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I wonder if there exists, at least in plans, a centralized system that examines editors' decisions in journals, a kind of "appellate court" in peer-review publishing.

Recently I have been trying to publish a paper which tends to support a hypothesis heavily counter to the prevailing view in the field. I had to try eight journals before it was accepted. In most of those trials the paper was rejected without going to peer-review, but editors didn't point out specific flaws. Instead, they used general statements like "your paper is certainly interesting, but we get so many even more interesting papers, so unfortunately we cannot publish yours". In one journal the editor simply replied that the paper is out of the journal's scope, which is plain-out false (the paper deals exactly with one of the major topics of the journal). In another journal the editor passed the paper to peer review. In two months it was rejected "in view of reviewers' comments". But - amazingly! - all reviewers recommended publication, with certain revisions. I tried to contact the editor, but he did not respond. Clearly, this is utterly unethical, with respect both to the author and reviewers (at least, the editors could reject it right away, why stealing two months?).

Now I am going to submit a follow-up paper, but I am sure I will face the same difficulties and lose a lot of time. Could anyone give any recommendations as to how to safeguard oneself against unethical situations like those described above?

UPD: I do not mean here any complaints or rants. If in one of those journals my paper had been rejected after peer-review in which reviewers did actually recommend rejection, there would be no this topic here.

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    So, your paper got rejected 7 times, accepted the 8th time and instead of you thinking that you probably got lucky the 8th time, you thought that 7 journals' editors conspired against your paper? You understand how far-stretched your question sounds? – Alexandros Dec 6 '14 at 13:59
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    That's the point. The whole business of publishing is not about being lucky or unlucky, but about how valid the data or hypothesis presented in the paper is. – ThisGuy Dec 6 '14 at 14:03
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    This "question" really is mostly just a rant... – Niko Dec 6 '14 at 14:03
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    I'm not sure how you conclude that the editor acted unethically by rejecting the paper against the advice of the reviewers. I think most people consider that an editor solicits the opinions of reviewers to help him make a decision on the paper, but the decision in the end is his. You seem to think his mind was made up in advance, but I don't think we can know that for sure. He may have been looking for a stronger "accept" recommendation than the reviewers gave, or there may have been something else in the review that made him unwilling to accept it. – Nate Eldredge Dec 6 '14 at 14:34
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    It doesn't look like a rant to me – smci Dec 7 '14 at 16:36
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I wonder if there exists, at least in plans, a centralized system that examines editors' decisions in journals, a kind of "appellate court" in peer-review publishing.

In cases of unethical behavior, professional societies can investigate a journal, but your description includes nothing that appears unethical.

In most of those trials the paper was rejected without going to peer-review, but editors didn't point out specific flaws. Instead, they used general statements like "your paper is certainly interesting, but we get so many even more interesting papers, so unfortunately we cannot publish yours".

This may be frustrating and reflect genuine bias against your ideas, but it's a reasonable and standard way to run a journal. Some sorts of bias are unethical (for example, discrimination based on the author's race, ethnicity, gender, etc.), but intellectual bias is almost unavoidable. There are a few journals, like PLOS ONE, with the mission of publishing anything that's new and not clearly defective, but most journals try to filter based on interest and importance. That necessarily involves judgment calls by the editors regarding what is likely to be satisfy these criteria. In particular, part of running a prestigious journal is favoring some topics and approaches over others, and the community judges the editors based on how well they manage to select interesting and important papers. To reject a paper without review, there's no need to identify a flaw. Instead, the editors can simply decide that it's not interesting or promising enough to justify the effort of formal reviewing, or that the chances of acceptance are low enough that sending it out for review would just waste the reviewers' and authors' time.

In one journal the editor simply replied that the paper is out of the journal's scope, which is plain-out false (the paper deals exactly with one of the major topics of the journal).

Scope can include both subject matter and approach. Some journals like to publish controversial papers that may well turn out to be wrong or misleading but will at least lead to interesting discussion and follow-up work. Other journals are more conservative and have no interest in going out on a limb with a risky theory that reexamines what the editors consider to be well-settled science. I don't think the editor in your case was lying to you about the subject matter scope, but rather indicating that your paper is outside the scope of the type of work they want to publish.

In another journal the editor passed the paper to peer review. In two months it was rejected "in view of reviewers' comments". But - amazingly! - all reviewers recommended publication, with certain revisions.

