Say you are an independent researcher, with no affiliation and no famous co-author. Assume that you have authored a paper, which you believe is decently written and reports a method that is at least comparable with state of the art. Some reviewers at a reputable journal read it and acknowledge the merits of your work, suggesting only minor and addressable corrections. However the editors reject the paper. You attribute this to bad luck.

Then you submit to a few other journals with lower impacts, and the editors desk-reject it, providing a terse comment or two. You know the work you've done, so you don't find the terse editor comments fair and unbiased. They sound more like a made-up excuse to you.

Do all these rejections have anything to do with you being an independent researcher, not affiliated with any academic institution and above all, not having any famous co-author?

Is there another reason behind the curtain? Like the editors asking among themselves "who the heck is this guy?! Where'd he come from?! Who is he to have his work published by us?!"

Final edit: I voted to delete this post. It seems to have caused more mayhem than I intended. And I kinda got my answer anyway. My speculation was probably right. Many thanks to everyone who took part and apologies for any inconvenience.

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    I voted to close because this is a complaint, not a genuine question. Feb 15, 2021 at 19:00
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    99% of published authors are not famous. Bias is everywhere. Feb 15, 2021 at 19:02
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    @User32563 You may not need an institution to publish, but it sure helps to have an advisor who can guide you in the research process and let you know when the rejections you are getting make sense and how to improve your work to not get rejected. That's something an institution usually provides you access to.
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 15, 2021 at 21:39
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    Opinion-based, voted to close. FWIW here’s my take: there are several effects here. First, journals probably are a bit biased towards famous authors (not in the unethical sense of “who the heck is this guy”, but in a more sensible sense of being more confident that papers from established researchers are what they claim to be). Second, famous authors are famous because they, well, write very good papers. They also have a lot of experience and are better at communicating their results. So, the odds are in fact stacked against you as an independent researcher, but not for the reasons you think.
    – Dan Romik
    Feb 15, 2021 at 23:50
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    ... And this is nothing special about academia. In every field of human activity, the established players enjoy entrenched advantages compared to the upstarts. But everyone plays by the same rules, and every established player was once an upstart and managed to climb their way up the ladder of success. So complaining about this won’t get you anywhere. Hard work and persistence will on the other hand. Anyway, good luck!
    – Dan Romik
    Feb 15, 2021 at 23:52

3 Answers 3


It's probably more productive to change the way to think about this particular situation.

To address the situation:

To me it sounds like you're currently running into the problem that journals are highly selective. Many papers get rejected, all the time. The fact that your paper gets rejected several times in a row does not necessarily imply that there is no publishable idea within the paper. It may be that the current version of the paper is not quite good enough for publication right now, for reasons of writing, or experimental setup, or embedding in related work. Editors and reviewers may see this as a bigger deal than you, and it's quite possible that they're wrong and you're right (as well as vice versa). But it may also be that the paper is indeed good enough in its current form, but you just may have run into a few sets of reviewers/editors who read your paper on a bad day.

The point is: what you are observing right now can easily be explained by bad luck. Take a good hard look at your paper in its current state, and be honest with yourself. If you are still convinced that the paper is good enough for publication, then don't let a few rejections stop you: dust yourself off and try again.

To answer the question as asked:

Officially: no.

In practice, editors and reviewers have a direct interest in keeping the process fair and balanced. In the minds of most scientists, this fairness is what makes science great, and the reputation of a journal would quickly suffer if famous authors get preferential treatment. Therefore, I don't think that anybody would consciously bias their journal towards famous authors.

It is possible that there is an unconscious bias. Suppose that an editor just had to reject thirty papers of cranks claiming to have unified quantum mechanics and general relativity, or (dis-)proved that P=NP. At the end of a working day like that, it is not impossible that this editor is slightly less ideally predisposed towards the 31st and 32nd paper by an independent scholar. They should be neutral towards any paper reaching their desk, but it is not entirely impossible that unconscious bias plays a small part.

Notice that it is impossible to completely eliminate unconscious biases from the reviewing process. Earlier today, I happened to receive some very good news in my personal life. If I now proceed to review a paper this afternoon, it is quite possible that I am unreasonably friendly towards the paper, simply because I am smiling back at the world which is smiling at me. If my fellow reviewer happens to be in the middle of a messy divorce, they will be less friendly towards everything, including papers they happen to have to review right now. This human factor cannot be completely eliminated from the process (even though every individual reviewer or editor will try their best to do so), and therefore authors should also take the outcome of a reviewing process with a grain of salt.

