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My theoretical physics paper is being rejected repeatedly at the editorial stage, without undergoing peer review. However, every rejection explicitly states that there is no technical error in my line of reasoning and so far none have questioned the relevance and novelty of my work. After five rejections from reputed physics journals I have received no concrete comments on why my paper is unsuitable for peer review. The paper is purely theoretical and I am repeatedly being offered the option to transfer it to another journal. Each time I do so, I get the same response - Rejected, but not due to a technical flaw in the argument. Having researched the transfer process, it seems to me my paper is technically sound and I am just not able to find the right journal to submit my work even though after each rejection I choose to submit only to journals recommended by the publisher's Transfer Desk.

From my limited perspective it appears that my paper is being judged subjectively for its implications to physics at the editorial stage itself, and since no technical flaw is as yet found, I am being shunted repeatedly through the transfer process.

I am an outsider to the academic field and since I am unaffiliated, I can't upload my paper to a pre-print server.

I would greatly appreciate any inputs.....

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    I think it's more accurate to say no one has bothered to check if there is a technical flaw. Jan 17 at 5:20
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    'received no concrete comments' -> can you elaborate? Some times academics speak in vague or concise terms because they assume someone experienced will know exactly what they are talking about. Jan 17 at 5:26
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    Some relevant information is missing here: What did the journals give as a reason for rejection (whether you agree with it or not)? Also: Are you sure that “every rejection explicitly states that there is no technical error in my line of reasoning” instead of something along the lines of: “This rejection is not due to technical errors” (which is crucially different)? Please edit your question to clarify.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jan 17 at 13:48
  • The alleged duplicate question is substantially different to the present question --- OP has not claimed to solve any famous problem. Voting to reopen.
    – Ben
    Feb 14 at 5:41

2 Answers 2

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I'm not in agreement with the other answer here, which suggests that these are red-flags for such a lack of merit as to amount to "crankery". It's possible that this is the problem, but there are other possibilities too. The fact that the journals rejecting your paper are offering to transfer them elsewhere suggests to me that your paper probably has some merit and is not "crankery". This kind of repeated rejection can occur for a technically sound paper merely because it does not fit the scope of the journal well --- I've had experiences where editors of multiple journals make positive comments on a paper I submit, but they just think it's not the type of paper that suits their journal well (too technical, not technical enough, etc.).

For a physics paper that advances some technically sound argument, but is having trouble finding a proper home (possibly due to scope issues), I would recommend you consider submitting to the journal PLOS-ONE (Physics). This journal takes a different approach to other journals, insofar as they do not consider issues of "scope" or "significance". If the paper is technically sound, has a proper methodology, and has any value at all, then it will usually be accepted (see here for some more information on their selection proccess). At minimum, if your paper is rejected from this journal then there should be some clarity with respect to its technical approach.

I have previously had a fairly quirky paper (a game theoretic analysis of a popular children's game) published in PLOS-ONE. This paper had previously been submitted to about five or six different journals over about six years, without success, until I basically gave up on having it published and waited for more years with it sitting on my computer. In each case the previous journals really liked the paper, and commented positively on it, but they felt that the scope was not in keeping with the types of articles they usually publish. For some journals it did not develop theoretical methods enough, for others it was too technical, for others the subject matter was too quirky, and so on. Anyway, after I'd given up on ever having it published, another academic recommended PLOS-ONE for the paper and they accepted and published it, since they were less concerned with scope and significance. It is possible you might have the same experience as me.

