BY JAN HANSPACH AND JOERN FISCHER
Reommendation of: Farji-Brener A, Kitzberger T.: Rejecting Editorial Rejections Revisited: Are Editors of Ecological Journals Good Oracles? Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 2014 Jul; 95(3):238-242. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/0012-9623-95.3.238
This paper looks at a topic we have been pondering for a while now (e.g. here, here or here): do editorial rejections contribute to the publication of good science or are they just arbitrary decisions that are a nuisance for authors? From our experience editorial rejections seem to be increasingly common. Sometimes (and at best) these come as friendly letters by editors who actually read the manuscript, but mostly they are just the set phrases from a rejection template. Sometimes (and in the worst case), editorial rejections are justified using arguments that contradict the actual publication practice of the very same journal (e.g. “We don’t publish papers on single species” when a similar study on the same species was published not long ago).
Our limited and anecdotal experience with editorial rejections have now been verified by this study of Farji-Brener and Kitzberger. They surveyed the fate of papers with editorial rejections and found that two thirds of the rejected papers where published at a journal of similar quality afterwards. This means that in more than half of the cases the (subject) editor’s decision to reject because of insufficient quality very likely was not justified. It also means that the role of the editors as gatekeepers in most cases does not improve the quality of the publication process, but rather makes it arbitrary and unhelpfully painful for authors.
We hope that this paper is read by many editors and scientists – for the former to challenge their practices and for the latter as a reminder that an editorial rejection will not always constitute a meaningful “expert” judgement of the quality of a given submission.