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I had a paper accepted by an Elsevier journal about two weeks ago. I’ve already gone through the process of submitting the publishing agreement form and manuscript proofs online.

Then, a few days ago I received a rejection notice. No new reviewer comments were included. I thought this might be in error, so I wrote to the journal and just received a response that it was not an error, but they gave no real explanation for what happened.

I didn't make any content changes during the proofing process and the initial reviewer comments were all favorable.

Do I have any avenues open to me to fight this?

  • 2
    Related question: Why does editor reject when reviewers recommend acceptance? – jakebeal Oct 5 '15 at 19:51
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    Sounds very strange. Have you received both e-mails from the same editor? – Alex Oct 5 '15 at 20:28
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    @DmitrySavostyanov: No, please do not tell us the journal’s name; see this Meta discussion. – Wrzlprmft Oct 6 '15 at 8:20
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    they gave no real explanation – So they gave some explanation? If yes, what was it? – Wrzlprmft Oct 6 '15 at 8:22
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    Might the journal have any reason to imagine that there's foul play afoot related to the paper? e.g., discovery that it's been published elsewhere before, results that cannot be duplicated, plagiarism, etc. Depending on the exact nature of such an event, I could imagine a relatively detail-less recission for something. – virmaior Oct 6 '15 at 10:40
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For a respectable journal (which I would assume an Elsevier journal to be), this behavior seems so weird and unacceptable that I am tempted to assume that you are only telling us parts of the story here.

Specifically, the part about "but they gave no real explanation for what happened" is curious - what was the reason they gave? This will very much influence the advise you get here.

If, for instance, they said that the previous accept mailing was sent out in error and the new reject notification is correct based on review results, well ... then it would definitely suck for you, but I see no way to fight this decision. You are then basically in the crowded boat of people that feel like their journal paper was rejected even though the reviews were not that bad. That you received an accept notification first does not fundamentally change this. I also do not share the hope of Ben Voigt that you could potentially sue for compensation - as far as I know, journals typically reserve the right to cancel publishing a manuscript at any point in the process, so legally they should be fine to change their mind even at a very unusually late point.

If they said that they have in the meantime learned that parts of your paper are already under copyright elsewhere, then you can either clear up the misunderstanding (if it is one) or alternatively propose to revise the paper.

If they really give literally no useful explanation (don't answer your mail, or answer with no actual information), then I would fall back to the answer of Wrzlprmft and contact Elsevier.

  • @jb35len please follow the suggestions mentioned above. We have the half-told case. Unless, you have a strong point to deal with, it is not advisable to arise bad impression about journal. From an editor's prospective, they are really working hard with manuscript handling process, sometimes it is very difficult and important to accept/reject any paper to maintain impact of the journal. – Mithun Oct 6 '15 at 13:31
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    I got a response from the editor today and its basically what you said. Despite the positive reviewer response, the original acceptance was a "clerical error". This really sucks, but not much I can do about it. Thanks for the advice. – jb35len Oct 6 '15 at 16:18
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    @jb35len Thanks for the response. Btw., despite all, this is still a very embarassing "clerical error" for a reputable. They definitely own you an apology big time. – xLeitix Oct 6 '15 at 17:10
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I cannot speak from experience here (fortunately), but my next steps would probably be (skip steps, you already performed):

  1. Read carefully through all your correspondence for any hints regarding the reason of rejection.
  2. Elsevier sometimes publishes preliminary versions online. If that happened, check the respective page and see whether any explanation is offered there.
  3. Write to the journal or the journal’s chief editor and asking explicitly for the reason of rejection.
  4. Write to the publisher (Elsevier) and complain about the situation. Append the entire correspondence with the journal beginning with the acceptance of your paper. The publisher should be generally interested in the integrety of its journals and also wasted resources on your paper, given that you already had proofs.
  5. Threaten to make the whole affair public.
  6. Make the whole affair public.

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