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My research group started a new research direction in a somewhat of a classical engineering field (which heavily relays on experiments/tests). I noticed that reviewers who review our work seem to be extra harsh with their assessment and tend to favor a direct “rejection” without clearly explaining what is wrong with our works or even giving us a chance to respond to their comments/questions. I see a common trend in their reviews in two separate papers so far: 1. Consists of 2-3 sentences max 2. Terms like “I feel that this work does not have merit” and “to the best of my knowledge, I don’t see how so and so” 3. The review takes 9-12 months to be completed - while papers in these journals are constantly being published with 6 months.

My assessment is that reviewers are holding very tightly to traditional methods and do not seem to accept our new approaches - and hence the poor reviews we keep getting. I don’t think that they don’t understand our work, since it is clearly explained + been presented in international conferences with great success. Regarding point no. 3, perhaps it is possible that editors are having a hard time to find “suitable” reviewers(?).

I am seeking any thoughts, tips, or experiences you have to cope with such behavior.

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    Wait for the traditionalists to die. It was Einstein's path to success, actually.
    – Buffy
    May 3 '20 at 17:50
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    Did you show the potential impact of your work and its probability to success clearly? Did you show a clear (while still experimental path) to a success scenario?
    – Walter
    May 3 '20 at 18:10
  • @Walter yes, we did. We keep outlining that in our papers and presentations. Perhaps we can try to do a better job?
    – The Guy
    May 3 '20 at 18:21
  • @Buffy thanks! Let’s see what the future holds :)
    – The Guy
    May 3 '20 at 18:22
  • If you did so, the only thing that comes into my mind besider clear arguments are managing your accademical network. Personal contacts, spreading the word; beside that I would argue as Buffy did.
    – Walter
    May 3 '20 at 18:26
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So the reviewers take unusually long time, don't understand parts of your work, or don't see the merit in it? As you say, it's a likely sign that the editors have a hard time finding suitable reviewers. This suggests that you should make heavier use of recommended/excluded reviewers, if the journals allow it. Pick them strategically, but also honestly, and motivate your choices. It's not necessary for all traditionalists to die if you can get more open-minded referees... On occasion, it might also be worth appealing a rejection if there are clear signs of reviewers misunderstanding the paper. Though the probability of success seems to vary a lot between fields and journals, so your mileage may vary.

It may also be the case that your papers don't have clear enough explanations of why your approach has promise or is valid. You might well explain what you're doing clearly, but fail to convince someone else that it's worth doing in the first place - especially if existing methods in the target field work fine. Typically the case for a really novel approach needs to be more convincing than that for some incremental work. Directly benchmarking it against existing methods is often useful. Try to find any patterns in reviewer responses of the "I don't see how so and so" kind and address them head on. Also try to get critical feedback from colleagues to help find any gaps in your arguments.

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  • Thanks for your suggestions!
    – The Guy
    May 4 '20 at 11:05
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I don't know how radical your proposals are, but a bit of perspective and history might help.

When a field develops what they think of as the "standard model" then pretty much everyone adheres to it. This happens in many fields, not just physics. In mathematical analysis, the standard model begins with the Peano axioms and a huge amount of mathematics spreads out from there. The model itself influences thought processes and it can be difficult to think in terms of a different model. But Non Standard Analysis simply starts with a different set of axioms and requires different thought processes to obtain insight.

The history of breaking models has a classical example in Einstein's work. Prior to the theory of relativity, physicists were pretty much all committed to the idea of Aether. Since the most important scientists of the day adhered to this model, it was difficult for other ideas (Einstein) to come forward.

It wasn't that people (reviewers) were bad people or hostile to new ideas for bad reasons, but, rather, that they just couldn't get their minds around something radically different. They are just immersed in the current model and become committed to it.

And, in extreme cases, the "old guard", who are very prominent, need to leave the arena before the "young Turks" can come to the fore.

However, the suggestion of user Walter in a comment is valuable. If you really have a new model of thought, spend a lot of effort in building a collaborative circle around those ideas. A sort of underground. You may find it difficult to get published in the near term if your ideas conflict with the way "everybody" thinks, but, with sufficient mass and momentum, they may come to the fore eventually.

I'll note that the arts are like that also in many ways. People (Picasso and Braque) sometimes break the mold and create something entirely new. But Cubism took a while to catch on. Renoir was gone from the scene. (Not an art historian, so I may be making a bit of a leap here.) The new movement flourishes in the cafe's in Montmartre and Montparnasse, not in the top galleries of the day. Music has its moments also.

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  • Thanks for your suggestions!
    – The Guy
    May 4 '20 at 11:05
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So to enrich my suggestion above:

  • Knock at the door of those departments that either are working near to your field, or where you expect influecers and maybe reviewers are located. (It is always helpful to find out who is editor for a journal and to analyse his network)
  • Try to get personal contacts there, in asking good questions about their field and then also asking them in giving you adivce or at least a discussion. (If you are a group, you may give each member some targets)
  • Provide such a value that they are interested in your collaboration (or one of your members), w.r.t. to your field.
  • Then spread the word ("value selling"), invite them for an internal, non-paper based review or discussion, meeting etc. Get them on board. Again, you must provide some value for them - there is no free lunch, even in academics.

This will take time, and as @buffy posted, you may need to wait for your time.

  • Prepare and work as good as possible to get into first results. Nothing is more convincing than success.
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  • Thanks for your suggestions!
    – The Guy
    May 4 '20 at 11:05

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