6

Three years ago I wrote a manuscript and submitted it to a well-known journal in my field. After a few months, I received the reviews, which were extremely positive, but suggested minor improvements. I made the suggested changes, and the article was accepted. I signed the publication agreement and the article was made available in the "advance publication" section of the journal, with a DOI. The editor informed me that the article was "in the queue" for the print version. I was pleased and moved on to the next project.

Now, almost two and a half years later, I have received an email from the same editor. They write that "once we began editing your manuscript, we noticed a concern". They then list a number of things that they want changed. A few of these concerns are semi-reasonable, although I already addressed them with citations that point the reader to more detailed discussions in the literature. I could add some additional text to the article, however, if that is desired.

Most of the specific issues that the editor notes, however, are irrelevant to my article, and indeed have very little to do with my text. The editor desires, in essence, that I completely rewrite the text, redo all of the tables, and change all of the figures so that all of the results can be interpreted according to a very specific theoretical framework. The editor uses vague and imprecise terminology when making these demands, leading me to believe that they are not especially familiar with this specific framework. The editor's own publications contain nothing about this theoretical framework.

The theoretical framework is familiar to me. It is that of my former doctoral advisor. I disagreed with my doctoral advisor about this theory, as well as some other things, and after I completed my degree, got a job, and had some of my own publications, we no longer have contact. I am fairly certain that my formal doctoral advisor saw the advance publication and wrote a negative letter about my article to the journal's editor. My former doctoral advisor may be unhappy and irritated that I do not cite their work, or perhaps bears a grudge against me and wishes to harm my career. Additional information: Many years ago, my doctoral advisor was the editor of this journal.

I have no concrete evidence for this, but I am fairly certain this is what happened. I would like my article to be published, but I do not want to make the suggested changes, which, in my view, are ridiculous. I do not believe in this theoretical framework. A complete rewrite of the text would also require a massive amount of time. It has been three years since I wrote this article, and I am working on other topics now.

It also strikes me as extremely unusual, and quite unfair, to demand of an author that they make major changes to something that was accepted years ago. I am not sure what to do. Should I attempt to negotiate with the editor? Reach out to the editorial board of the journal? Should I contact the publisher of the journal? Are there any guidelines about this?

4
  • Has the print version appeared? Do you have a letter/email of acceptance?
    – Buffy
    Oct 17, 2023 at 19:47
  • @Buffy, no, the print version has not yet appeared. The journal is quite slow, and the article "only now reached the top of the pile", according to the editor. I do have the email of acceptance, from two years ago, and the publication agreement pdf, signed by myself and the editor. The agreement stipulates that "publication may proceed without the author's corrections" if the author does not provide corrected proofs. There is nothing in the agreement about revisions after acceptance.
    – Observer
    Oct 17, 2023 at 19:55
  • 1
    What happens if you don't do it?
    – Mark
    Oct 17, 2023 at 20:09
  • @Mark I don't know. Possibly the article will languish in the "advance publication" section of the website for a long time. Possibly the editor will say that they are retracting the article. I have no idea.
    – Observer
    Oct 19, 2023 at 18:11

1 Answer 1

6

I would agree that this is strange. For one, a rewrite of this scope would invalidate all the reviews. Of course, as is often emphasized on this site and elsewhere, the editor can basically disregard reviewers, accepting where they recommend rejection and vice versa... but a process of "review -> changes -> review -> acceptance -> changes requested unilaterally by the editor" is very strange indeed.

There are likely no formal guidelines at that journal that cover a case like this. And even if there were, editors may well be empowered to override any such guidelines. Which may make sense in other cases.

Then again, there is a power asymmetry here. The editor holds pretty much all the cards. Even if you go above them to the editorial board, the board may side with the editor (if only out of tribal loyalty), or may indeed side with your advisor, if your suspicion of what happened is correct - your advisor probably worked with the board for quite a while, which again breeds tribal loyalty.

I would recommend that you push back to the editor. I would not discuss your suspicion of where this suddenly came from. Rather argue that (a) the paper was accepted in the current form, (b) the editor and the reviewers were presumably happy with it, (c) a major change of this scope would invalidate all reviews (ask whether the editor plans on sending out the changed paper for review again), and (d) you have moved on to other projects and would have a hard time making the requested changes. Be respectful in your communication with the editor, and emphasize that you are willing to make stylistic changes short of the major ones requested.

If the editor will not budge, you can think about whether you go over their heads to the editorial board. Be aware that this would burn bridges, at least with this editor, and possibly with the rest of the board, too. After such a step, you probably would not need to submit anything to this editor again - but then again, you probably don't want to do so, anyway.

If the board supports the editor in this position, you unfortunately probably only have the choice of making these changes, or of retracting the paper and submitting it elsewhere. (You might be tempted to try legal proceedings. I do not think this would be successful, plus this would become known in the community and would probably not make a good impression on other colleagues.)

3
  • 2
    +1 but I'm even less optimistic regarding the Editorial Board approach (depending on the journal) as in many journals the members of the Editorial Board are not really interested in doing anything other than processing the papers they are assigned to (and sometimes not even that). I have seen many names of people on Editorial Boards who needed to be reminded that they even belong there. Oct 18, 2023 at 10:53
  • @Stephan, thank you for this thoughtful response. I sent an email to the editor stating that I am happy to make some changes in order to clarify a few points and improve the coherence of the text, but I am not willing to fundamentally redo the text and/or to embrace a specific theoretical framework. The editor hasn't replied -- possibly they are conferring with my former advisor.
    – Observer
    Oct 20, 2023 at 9:52
  • ... or they may simply be busy, journal editors are typically at stages of their career where they have a lot of responsibilities. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you! Oct 20, 2023 at 11:20

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .