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Update

It was informally confirmed to me that the reason for rejection is affiliation with a sanctioned institution. The publisher complies with international sanctions, and the journal follows the publisher's rules. Working with editors and reviewers from sanctioned entities does not interfere with the publisher's policies.

The restrictions are not mentioned on the journal's website, nor were the reason for rejection explicitly stated in email. This was my source of confusion.


My paper was 'found not suitable' by a journal director. I suspect this decision might be based on one of my affiliations, which is currently sanctioned by the US (not sure about EU), although the journal itself is EU/CERN-based. There is no mention of any submission restrictions on the journal’s website, and they even have a non-discrimination statement. Here are some reasons for my suspicions:

  • Fast Rejection: The rejection letter was on the same day, which didn't allow enough time to process it.

  • Source of Rejection: The rejection was issued by a director, not a topical editor.

  • Relevant Publications: The journal has previously published papers on related topics.

  • Previous Rejection History: My paper was previously rejected by another (more reputable) journal after the third round of review.

  • Undisclosed Source Information: I have information from a source I can't disclose that the rejection is based on my affiliation.

It also seems that the journal has no issue with editors and reviewers from my organization.

My question is: should I reply to the journal expressing my concerns?

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  • 2
    You might be interested: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/144063/…
    – Allure
    Apr 22 at 5:01
  • 3
    What kind of response would you hope to get from expressing your concern? Apr 22 at 7:28
  • 1
    @MaartenBuis, some kind of statement that hopefully opposes my points.
    – I.M.
    Apr 22 at 8:18
  • 7
    @FrauHitt science has played a role in keeping the lines of communication open between societies whose governments are hostile towards one another. Apr 22 at 10:10
  • 6
    @I.M. it is hard argue with a undisclosed source of information. So in your communication with the journal you would either have to disclose it or not mention it at all. Apr 22 at 10:17

4 Answers 4

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First of all, sorry that your paper was rejected. This kind of thing literally happens to every academic but it does sting and it can be demoralizing.

It is extremely unlikely to have been a result of sanctions against your country. I serve as both a journal editor and a referee for dozens of journals. In math, the review process is single blind, meaning the referee knows the identities of the authors when they write a referee report. I have seen hundreds of papers from people in countries under sanctions, still have their work published in math journals in the sanctioning countries. Most editors probably have no idea there even are sanctions and no desire to be part of them.

I remember when I traveled to Iran in 2022. Despite the deep divisions between the US government and the Iranian government, what struck me what that the people were extremely welcoming and kind. Divisions between two governments does not imply bad feelings between the citizens of those governments. Even if your country is under sanctions, a large majority of researchers in your area (even in the sanctioning countries) would still be welcoming and supportive of you. I advise you to try to avoid the mindset that people are out to get you. That mindset will not make you happy long term.

That said, desk rejections of good papers do still happen. Publishing is very random. Most academics can tell stories of papers rejected by lower journals then published in better journals. It does get easier as you get more established. It is very unwise to accuse the editor of discrimination or unfair treatment. Believe me, they reject plenty of good papers even from people in their own countries. The best thing to do is to accept that article publishing is fairly random, build up an expectation of rejections so they don't sting as much, resubmit elsewhere, and move on. Antagonizing senior people in your field is unwise, regardless of what country you are from. You will probably be connected to this editor again sometime, either as an editor, or as a referee of one of your papers/grants, or through a conference, etc. There is no reason to go out of your way to create negative feelings. Relatedly, I would not go around telling others that you think your paper is being rejected because of your affiliation. Instead, submit it elsewhere and while you are waiting for a response, write another paper. Let your body of work speak for itself.

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  • Thank you for your answer, I do agree with your take. This doesn't looks like a desk rejection (or is it?), it is coming from the director, how is not in my field, not the editor.
    – I.M.
    Apr 22 at 14:27
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    @I.M. I think what the answer is saying towards that question is that you can always find something suspicious somewhere. I yesterday met someone who was not nice, it surely must have to do with me wearing a leather jacket and that person being a militant vegan (totally made up story). Or maybe, that person had a bad day and it has nothing to do with me. We humans are notoriously bad at not taking something personally and at spotting randomness. Everything needs a cause, be it Zeus, a rigged game or discrimination. Whether it was or not, you'll never know, let it go.
    – DonQuiKong
    Apr 22 at 15:13
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    @I.M. Sometimes when I receive a paper I think is borderline, I ask the lead editor / director and he decides whether or not to desk reject the paper. In those cases, he writes back to the author, and I'm grateful for that because I hate being the bad guy who has to tell someone "no". I would not read anything into the message coming from the director. If there's a paper management system that might even be the default. Or maybe the editor said "I just can't handle any more papers right now" and the director therefore rejected it. Apr 22 at 15:30
  • 1
    @I.M. manuscripts are typically sent to editors most aligned with the topic. When their queue becomes too long, they can be picked up by other managing editors. Similarly, when a paper is deemed borderline or unsuitable by an editor, but they want a second opinion, they will send it up to their manager/director for an opinion/decision. Not everything is a conspiracy. Sometimes we just write not-so-great papers (everyone does it), but we aren't ready to accept that.
    – R1NaNo
    Apr 22 at 16:07
  • "It is extremely unlikely to have been a result of sanctions against your country." True in the case of Iran, not so much in the case of Russia. Well, not literally sanctions as such, but, unlike in the case of Iran, it is entirely possible that some people are rejecting submissions from Russian-affiliated authors for political reasons. I have seen people first-hand suggest that this should be done. Apr 23 at 6:36
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This is difficult to interpret from the outside. There are two basic possibilities:

If "journal director" is an employee of the publisher, then there's not much to say. The publisher is presumably prohibited by sanctions from publishing your paper (see example, example), which is "the end". Even if the editorial board choose to accept the paper, the publisher cannot publish it without risking government action, so they will overrule the editorial board. There is no point writing to the journal, unless you are looking to confirm that you are indeed prohibited from publishing with them.

If "journal director" is a member of the editorial board, then this is a desk rejection, probably for quality reasons. Editorial board members generally do not care about your affiliation, and likely consider doing so highly unethical (see David Ketcheson's answer here). If you're going to dispute a desk rejection from EBMs, you need academic reasons.

Note some of the things you write about - fast rejection, relevant publications and especially previous rejection history - are meaningless because the first simply implies that they had time to consider the manuscript today (some editorial board members are genuinely able to do this), the second implies that the rejection was for reasons other than scope, and the last they likely don't even know about (it's not public knowledge).

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Let's assume for the moment that a journal wanted to immediately reject your paper because of sanctions against your country. I have no doubt that in this case they would reject your paper, explaining that this is a result of sanctions. A la Dr Strangelove,

Of course, the whole point of [sanctions] is lost, if you keep [them] a secret!

There are other reasons why a journal is unlikely to do this in general, but I think you can be confident that they didn't do it to your paper in particular.

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Try another journal and move on.

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  • Welcome to Academia.SE. For future, please note that we usually require more substantial answers than this (i.e., why do you recommend this course of action?). Remember that many of our site visitors do not speak English natively and are not so familiar with academia, so "implied" answers are less useful than very explicit answers.
    – cag51
    Apr 24 at 18:24

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