This is an awkward issue, and it would have been helpful if the editor had clarified. (E.g., "While the reviewers' comments were largely positive, the editorial board felt that they did not make a strong enough case for publication in comparison with other recent submissions.") But I can appreciate the editor's position. Sometimes you get a submission that is unusual and unconventional, one you know a lot of the community won't like. Who do you choose as reviewers? You can predict many people's opinions in advance, which introduces an intrinsically political aspect (if you want to kill the paper, it's easy to choose conservative reviewers, and vice versa). One approach is to ask sympathetic, open-minded reviewers but hold them to a high standard by seeing whether they can convince you to accept. The question isn't whether they recommend acceptance, and in fact the editor may know in advance that they have a soft spot for this topic. Instead, the question is how compelling and forceful a case they are able to make for this specific paper.

Of course I have no proof that this is what was going on here, but I'd bet it was. If the editors were determined to kill the submission, they would have rejected it without review or deliberately assigned unsympathetic reviewers. Instead, I think this journal gave you more of a chance than any of the other six.

Could anyone give any recommendations as to how to safeguard oneself against unethical situations like those described above?

As I explained above, I don't think these situations are unethical, but they are still worth avoiding. One factor to consider is how often a journal publishes unorthodox or unconventional work (even if it's not on your exact topic). If they sometimes do, then they are likely to give your paper a fair hearing. If they rarely or never do, then that's probably because they are reluctant to do so.

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    Excellent answer and, incidentally, a good explanation of the role of editors in publishing. – Lilienthal Dec 6 '14 at 21:42
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You got your paper published and I am sure many others have had similar experiences with much more mundane topics (whatever your is) so I do not see the fact that your paper was rejected in journals a major issue as such. In fact, one could interpret your view as your paper should have been accepted by default, unfortunately that is not how things work.

It is true that some papers may be unfairly treated by an individual journal or editor but that is the result of the fact that humans are involved and publishing is not a black and white yes or no business. You provide several different types of responses and judge them from your point of view, which may be correct but will be difficult for others to assess.

So as a whole, I think your question is bordering on what is sometimes referred to as a rant on this site.

Having said this, one can respond to the general issues you raise.

Coming up with science indicating paradigm shifts (which is how I interpret your description) will always be met by scepticism. This is normal. If the process was such that everyone switched direction for every new idea that appeared chaos would ensue since no direction would be disseminated in detail. The back side of it is that ideas becomes so engrained that they approach a dogma. To add to this, many researchers may have put all their effort into developing an idea and having to change all thus is daunting, to say the least, and so the eagerness to accept and change is weak. This is human. Thus publishing something that goes against the stream will meet scepticism for both scientific and personal reasons and sometimes the latter are the most difficult to break through.

The responses you have received all seem poor on the face of it but since we do not know the details at least some of them may be correct judgements from the side of the editor in view of what they perceive is publishable in their journal.

Going completely against reviewer recommendations definitely seems like a step too far and too soon. Granted we do not know how good the reviews were but in the worst case of two really poor reviews an editor should try to get more opinions in. Yes, it appears to be a waste of time for all concerned which could have been avoided. But "stealing" and "unethical"? Not really. Unfortunate and perhaps unnecessary? Yes.

Editors have the right to deem a manuscript unsuitable for a journal and reject it without review. If you think it is suitable, it is your opinion but the editor's opinion differs from yours.

So you got your paper published and now you expect the same problem again. Probably yes, if you decide to go to the same journals. But, since you now have your basic publication out, the next paper has something peer reviewed to stand on. I am sure there will be continued resistance to change and this will only diminish with growing number of studies supporting your claim being published over time. How quickly this happens, if it happens, is beyond my possibility to judge.

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To add to the other answers already given: another approach that can be useful is to begin by publishing your work in a venue such as PLoS ONE that is credible but aims to select for only for validity and not "significance" or "topic." Since it seems the main problem you've had is editors deciding that the paper is not of interest for their journal, this would nullify that problem.

PLoS ONE is an entirely respectable place to publish, though not high prestige. It is thus a fine place to get a fair review for the early papers of an unconventional topic, and to build reputation of the work that will make it easier to get accepted in more community-specific venues later. If you have problems publishing in PLoS ONE, however, it is likely that your work has serious flaws in either substance or presentation that you are not aware of.

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