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The first type of review a manuscript gets when submitted is the internal review done by the editor, who is in general an expert in the field.

Given their expertise, can an editor have an initial impression on the manuscript that gives them an insight on whether it will eventually get accepted or not, ahead of the reviewers recommendations?

I'm asking this question because depending on the editor and the journal, the editorial screening isn't just about the respect of the journal's directives and being within its scope, but also the novelty of the subject as well as the quality of the manuscript. So, if the editor is convinced that the manuscript is of a high quality and the results are novel, then this may give them an initial idea of the decision that they will eventually make.

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    Many do on many papers, but so what? What is the point of your question?
    – Buffy
    Jul 25 at 12:04
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    An editor can desk reject a submission they think has no chance. This is typically done for more formal reasons like exceed the maximum length or a topic that does not fit the topic of the journal. However, this can also happen when the editor thinks there is a serious problem with the quality of the paper. So that is an example where the editor can decide before any reviewers see the paper. Jul 25 at 12:21
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    A peer reviewed journal means that every article that appears in it has been peer reviewed (or clearly labeled as otherwise). It does not mean that every submission receives reviews. Jul 25 at 12:23
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    @HichamKhalil you have now asked multiple questions on the same topic. Apperently, you don't receive the answer you are looking for. I think we are dealing with an XY problem here ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XY_problem ). A good way to solve that is if you told us why you want to know this. If we just look at your question on its own, then there is no reason why you should care. So apperently there is something more going on. If you don't tell us what that is, then we cannot help you. Jul 25 at 13:27
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    FWIW one of the reasons my stint as an editor failed was because I was "too nice" to reject some submissions outright. It was, naturally, very difficult to find willing reviewers for some manuscripts. The editor-in-chief did urge me to use this right, but I did not internalize it in time, and at that point other personal problems had surfaced, forcing me to quit. But, yes, the editors have the more or less final say on the decisions. The reviewers are, in a sense, experts the editor consults. Jul 27 at 13:08

3 Answers 3

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As an editor for 15 years and editor-in-chief for 4 years, my experience is this: for 50% of papers, I know after a couple of minutes whether they will be accepted, and I'm reasonably sure about the others.

For the ones that I think have no chance, they get rejected without review. This is about 30% of papers. For the ones that I'm doubtful, I often ask one of the Associate Editors about their opinion and for some of them, we decide to reject without revision. Since we're weeding out the ones we believe are not competitive, we end up with a pool of papers that get sent out to reviewers and of which 2/3 or 3/4 eventually get published (though sometimes after two or even three revisions).

My take is that editors who do not have the will to reject papers right away and hide behind reviews are putting a burden on everyone (authors, reviewers), and I encourage them to feel empowered to reject papers outright.

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    The fraction of "crank papers" is actually very small. The majority of papers we reject right away are just not in scope of the journal, or cover research areas that were current in the 1970s and 1980s but are no longer of interest. I imagine that these could be published somewhere, but not in the top tier of journals. Jul 25 at 22:56
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    Gasp!! My papers. Oh woe. Actually mine were really "current" in the 1930's.
    – Buffy
    Jul 25 at 23:06
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    Did your opinion of a paper influence which reviewer(s) you sent it to? Jul 25 at 23:56
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    @ScottSeidman I'm not going to make any apologies at all for desk rejecting papers. I've been a professional for 25 years, I can see when a paper is not good and you're not going to convince me that I'm not 100% correct on the papers I'm desk rejecting. (There are of course papers I'm unsure about and those get sent to reviewer.) Sending bad papers out for peer review is a waste of everyone's time: Editors, reviewers, and authors. -- -- I do tell authors why I reject their papers, but it's rarely more than a paragraph. Jul 27 at 1:12
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    @ScottSeidman As an author, I would much rather have a desk rejection after a week or two with no feedback (other than perhaps "we don't think your results are strong enough for this journal, try the next one") than a rejection after six months (or more) with reviewer feedback. And the worst of all cases is the slow rejection despite positive feedback from reviewers. Jul 27 at 11:23
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I'm not an editor, so can't speak to what editors do. I can hypothesize.

Were I an editor I would expect to have opinions about most papers that crossed my desk - after all, I am an editor because I know the field well and am willing to put in the effort needed to advance it.

I would expect that careful reviews by referees would more often than not support my initial thoughts. When they didn't I would think about why. If it happened often I might think I was the wrong person for the job.

I would base final accept/reject decision on the referees' recommendations and reasons. There would be close calls requiring judgement.

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It's certainly possible. For example when the Large Hadron Collider first started running and the first ATLAS collaboration papers were submitted, one can be confident that the papers will eventually be accepted. That itself is a consequence of the fact that the collaboration involves hundreds of reputable scientists who will surely be cross-checking each other's work. One does not need to be an expert in particle physics to be able to say the above.

For most papers though, the editor will not know (they certainly won't know the topic as well as the reviewer).

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  • Your last point is important. Editors aren't "expert" in the entire field of, say, physics or mathematics, but only in fairly narrow subfields. Journals are usually broader than the expertise of any one person. And, at time of submission the editor isn't going to "accept" the paper for publication even when they recognize that such will eventually occur. Review also improves papers, not just judges them "as is".
    – Buffy
    Jul 25 at 12:27
  • It is also important to note that the editors initial view need not and should not prejudice the final decision. Every paper needs a close examination. I wonder, just out of curiosity, what proportion of papers in reputable journals are published exactly as first submitted. My best guess is "very near zero". Probably higher for conference papers, though, due to time constraints.
    – Buffy
    Jul 25 at 12:34
  • @Buffy - I had a number of papers (APL, PRB, ...) accepted as-is. Good results and a great deal of effort writing clearly...
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 25 at 17:30
  • I would expect an initial opinion of "reject" to carry much more weight than "accept". There are many reasons for rejection, poorly written and off topic being two that an editor should be able to immediately spot without bothering a reviewer. Jul 26 at 8:06

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