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I am trying to be a researcher in a field of economics but with emphasis on philosophy. The field of philosophical (argumentative) economics is, in my opinion, not in the limelight these days; however, a few reputable journals still exist.

I wrote a manuscript and submitted it to one of these journals which then resulted in desk rejection. This is not the problem at all but in his response the editor has written that the paper provides no results... Which, though, true, is the thing many other papers published in this specific journal do not provide. In philosophical economics, we mostly see a section for implications instead of section for results... To me, the editorial rejection r seems to be too weird, especially because papers without results are relatively common in the whole field.

What should I make of such an answer?

  • The editor rejected the paper based on my background (low rep institution)?
  • The paper was written so poorly that the editor did not want to lose time with it?
  • Something has changed over years and this journal tries to attract only classical empirical IMRAD (Introduction-Methodology-Results-Discussion)?
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    You might consider temporarily deleting this for about 24 hours (thereby avoiding further down voting) and thinking of a way to rewrite it so that it can be answered. As currently asked, "What to make of X" is anyone's guess.
    – uhoh
    May 7, 2023 at 11:26
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    I would send an answer to the editor with a list of, say, 5 papers that were published in the journal and don't have results, and ask them why your paper has been desk-rejected due to lack of results, when other papers without results have been published in it. May 7, 2023 at 11:58
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    For an author a desk rejection doesn't make sense almost invariably, for otherwise the author wouldn't have submitted the manuscript in the first place, but one has to recognise their own bias in this. The editor rejected the paper because your manuscript provided no results, and you agree with this but you disagree that this is sufficient reason for rejection. Thus, you disagree with the rejection. May 7, 2023 at 12:36
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    @MassimoOrtolano Ye, this sounds fair... But it would not reflect what I wanted to ask about. The thing is that there is an obvious contradiction in what the journal does and what the editor requires. I would like to accentuate that the specificity of the editor's answer is the weird thing. Why would he say exactly this concrete objection if it contradicts the history of the journal? That is why I used the abusive language, because, to me, this sounds as a plain lie (of course, there might be other explanations), overall the paradox is the thing that interests me the most.
    – Athaeneus
    May 7, 2023 at 12:47
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    @Athaeneus If you got no answer back from the editor, you can also seek clarification from the editor-in-chief. It's not unheard of that they will override the editor's decision. May 7, 2023 at 14:07

2 Answers 2

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Of course the problem is that the answer by the editor is not very informative, so that neither you nor we can know what exactly went on. Some possibilities are that:

  1. The editor read the paper and came to the conclusion that it isn't good enough or doesn't fit the journal for a number of reasons taken together, but writing them down precisely would have taken too much time, so they wrote something very short. (As editor I don't always take the time to write down my reasons in full detail if it takes too much time, even though I try in principle to make it transparent for the author why the paper was rejected. Note in particular that desk rejection reasons don't need to be as detailed as requests for revision, as the editor doesn't want to see an improved version.)

  2. "Which is, though, true, but the thing is that many other papers published in this specific journal do not provide results as well." Chances are that every paper is different from any other paper in some respect, and that the editor could defend why certain papers that you think have the same problem are actually better than yours. However, the editor may not want to enter into this kind of detailed discussion.

  3. I recently came in as new editor of a journal, and I do occasionally reject papers for reasons where one could point at earlier papers published in the same journal that could be criticised in the same way. This may be because (1) my standards are different from those of the previous editor, but also (2) because something that was fine at a certain point in time (for example because it contributed to a discussion that was "hot" at that time, or it was so good/original in some other respects that a certain weakness could have been tolerated) is no longer fine now in my view. The latter can happen even without a change of editor.

The editor rejected the paper based on my background (low rep institution)?

Not impossible, but not likely given that there are many explanations that wouldn't show the editor in such bad light.

The paper was written so poorly that the editor did not want to lose time with it?

Possible, though as editor I would say this explicitly (in a hopefully somewhat more polite way).

Something has changed over years and this journal tries to attract only classical empirical IMRAD?

I have no idea what IMRAD is but see my item 3.

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  • Thank you! I see the following paradox within the journal's answer: 1) Journal frequently accepts papers without results (nowadays less than before, but still). 2) The critique that the paper does not provide results is so oddly specific it is weird given the journal's history... Right? The specificity of the answer is something that weirds me out the most. If my paper was written poorly, why stating exactly this paradoxical nonsense? Your third item, in this context, seems to fit perfectly as no-results papers are on the decline and usually were written by big names.
    – Athaeneus
    May 7, 2023 at 12:27
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    @Athaeneus Chances are nobody here can comment on the specific case without knowing the journal, your submission, and the papers you are referring to. May 7, 2023 at 12:56
  • @Athaeneus Also take into account the possibility that the editor had good but complex reasons and didn't take the time to explain them comprehensively. May 7, 2023 at 12:58
  • IMRaD stands for the Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion paper structure.
    – Anyon
    May 7, 2023 at 14:24
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    @ChristianHennig So I have the concluding information as the editor has just given an interesting and quite informative answer to this conundrum. The no-results papers I cited as a proof of this paradox are so-called perspective papers, which are typically invited directly by editors. Providing an overview and speculation about previous problematic concepts was just not enough in my case as the unsolicited paper's contribution to the literature (i.e., Results with capital R) should be more clear.
    – Athaeneus
    May 8, 2023 at 9:00
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I generally caution my students against the (tempting) argument "there are superficially similar (or weaker) papers in this journal, hence my paper should get accepted". There is tremendous confirmation bias in this, since you do not know how many submissions "without results" get rejected. Peer review is a noisy process, if the journal gets lots of submissions of papers of a certain type some of them are bound to be accepted, even if most of the editorial board disagrees with this. Your statement that no-results papers "are on the decline" indicates to me that most of the editorial board nowadays wants to see them gone, and they only make exceptions for special cases (of which your paper was presumably not one).

Honestly, academia in general starts making much more sense once one internalises that all of our decisions are made subjectively by humans with non-identical preferences and experiences.

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