? Is it the case that only 1 paper out of 300, or 600, is clearly written and well designed? Are professors so incompetent that their papers still need that much rewriting, after they’ve been rewritten a million times already? That strikes me as goofy. Maybe the paper with an average Q level needs massive rewrites to be ready for AJS, but why would one in the top 20 out of 600 need a complete make over?

One of the great lessons of Sociological Science (the journal) is that you can fill a good journal with papers that need very little revision. At that journal, you submit and they just give a “yes” or “no.”  Yet, without a system of massive R&R, they do just fine. This suggests to me that others journals can do the same.

I’ll conclude by addressing counter-arguments. First, you may say that some papers do deserve a shot, even if they need much revision. Fair enough, but my repost is empirical. Really, how many papers have an idea so golden that you would put author, reviewer, and editor through the painful revision process? Not many, I think. Best to save your R&R effort on a handful of papers each year. Second, you may say, aren’t papers improved through revision? Sure, but a. papers that are submitted have usually been presented at multiple workshops and conferences and b. peer review is a horrid place to help an author with really basic and structural features of a paper. So, editors, let’s really cut back on the R&R and accept more papers up front.

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Written by fabiorojas

July 17, 2019 at 1:01 am

Posted in uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. I think the expectation of R&R as the “positive” outcome has poisoned the whole process of writing and publishing. People send unfinished papers to journals “to get the reviews.” Even senior people send unpolished sloppy papers out because they know they will be asked for revisions and say they may as well wait for the reviews before doing their final revisions. And then there is the way the publication process drags on forever, and the way that article reviewers are supposed to be supportive and nice and spend their time mentoring anonymous others in the review process. We do need some way for experienced authors to mentor junior scholars (and I am doing this), but the R&R process isn’t the way to do it. Multiple reviewers have never all agreed on what a paper needs.

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    olderwoman

    July 17, 2019 at 11:48 pm

  2. PS I personally have had two articles accepted outright, one at ASR in the 1980s and another at AJS in the 1990s. But I’m an outlier.

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    olderwoman

    July 17, 2019 at 11:49 pm

  3. 1. You are correct about R&R. Perhaps in a world with few submissions, it once made sense. But now, it’s insane. This is where desk rejects would help as would drastic reductions in R&Rs. If we did this, few would send unpolished papers as it would serve little purpose.

    2. Journal review is about giving editors feed back so they know whether they should publish, it was never meant as a form of mentoring or development or as a way to get consensus among readers. Just point out paper flaws in a page or so and send out. No need for vast, elaborate reviews.

    3. You are soooooo an outlier. Unless norms have changed, that’s a once or twice a year event at most journals. But that’s why we like you!

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    fabiorojas

    July 18, 2019 at 2:11 am


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