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I have had a very bad experience with a journal. After nine months under review, the system showed that a decision had been made; I have checked and was “revise and resubmit”. Two days later, the editor contacted me to let me know that the paper has been rejected.

I don’t how to proceed with that journal and felt really disappointed and frustrated especially after it took such long time to respond. I also discovered that one member of the journal's editorial board has published a similar paper in the following issue.

Any advice on how to handle such a situation?

  • 2
    Did you get any reviews together with the decision? Was the decision, based on these reviews (if any) justifiable? – Mark Dec 19 '17 at 20:11
  • 1
    Did you have an pre-print version on arxiv? – 0x90 Dec 19 '17 at 21:54
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    Nine months without a review is unreasonable. You may want to consider contacting the publisher or editor-in-chief. – aeismail Dec 19 '17 at 23:41
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    I would understand nine months with constant revisions and feedback but nine months for the first bit of feedback, which is reject, is totally unreasonable whichever the journal. – Cloud Chem Dec 20 '17 at 5:02
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    Do you know when the paper from the editor was submitted and accepted? – Alchimista Dec 20 '17 at 22:15
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I would suggest submitting your paper to a different journal, but as a counter to the charge that "it's already published in journal X," include the correspondence you had with journal X.

This should alert a responsible editor to the fact that something wasn't right at the other journal, and may be willing to give your paper a fair shake.

I'd also consider lodging a complaint with the publisher of the journal. This sounds like an ethical lapse somewhere: another paper got published, but yours was out of scope?

  • Thank you for your response. I think the same; there is a clear issue with the ethics of this journal and I would like to warn other researchers about that instead of loosing such precious time without even having feedback on my submission. – user84801 Dec 20 '17 at 17:09
  • I disagree with the first part of your answer. If you submit the paper to another journal, they would be justified to say that they do not publish articles as proof of priority but to communicate knowledge. No matter how justified your claims are, the scientific value of a second publication would be zero. – Jan-Christoph Schlage-Puchta Dec 23 '17 at 17:30
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    @Jan-ChristophSchlage-Puchta: The paper is described as "similar," not "the same." There may still be value if the work differs in some important way. – aeismail Dec 23 '17 at 19:44
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I think it's best not to assume the worst, since there's a good chance what happened is the unscientific nature of the peer-review process manifesting itself. For example, it's conceivable that the two papers were handled by different members of the editorial board who were not acting in consultation, and one felt the topic was out of scope while the other didn't.

Taking 9 months to decide a paper is out of scope is terrible. However it's also conceivable that they received some confidential (or very poor quality) reviews that they can't share and think the best thing to do is say that your paper is out of scope. This would explain why the decision was "revise and resubmit" for a brief time. There's no way of knowing unfortunately.

What to do now:

1) Next time, if a paper goes more than a month with no sign of review, I suggest emailing the journal office and ask for a status update. It's possible the paper got lost in the system, or simply wasn't submitted correctly. One month should be enough for the journal office to say something, e.g. "we've invited three reviewers of which one has agreed to review, the review is due in 16 days".

2) You can lodge a complaint to either the publisher or the editor-in-chief. It depends on who the editor that rejected your paper is. If that editor is an employee of the publisher, then I would complain to the publisher. Be sure to emphasize that taking 9 months is unreasonable. If it's a member of the editorial board, then I'd approach the EiC, since the publisher is likely to defer to the EiC. If it's the EiC, then there's no point complaining.

3) Submit the paper to another journal. I wouldn't tell them that the paper was rejected at the first journal, unless they ask. You gain nothing by doing so, but could trigger subconscious biases ("we have no idea what to do with this paper, but since the other journal rejected this paper I'll agree with their editor").

4) If you've been scooped, my first inclination would be to complain to the employer of the editor who scooped you, but I genuinely don't know if that's a good idea.

  • I agree with this. It could be plagiarism, but it could be coincidence, and plagiarism is hard to prove when it's about an idea rather than identical text. – Fred Douglis Mar 7 '18 at 23:44
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For biomedical authors - PLOS Biology publishes complementary research. If you have been scooped, you have six months from the publication or posting (to a preprint server) of the first article to submit your manuscript to PLOS Biology. They hope to tackle the science reproducibility problem with this approach. You can see more details about their new policy in this article.

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