Editorial redemption

Sep 23 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

I was recently asked to review a manuscript by an international society-level journal. I have reviewed for, and published in, this journal on several occasions and feel a certain professional obligation towards this particular publication. That said, the quality of the manuscripts I review for them is highly variable, and I have gotten some real poop sandwiches over the years.

The manuscript I was most recently sent was closely related to work I did as a postdoc and bore directly on data I produced then. Based on the abstract I agreed to the review and almost immediately regretted doing so. The thing was a train wreck. The analysis and interpretation of the data were a disaster and the authors blatantly ignored several key pieces of relevant data*, despite citing the papers in the text. My review was not complimentary.

About a month later I was asked by the Associate Editor if I would be willing to review the revisions. I agreed, because it had to be better, no? Hahahaha. Well, they included the data, but the interpretation was still painfully contrived, leading to the same conclusions of the original draft. Once again, I made my opinion of the work clear.

Two weeks later I got an email saying the paper had been recommended for publication by the AE.

There are few things more frustrating than taking the time to do a comprehensive review and then being patted on the head as the AE ignores your objections. At that moment I decided I was taking a break from that journal. We needed a little time to sort through our differences.

A month has past and this week I got an email from a friend who has just taken over as Editor In Chief of the journal. The manuscript I had review was still on the table during the EIC transition and I was being contacted to sort out what was going on with the manuscript. The new EIC had read it and came to the same conclusions I had. Unable to determine why the AE had sent it forward I was asked if there was a step in the communication trail that the EIC was missing. Nope.

After a brief exchange, the new EIC rejected the paper.

I have no idea what the former EIC thought of this situation or the AE in charge of handling it, but knowing the new EIC is willing to directly address quality issues in a hands on way has restored my faith in this journal. Maybe even enough to dig out that old manuscript I have been meaning to send there for a few years...

*Yes, some were mine, but they really were relevant in more than just the "how could they ignore my important contribution!" sense.

7 responses so far

  • pyrope says:

    I reviewed a trainwreck a year or two back and gave plenty of detailed comments. When I got the revision to look at again the only thing the authors had changed was a line in the acknowledgements thanking the anonymous reviewer! Then they wrote a nice long response letter telling me I didn't know what I was talking about because they'd always done their research that way. I expressed my disbelief to the editor, but they went ahead and accepted it anyway. I am still rather dumbfounded that the authors had the cheek to do that, and get away with it. But, it was a crap journal that I will never review for again...nor will I ever review or edit another paper that originates from that group.
    I guess I should be glad they thanked me in the comments rather than writing F you anonymous reviewer!

  • lylebot says:

    I had a situation recently in which I recommended major revisions because I didn't agree with the interpretation or conclusions---they were based on very bad data analysis coming from deep misunderstanding of the statistical tools used, and fixing it would require completely reanalyzing the data and rewriting at least two full sections. The editor's decision was minor revisions and didn't say anything about the analysis, which kind of irritated me.

    Did you try initiating any discussion with the AE? I'm considering it, even though it's too late to send a new decision to the authors.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Did you try initiating any discussion with the AE? I'm considering it, even though it's too late to send a new decision to the authors.

    Meh. I don't have the time or inclination to feel responsible for the quality of published work in a society-level journal. I did my part already and it's up to the staff to take it or leave it.

  • anon says:

    Did any of you guys see what other reviewers had to say? For journals that I've reviewed (and for reviews of my own papers), there is sometimes a wide range of opinions on certain manuscripts. It may be difficult for editors to know what to do in these situations. A paper that I reviewed in the last year for a low-level journal was rejected (the reviewer recommendations were accept, minor revisions, and reject), and some months later, the same paper was published in a more prominent journal. It still had issues that were raised by us three reviewers, but still managed to make it through.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    With this particular journal I do not receive the other comments, but the fact that the EIC was concerned about the manuscript makes me think the other reviewers had issues as well.

  • Hopefully the new EIC sticks around for a while and they can dump that AE and replace him with somebody of PLS-caliber quality?

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Hahaha, someone who forgets roughly 70% of what does not end up in their calendar? Probably a bad idea. But yes, this is a three year EIC appointment.

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