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Assuming that there are no ethical or legal concerns involved, in general, how would academic journals handle research submitted from the general public (e.g., if a carpenter were to perform a study on memory)? Would it be published if it held to the same standard as other research, or is it rejected without review?

Edit: A lot of people are commenting on the fact that a person outside of academia probably wouldn't be able to write in a way that was required or have the sufficient training for carrying out a proper experiment. Not my point. I just want to know if there is a general rejection of articles purely based on the fact that the person doesn't have any affiliation to a proper research organization. We could for example imagine a former Nobel prize winner who has a lot of money and prefers to work alone.

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Some journals implement a double-blind reviewing process, meaning that the reviewers are not aware that the authors are from academia or not, and only the scientific content is judged. That being said, it's worth mentioning that it would be hard for someone without a proper "paper-writing" training (such as the one one can acquire in academia), to produce a paper that would be accepted by reviewers. Some general structure is expected, such as related Works, critical discussion, rigorous methodology, and I would say that without that, it would be hard to get the paper published (I have myself rejected papers from graduate students, not because the idea itself was bad, but because the structure and the presentation were not meeting the standards one could expect for a scientific publication).

EDIT: After reformulation of the question, assuming that the quality of the paper makes it indistinguishable from any other paper, then, no, as far as I know, there is no general policy regarding the official affiliation of the author(s). For instance, in Computer Science, it's not rare to see papers published by people working in a "normal" company (i.e. not a research company), typically on some concrete problems/solutions they have found. Some people even keep publishing after starting their own startup, and therefore the affiliation is something like "MyCompanyWeb2.0".

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    Some journals implement a double-blind reviewing process, meaning that the reviewers are not aware that the authors are from academia or not In theory this is true, in practice I think its different. Most academic fields are quite closed off and small. The possible reviewers and people likely to be published is very small. For example, when I worked in academia we would know who reviewed our papers, and they would know it was us reviewing theirs. – NimChimpsky Feb 23 '12 at 13:29
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    I have rejected papers from tenured faculty for similar reasons. – JeffE Feb 23 '12 at 14:20
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    @JeffE Yes, good point, that also happened to me to see badly written papers by faculty members, and clearly, I'd rejected them for the same reasons. But let's just say that it's more common to see basic errors from students than from senior researchers :) – user102 Feb 23 '12 at 14:31
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    Well, I agree with you that many "ordinary" people wouldn't be able to structure the article in a good way, hence the "Would it be published if it held to the same standard as other research" part above. – Speldosa Feb 23 '12 at 15:06
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    @Speldosa If it held to the same standard as other research, in this case, yes, it should be reviewed as any other paper. I was expressing my doubts that in general, someone not trained could produce a paper that meets the standards. And I'm not talking about the research itself, I believe anybody can come up with a good idea/experiment/theory/etc, but packaging it for the research community is not a trivial task. – user102 Feb 23 '12 at 15:12
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As far as I know, in just about every field it would be considered wrong to reject a paper merely because the author doesn't have a university affiliation.

However, as other answers have pointed out, a paper from a non-academic may have difficulty complying with the usual norms of the field for writing, and might be summarily rejected (or sent to a referee but quickly turned down after a cursory reading) on those ground. Mathematics probably gets more amateur submissions than most fields, many of them downright crankery---although now that I think of it, it's been several months now since someone e-mailed me a one-page proof of Fermat's Last Theorem---and coping with them is a problem, in part because there is a culture that says formal journal submissions need an actual reason to be rejected, just in case this is really the one time a genius from outside academia has solved a problem. But the converse is that as soon as such a paper does fail to comply with ordinary norms of writing and argument, there's grounds to reject it.

(By the way, your example is an interesting one because a study on memory presumably involves research on humans, or at least animals, which might have compliance issues---a carpenter has presumably not gone through the usual process of having research with human subjects checked by a board for ethical compliance, and I'm not sure journals would publish research which requires ethics review but didn't get it.)

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    I'm not sure to what extent journals ask/verify about human subjects approval. I've never been asked about it, and quickly perusing some of the journals in my field I didn't see any explicit mention of it in the author submission guidelines. – Andy W Feb 23 '12 at 15:24
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I left academia about 27 years ago after completing my doctorate and a couple of years of post-doc. Since then I have published about 6 papers on physics and mathematics in peer-reviewed journals so it is certainly possible to publish without any affiliation.

However, this week for the first time I experienced the rejection of a paper purely because of the lack of affiliation, so I can confirm that some journals are now rejecting manuscripts purely on this basis. The paper I submitted was arXiv:1401.8217 which reports my progress on Lebesgue's Universal Covering Problem including a new upper bound. This work is not going to make any seismic waves in the world of mathematics but it is a well known hundred year old problem and previous improvements on the upper bound have been published and well cited.

I submitted to the Hindawi journal "ISRN Geometry" because it is open access and currently has no article processing charge. These are useful conditions for someone with no funding or easy access to subscription journals. It was also convenient that they do not ask for TeX layout and will do the formatting to their style themselves. I had written in Word and was glad not to have to reformat.

