To be clear I am not referring to out of scope, incorrect formatting or language quality rejections which are mostly detected by junior editing staff and a reasonable explanation is usually supplied in the rejection letter. I am referring to desk rejections by the editor in chief after a paper has passed all quality checks. These are performed under the sole discretion of the editor in chief who may reject any paper providing a conclusion s/he does not like. It culminates with a standard form letter which provides no valid information to the author as to how they might improve their work.

This is a clear and obvious bias loophole (unconscious or otherwise). It is extremely unfair towards the author who has spent many hours developing an argument which is simply overlooked and a burden on the progress of science because it poses a severe disability to any paper with a controversial conclusion. Controversy is the breeding ground of scientific progress.

This practise is censorship by prejudice. i.e., Really bad science.

My understanding is that a paper was published which proved that desk rejections saved time and since then, they have been generally accepted and implemented throughout scientific publishing.

One of the main purposes of peer review is quality control aimed at overcoming bias.

It does not take a genius to figure out that circumventing quality controls is a sure fire method of saving time.

In all forms of endeavour, this has been the cause of many disasters. People have lost their lives from this type of behaviour. Whenever it is exposed, we view the perpetrators with deserved contempt.

I would be surprised if there were no academic suicide deaths which could be attributed directly to this behaviour of journal editors in chief.

It should be stopped.

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    This is a rant rather than a genuine question. – Michael Greinecker Jul 9 '18 at 5:46
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    My apologies. I have edited the "rant" out of my question. – John Jul 9 '18 at 6:40
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    The fact that you believe it's working perfectly does not make it so. There is no scientific experiment which confirms that angular momentum is conserved in a variable radii system. Please go and actually try it in your lab before making false claims? – John Jul 9 '18 at 8:45
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    @Nat, The fact is that if you were to receive any of my papers for review, you would have to address the proof contained within it before you could validly reject it. – John Jul 9 '18 at 8:52
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    @John The reviewers aren't obligated to formally disprove you, and they certainly aren't obligated to disprove you in a way that you'd find agreeable. If they think your work's not worth publishing, they'll just tell the editor so, and that's kinda it. – Nat Jul 9 '18 at 13:29

(Only dealing with poor submissions, since the text of the question indicates John is not interested in e.g. poor English or out-of-scope reasons for desk rejections.)

If a paper has no real chance of passing peer review, why not desk reject it and save everyone's time - from the peer reviewers to the editors to the authors?

For example, suppose a paper claims to prove that angular momentum is not conserved. For such a paper to be credible, it needs to not only provide exquisite experimental data, it needs to find flaws in the experiments that generated the already-available experimental evidence. It needs to explain why Kepler's laws are obeyed in a world that doesn't have this conservation, it needs to explain why generations of physicists have not noticed a violation of rotational symmetry (equivalent to angular momentum conservation by Noether's theorem), and so on. If the author does not provide these, the paper has no chance of passing peer review. At that point, one might as well desk reject it, save everyone's time, and move on to the next paper.

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    Incorrect. All of your reasoning here amounts to an appeal to tradition logical fallacy. All a paper needs to do is provide a single proof of it's claims. Peer review would require that proof to be addressed. A desk rejection allows logical fallacy to have effect. – John Jul 9 '18 at 8:28
  • @John in a sense it does, but people are OK with that fallacy taking place. – user109420 Jun 12 '19 at 19:19
  • @user109420 Academics should never be OK with logical fallacy. – John Sep 26 '19 at 13:48

The review system is not perfect; even when papers make it to peer review, and even assuming good faith on everybody's part, there is a huge amount of randomness in the process. One aspect of that is that an initial assessment of the paper is made by an editor who is probably not sufficiently specialized to fairly judge all of the contents.

Think about it from the perspective of editors and reviewers, though, rather than authors[1]. If a reviewer is to do a good job with a paper, they must give a significant amount of their time for free. If they receive a lot of work that is clearly rubbish, they (a) will have less time for reviewing work which may be worth their time; (b) will be less likely to agree to review future work. Hence, the editor has to make an initial judgement as to whether a manuscript is worth sending for review. Undoubtedly, sometimes they are wrong.

[1] While also remembering that those editors and reviewers are also authors; they know what it's like.

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    If there are no obvious quality or scope issues with a paper then it should be passed for peer review. A judgement based solely upon whether the editor in chief believes or want's to believe the conclusion or not should not be allowed. – John Jul 9 '18 at 8:39
  • @john be reminded, once again, that everybody involved here is a volunteer, giving up their time for free to review and (often) to edit. baur-research.com/Physics/rejections.txt is a rather breathtaking demonstration of how much of such volunteers' time you have wasted. Before continuing to tell everybody they are wrong, may I suggest going over to Physics.se and asking humbly for help in understanding your mistake? If they can't find one, then perhaps have some confidence that you might be right... – Flyto Jul 9 '18 at 12:50
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    I have not wasted anybody's time. Everybody's time is being wasted by the fact that there is a bias loophole in the system. If I am wrong, then it should be a simple process to review my work and prove that rather than assuming it as you and the journal editors have done. Then there will be no more time wasted. The fact is that I am right and therefore have no option but to continue to submit my work until such time that it is properly addressed. Veritas omnia vincit. Refusing to address the truth merely causes delays (wasted time). – John Jul 9 '18 at 13:17
  • @alephzero, You cannot address a theoretical paper by "reading the titles". You must show false premiss or illogic, or you must accept the conclusion drawn whether you like it or not. – John Oct 10 '19 at 8:40

You are angry and you probably have your reasons for it, but rephrasing your question may result to better responses.

I do however agree with your core concern. I also notice the downside of the current review process (with and without desk rejections).

Academic careers depend on having work published. The system is without doubt biased. It could not exist outside science. Research in my country showed that young PhD students are at risk for developing serious depression. The main reason: getting work published.

I have excellent master thesis students telling me not to aspire a PhD because their older peers (doing a PhD) are stressed and unhappy. In industry I see my young graduated students excell and develop themselves into confident and qualified professionals.

Maybe you should consider a career switch.

  • Thank you for your kind approach. I apologise. I have removed the two "angry" words. I am not an academic and if it were the furthering of an academic career that were the issue, I would simply switch the subject of my work to something less prone to biased rejections as many have done before me. This question is not about my work however, it is about my experience. My experience tells me that there are dire problems in scientific publishing. Entrenched errors are being protected because the very controls intended to prevent this possibility and enable their exposure are being circumvented. – John Jul 9 '18 at 6:37
  • @ John. You have read the responses. You as an individual cannot change a system that is rooted in a long tradition. Do not let your happiness depend on it. If your are serious about getting your work published, change your strategy. Find a principal advisor supporting your ideas. Get involved in a research group with a good reputation. Work with co-authors. See whether you can improve your work with the calculus advice. Alternatively: find another venue to publish. Why not a professional journal? Academic journals are hardly read by non-academics. – user93911 Jul 10 '18 at 5:49
  • I did not ask to be put in this position. I stumbled on a flaw in the laws of physics. I am default tasked with informing the world. No non-academic publication will consider my work until it is published in a peer reviewed journal. The system is denying me that opportunity by refusing to review my work. I have no option but try change the system. I would not be able to live comfortably with myself if I give up because it is difficult. I believe I have made a valid and sound argument that the system is flawed. There has been no comment so far which can be considered a valid rebuttal. – John Jul 10 '18 at 6:18

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