By Joern Fischer
I recently came across a paper by David Wardle, in which he examines manuscript rejection rates in ecology journals relative to their “impact” (number of citations). The paper is available here. Nice piece of work — it shows that higher rejection rates do not lead to higher citation rates. In other words, journals that reject 80% of papers do not end up with more highly cited papers than PLoS One, which they were compared against — even though PLoS One rejects only about 35% of papers.
To say that “only the best papers can be published due to space limitations”, and that’s why rejection rates are so high in leading ecology journals is, therefore, simply misleading. Many of the rejected papers are presumably no better than many of the accepted ones (or otherwise a lower rejection rate should lead to lower citation rates, which it doesn’t). To those who believe many rejections seem arbitrary, well … this supports that gut feeling. Interesting!