After about two weeks I received a message from someone at the editorial office to say that I just had to submit a new manuscript including my academic affiliation for the review process to begin. I was given two days to do this. I replied quickly to say that I had no such affiliation. Two hours later I received a final rejection notice "I regret to inform you that it was found unsuitable for publication in Geometry." No more details were given. The paper had not been sent to a reviewer and it was clear that the only reason for the rejection could be the lack of the requested affiliation. The person who signed the message does not have any academic record that I can find and is not one of the long list of editors for the journal.

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    I'm sorry to hear about your experiences. I looked you up on MathSciNet and see that you're a serious mathematician. It sounds like you deserve better. It would be worth writing to the editor in chief and finding out officially whether your lack of institutional affiliation was the reason for the rejection. If so this looks bad for the journal. Finally, as a word of advice: you should submit your papers in (La)TeX. It is freely available online, and anyone who can do mathematics can learn to use it. Sadly, just doing this may help you get your work taken more seriously. – Pete L. Clark Feb 20 '14 at 0:29
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    Pete, thanks for your vote of confidence. I have submitted papers in LaTeX before where required, but this journal specifically asked for submissions in PDF or Word. I do not understand why so many mathematicians consider use of TeX to be a useful way to separate out serious work. As you say, it is not hard to use and many works of pseudoscience are written with TeX while good research can be written with other systems. The journal has a list of over seventy editors but does not identify a chief. – Philip Gibbs Feb 20 '14 at 8:42
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    You're welcome. When I wrote "LaTeX", I really meant to typeset it using LaTeX and then submit the pdf file (that's what I always do; some journals will take the raw tex file, and most won't care). As for the "I don't understand...": I'm not defending the practice, but just telling you something that I think might get your work published. Concerning the journal: I had never heard of it before, but I looked it up just now. Their description of "editorial workflow" is relevant and very nonstandard: see hindawi.com/isrn/geometry/workflow. – Pete L. Clark Feb 20 '14 at 9:37
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    Almost every mathematician has a story about how she had to submit one of her better papers several times before it got accepted. Most veteran mathematicians can tell the story with the best possible ending: the home that they eventually found for at least one of their papers was better than the journal to which they first submitted. May it happen to you... – Pete L. Clark Feb 20 '14 at 9:42
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    This is really bad experience. However, I was working as a member of the Editorial board for one of the Hindawi journals and we had problems with massive amount of crappy submissions. Most of these were weeded out by non-academic editorial staff, but members of the EB received a letter where Hindawi asked us to be really strict in a review process. I guess they were concerned about SCI rating. (The journal has been since transferred to the different publisher). So in your case I assume that the explanation could be that they would resort to any means to cut the number of suspicious submissions – xmp125a Jan 11 '17 at 15:45
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In principle, there's nothing stopping a paper from being published by a private individual. However, in many fields, the bar to realizing a publishable "quantum" of work is so large in terms of equipment or other resources required that there's virtually no chance of anyone without exceptional means could afford it.

That said, there's also nothing that requires a journal to accept a paper from a private individual, either. Papers regularly return papers without review; one criterion for accepting a paper could very easily be that the authors have affiliations witbh "verifiable" organizations.

However, once a paper has been forwarded for review, it should absolutely be reviewed on an equal basis to any other paper in the journal.

  • When it comes to many experiments in cognitive psychology (where you basically only use a computer monitor to present stimuli on), I would say that the equipment I own is better suited than what my department have. That is, I have a fast computer, with a big, high-resolution screen (not a CTR that is), and I have comfortable chairs (in comparison to old, squeaky chairs). – Speldosa Feb 23 '12 at 15:05
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    @Speldosa: That may be true—but I'm thinking more of sciences and engineering, where the analytical equipment can run into the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for cutting-edge devices. – aeismail Feb 23 '12 at 15:36
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In general, it should not matter who you are, it is the quality and importance of the work you do that should determine the publishability. With that said, it is true that it is a nontrivial task to write with the appropriate tone, have the needed citations, and conduct a solid research effort without formal training. My advice to you, should you be considering publishing in a technical area (if you are the carpenter in question), would be to find someone who works/publishes in the area with the aim of writing something together. Chances are they may have some good ideas on how to structure and present the work, how to formulate the basic hypotheses and ideas so that they will be palatable to the journal.

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In the Humanities and Social Sciences there are no formal restrictions against submissions by members of the general public. Some journals are far more friendly to non-academic researchers, either due to editorial staff or a culture of supporting popular contributions to knowledge. (History from below and socialist research programmes in general have an openness to knowledge from outside the traditional academy).

The largest barriers to entry are of course the methods, language, evidence and "currency of research" required to conduct and produce research to scholarly standards.

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If you want to appear in a motorsport magazine as a racing driver, you will need to belong to an approved team and comply with all the rules of the activity. If any requirement is missing, even if it is minimal, you will be left out.

Motorsport sponsors protect their interests and impose conditions. They can pay a lot for technical optimization and can pay pilots to spend all their time intensely training. So do the sponsors of science.

Do you listen to fans of motorsport complain about the imposition of conditions in the activity? Obviously there are no such complaints. Why then, who are out of scientific sponsorship, want to complain?

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    As it stands, I don't think this really answers the question. I think I can see where you're going with your analogue, but it seems to somewhat unrelated to the actual question. – Anyon Jun 20 '18 at 21:29

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