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    And note that the purpose of blind reviewing is to let "ordinary" reviewers dispute the results of "famous" authors without reprisal.
    – Buffy
    Feb 15, 2021 at 14:23
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    In my experience the review process isn't overly biased to big name labs but the editorial process very much is. It's hard to write something bad enough to get desk rejected from a nobel laureate lab.
    – user133933
    Feb 15, 2021 at 20:03
  • "It may be that the current version of the paper is not quite good enough for publication right now, for reasons of..." in addition to the reasons you list, it may simply be that it is not a good fit for the journal submitted to. Some journals will not accept incremental results, even if the underlying work is solid, because they have chosen to select for only game-changing work or work that is of interest to a broad audience. An advisor can help choose appropriate target venues for a particular research project.
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 15, 2021 at 21:48

Correct me if I am wrong, but your previous experiences with publishing are only the one paper you published before, together with your former advisor? Then, you might lack the experience necessary to know about the typical mistakes that lead to a (desk) rejection. Your results may be very good, but this alone does not make a good paper. Being proficient in scientific writing takes time and requires practice. Your former advisor is a few steps ahead and you might not even have noticed some small corrections from her/his side that made publishing of the previous paper much more likely. Famous researchers usually are particularly good when it comes to presenting/writing about their results. They make it easy for the reviewers to like their work. Beginners often make it easy for the reviewers not to like their work. This does not result from bias, but from scientific writing skills. And the editor also needs convincing, so pay attention to your cover letter.

If you decide to go on alone, you might have to learn the lessons the hard way by facing a few rejections. An experienced person might be able to help.

And please stop making the mistake of calling the replies you get after peer review "stupid". This is also a typical beginner's mistake. Sleep over the replies until you can look at them in a rational (not emotional) mood. In my experience, virtually all replies can be used to improve your work.

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    Or in other words, a little more humility and a little less hubris may help you see their comments in a more helpful way.
    – Alex
    Feb 15, 2021 at 20:28

Edit: since the question's been changed:

Yes, journals are biased towards more famous authors. Source

Another reason for the breakdown is the hypnotizing effect of reputation. When the names of eminent people and places appear on the top of submitted papers, says Florida physicist Hebard, "reviewers react almost unconsciously" to their prestige. "People discount reports from groups that aren't well known," adds University of Maryland physicist Richard Greene.

This is mainly positive bias however, because there are way more institutions and researchers in the world than anyone can keep track of. I don't know the details of your paper, but assuming you are right that it is novel enough, has been receiving positive reviews, etc, but is still being rejected, I will hypothesize that there is something you're missing which is causing the desk rejections, e.g. an omitted authorship. There're other strange things about your description of the rejections as well. This comment is especially weird:

A couple of other journals rejected without peer review, with stupid comments and excuses from the editors (I'm not one those scientist legends, but trust me, I know my field well enough to tell if a comment is a stupid excuse or not).

How can you know your field so well if you're a recent MSc graduate?

  • Fair enough. I haven't been in the business long enough. The correct phrasing is "I'm familiar enough with the related field to tell if a comment is stupid or not". About the supervisor, why would I include him when he hasn't done anything? Does he include me in his solo works too?
    – User32563
    Feb 15, 2021 at 9:53
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    This is terrible advice. You seem to assume that reviewers treat papers as some sort of popularity game ignoring science. You are also suggesting phony authorship. You seem to believe that the only thing needed for good publishable science is to have a prestigious institution. I call BS.
    – Buffy
    Feb 15, 2021 at 12:34
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    @Buffy I don't think you read the answer.
    – Allure
    Feb 15, 2021 at 12:37
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    Whatever, then.
    – Allure
    Feb 15, 2021 at 12:38
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    Your new source is but an anecdote of of scientific misconduct. It is just as easily explained by the (likely false) result being so new, unexpected, and potentially useful as any bias toward "fame" of the authors. One data point doesn't imply a trend.
    – Buffy
    Feb 15, 2021 at 14:06

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