Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Journal Editors or Black Holes?

Sometimes journal editors (or referees) are observationally very similar to black holes. A paper is submitted, but no review escapes the force of gravity generated by the scientist in question. If the academic who is submitting the paper is well established, (s)he might not be overly bothered by this "black-hole-like effect" and live to see the day. However, in case the paper is submitted by a young scientist who might be applying for jobs, the negligence of an editor or a reviewer might have negative consequences on the career of the author of the paper.

Suppose, by way of example, that a young scientist submits a substantial paper to a high-impact journal reporting on the major findings in her doctoral dissertation. The first review round takes a whole year, despite repeated enquiries to the handling editor, and the editor asks for major revisions based on the detailed referee reports. The author works hard at handling the suggestions from her reviewers, and submits a revised paper. One more year passes and the email enquiries by the author receive no answer from the cognizant editor.

What would be the best line of action for the young scientist in question? Should she wait for a second bunch of reports, which might never come, or would she be best served by withdrawing the paper and submitting it elsewhere? What advice would you give in a situation like this one?


Unknown said...

Hypothetically your young scientist would not be the only one in this predicament. Suppose that there is another young scientist who submitted his/her best work to a certain prestigious journal 14 months ago and has yet to receive the first round of reviews despite his/her advisor poking the editor a couple of times.

Luca Aceto said...

Warren, I am sure our young scientists are not the only two either :-) The point is that being an editor is a honour, but is also a responsibility. We should try to do also that aspect of our work as well as we can, also as a sign of respect towards the scientists (young or otherwise) who submit their work to us hoping that it will be dealt with professionally and in a timely fashion.

The advice we give others is the advice we ourselves need.

Kári said...

I would think this young scientist is better off sticking with the journal where she submitted. Unfortunately going to another journal will most likely take another year and she could end up in the same situation.

Anonymous said...

The happened to me, and the total lag was more than 2 years.

The only thing that finally worked was to email the editor in chief of the journal, as well as the entire managing board, to complain.

Anonymous said...

True story: We submitted one of our most interesting papers to journal (special issue of the conference where we submitted the extended abstract) in 2004. The reviewers all returned their evaluations swiftly (a couple of months later), recommending publication. The paper still has not appeared in 2010. The editor of the special issue no longer seems to react to my emails, but happily publishes himself 4-6 papers per year.

Another paper of mine was submitted to one of the community's top journals in 2006. Reviewers recommended acceptance a long time ago (within a couple of months after submission). Paper still has not appeared.

I have applied for a lot of jobs recently, and been rejected by most. I wonder if I had fared better with two additional publications.

an editor said...

This is one of the roles of the editor-in-chief, or, in many journals, the editorial assistant (an employee of the journal's publisher).

For journals published by SIAM, ACM, Springer, IEEE, etc. the editorial assistants try to track such cases.
Web-bases workflow systems also facilitate this job.