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    At present count, the journal has published over 25,000 physics papers (most presumably written by physicists).
    – Ben
    Jan 17 at 14:13
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    I’m with @AnonymousPhysicist here: PLOS is not a go-to journal for physics although it does have good cross-over appeal in some subfields. Simply browsing the list of section editors will confirm the relative importance of physics compared to biological topics. Jan 17 at 16:54
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    Also, check your own link. Those mostly are not physics papers. Jan 17 at 17:20
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    Stepping back from whether PLOS ONE is popular among physicists, the OP is in a situation where he has tried many of the popular journals and failed. If you have a better suggestion than PLOS ONE in this situation, you are welcome to put it forward.
    – Ben
    Jan 17 at 20:28
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    @Ben Indeed. At some point, the question isn't "Am I grubbing for a slightly better-ranked journal" but "Is this thing going to a reputable venue anywhere, ever?" Plus, if you're not in academia, journal reputation isn't as big of a deal so long as the peer review is competent. Lower-ranked places might not have as much exposure, but it will show up on Google Scholar plus you can always forward the paper to people you meet at conferences.
    – Namey
    Jan 18 at 13:09
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I would respectfully point out that your post has a few "red flags" for what we in the business call "crankery."

My...paper is being rejected..without undergoing peer review. However, every rejection explicitly states that there is no technical error in my line of reasoning and so far none have questioned the relevance and novelty of my work.

This does not make sense, how could the editor "explicitly state" that there is no technical error if the paper has not been peer reviewed? How would the editor know? Moreover, even published papers don't get an "imprimatur" that the work is correct; rather, the work is judged sound enough to be published.

It is more likely that the editor said something like "this desk rejection does not necessarily imply that your work is not technically sound" -- as mentioned in the comments, the paper has not been peer reviewed, so no one has bothered to check if the work is correct or not.

From my limited perspective it appears that my paper is being judged subjectively for its implications to physics... I am an outsider to the academic field

I'm not sure quite what you mean here. Hopefully you are not alleging that your paper is so groundbreaking that the physics community has formed a conspiracy against you. Rather, I assume you mean that you are not getting a "fair shake" since your conclusions seem so surprising. Such things can happen, especially since you are unaffiliated with a research institution. We like to tell the story of Prof. Zhang, where the system worked as it should. However, it's true that you may need to take some extra steps to get people to take you seriously.

After five rejections from reputed physics journals...

After five rejections, it does seem like something is wrong. This could be something minor, like selecting a more appropriate journal. Or it could be something major, like the entire idea being "crankery." Personally, I would rather know -- if I am wasting my time, I would rather someone tell me so that I can pursue other activities instead.

So: I would recommend that you buy a few hours of a graduate student's time (preferably one who works in your field). In exchange for, say, $200, they should be willing to spend a few hours giving you a peer-review. If the work is mostly good, they may have advice on selecting a journal and writing it up. If the work is mostly bad, they may be able to point out some technical flaws. But in the latter case, I would recommend abandoning the effort entirely -- I've seen before that there is often a disconnect where the expert says "this is totally wrong; for example, your electron mass is an order of magnitude too high" and the non-expert hears "if I can solve the electron mass problem, we're good!" This communications breakdown can lead to much wasted time.

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    "Hopefully you are not alleging that your paper is so groundbreaking that the physics community has formed a conspiracy against you. Rather, I assume you mean that you are not getting a "fair shake" since your conclusions seem so surprising. " - to me it sounded more like they are saying that their conclusions are not anything radical, so journals just don't care to publish a minor improvement from a no-name. Though I guess "judged subjectively for its implications" can be interpreted both ways.
    – Davor
    Jan 17 at 13:24
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    This answer is a bit harsh and ignores the simpler explanation that the asker has not tried the right kind of journal. Jan 17 at 13:40
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    Also think the idea of paying a random grad student to do peer review is a bit… strange. As a grad student if I got an email from a rando offering hundreds of dollars to do this, a lot of spam flags would go off in my brain and I’d hit delete immediately.
    – shalop
    Jan 17 at 13:56
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    If the asker cannot locate the right journal for their paper how are they going to locate the right grad student? Grad students don't exactly have broad knowledge.
    – Clumsy cat
    Jan 17 at 16:11
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    @ZeroTheHero It would be wrong to assume the transfer recommendation was thoughtful, as opposed to automatic. Jan 17 at 17:13

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