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Very recently the chief editors of the journal 'EMS SURVEYS IN MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES' resigned because they published a paper (whose "methodology does not contradict Cantor’s and non-standard analysis views and is based on the Euclid’s Common Notion no. 5 “The whole is greater than the part” " - from the abstract) which turned out to be of questionable quality.

Apparently the editors were "unaware of what was happening" (statement of the editorial board). This seems very peculiar to me; of course it happens here and there that an accepted article contains a minor error, sometimes even a major error. But usually the editors do not resign simply because they accepted a paper with flaws. Does anyone know of similar cases? In this particular case the paper will apparently not be retracted, even though apparently none of the editors was aware that this will be published. Why would editors choose to publish it nevertheless?

Officially (according to the publisher, as quoted here) "it seems that there is not enough grounds for a formal retraction." And yet the statement suggests that the editorial board is thoroughly unhappy.

Remark: I am particularly interested in mathematics journals (hence the tag). However, I am also interested in other fields.

  • Where have you looked? So we don’t go over the same ground... – Solar Mike Dec 26 '17 at 0:38
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    Maybe look for what happens when journals accept randomly-generated papers (e.g. SciGen). In that case, it's not that the paper is just wrong, or poor quality. It's that its acceptance implies that there was no effective oversight at any level. I could see that leading to a resignation. – AJK Dec 26 '17 at 2:00
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    @Nat arxiv.org/pdf/1606.00160.pdf is a critique of the 'mathematics' of the paper, and, unfortunately, as well of the author. – Bernie Dec 26 '17 at 2:33
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    @Roland This is what they claim. But one of the chief editors said "I formally confirm that the paper has been correctly processed by referees whose scientific reputation is definitely outstanding." The author says that the editors in chief asked him to retract the paper himself, which is also strange. But it is true that, officially, they didn't accept it, so I changed my formulation. – Bernie Dec 26 '17 at 10:43
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    The issue is that a manuscript should never even be send to referees without an editor being involved. – Roland Dec 26 '17 at 10:54
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It's decently common. I Googled for "peer review failure editor resign" and some examples are: 1, 2, 3, 4.

You ask "Why would editors choose to publish [the paper] nevertheless?" There're many possible reasons as to why editors may choose to publish a flawed paper:

  1. Some members of the editorial board approved of the paper and still do, while others didn't (and the ones that didn't are the ones resigning). Journals typically do not get every member of the editorial board to approve a paper before it's accepted.
  2. They made a mistake, but now that the paper is already published, they don't consider the errors critical enough to retract it (or they don't consider it fair to the author).
  3. They realized the paper is dubious but decided to err on the side of acceptance. People who subscribe to this idea think, "referees only give opinions; the real peer review happens after a paper is published".
  4. The journal is currently lacking papers, so they're inclining towards accepting more papers to fill their issues.
  5. Difficulty communicating with the author, e.g. if the author isn't very responsive, then editors might choose to accept "as is" rather than wait several months for an author response (especially if the author isn't likely to make major changes to the manuscript). I also remember reading about a flawed paper that was accepted because the author was from the Soviet Union, and getting the author to correct it through the Soviet censors takes too much time.

In the case of this particular paper, the editorial board claims no knowledge of what was happening. At this point, it's speculation to try to figure out what actually happened. However, I would guess (based on my experience in publishing) that after the journal received the paper the desk editor attempted to find a member of the board to handle it, but everyone contacted either declined to handle it or simply did not respond to emails. In that case the desk editor can hardly let the paper sit there collecting dust, so (s)he did the next best thing which was to DIY, with less than ideal consequences. I've seen this happen and even done it myself quite a bit. I've never actually ended up in the news for doing this, which shows that usually DIY-ing doesn't lead to problems. But if it does, that's when we look at one another and sigh.

  • "and the ones that didn't are the ones resigning" ... but why would editors who had nothing to do with that paper resign while the ones who approved it stay? Are they protesting against their fellow editors? – muru Dec 26 '17 at 3:57
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    Do It Yourself - ususally for home repairs and such but the use is spreading and relevant here. – Solar Mike Dec 26 '17 at 8:28
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    My interpretation is that the real issue is not the paper itself, but the way it was handled. There may be nothing sufficiently wrong with the paper to justify withdrawing it, even though it isn't high enough standard for acceptance in the first place. But if I found I was editing a journal where a paper had been accepted without anyone on the editorial board knowing, I would be very unhappy with how the process was (not) functioning. If this has happened once, could it happen again? Has it happened before? Was it really a mistake, or is there some corruption going on? – Jessica B Dec 26 '17 at 9:47
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    "As you might have observed, I'm not in the news"... this is a bit difficult to observe when your display name is @user3727079 :-) – Mehrdad Dec 26 '17 at 10:52
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    @Mehrdad Indeed! I can't use my real name without bringing down the wrath of my employers on my head, but I'll edit the sentence. – Allure Dec 28 '17 at 0:57

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