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In my small area in STEM, there are quite a few unethical senior professors who are members of editorial boards of almost all major high impact journals and seem to abuse their power. They are powerful and have a strong network. I have conflict of interests with some of them. How do I get my research published in those high impact journals?

For example, I submitted a paper to a journal where some of them are on the editorial board. It was rejected after a few days of submission with the reason that they received many more interesting papers than they could publish. Asked the editor politely for an explanation and got ignored.

Another example; a competitor was assigned to review my paper. It was kept on hold for a year without clear reason for rejection at the end. Later, they stole my idea and got the publicity.

One more example; I applied for a job. The PI said that they were not interested in my research. A year later, I found that a new group was established, doing the things I proposed. Moreover, they published a few papers without citing my work.

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    Have you already tried to publish and got rejected because of the conflict of interest? – Massimo Ortolano Jun 4 '16 at 3:57
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    What evidence do you have about these professors being unethical and abusive? And can you say something about the kinds of conflict of interests you are referring to? Do you mean that they are your competitors and therefore actively want to sabotage your career and prevent you from publishing your work? – Dan Romik Jun 4 '16 at 4:43
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    Switch fields. – JeffE Jun 4 '16 at 8:01
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    It was rejected after a few days of submission with the reason that they received many more interesting papers than they could publish. Asked the editor politely for an explanation and got ignored. That is the standard desk rejection process in all the fields I know. – Cape Code Jun 4 '16 at 14:52
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    Title should be changed: the problem may be unethical behaviour, but abusive is a different concept. I would understand it as being treated in a demeaning, or insulting way, especially publicly. Being ignored or once papers being rejected might indicate a problem, but it's not - in my understanding - abuse. – Captain Emacs Jun 4 '16 at 15:05
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There are two different possibilities about what's going on here, and I think it's important to consider both of them:

  1. There might really be a small power network dominating your field and stealing your ideas.
  2. You might not be as significant as you think you are.

I won't speculate on which it is, since we don't have enough information to judge. I will note, however, that complaining about stolen ideas is a red flag, since in science execution typically matters much more than idea, and complaints about stolen ideas are often associated with cranks.

It is definitely the case, however, that fields can indeed be strongly effected by small cabals (see, for example, Nicolas Bourbaki) and that credit for significant work can be stolen (e.g., Rosalind Franklin, Jocelyn Bell). So let us presume that is the case, and consider what your options are. Here, I see three basic paths available to you:

  • Fight the power: Unless you have rather definitive proof, this will likely result in lots of pain and frustration for you with little gain.
  • Lower your sights: Lots of good work is published in not-quite-so-high-impact journals that are still quite solid and respectable. You can also get rid of all fear of having your ideas stolen by embracing the culture of preprints (e.g., arXiv, bioRxiv). If you love what you are doing and you are doing good work, you can still have a solid career in this way, even if it is not as high-profile as you might like.
  • Change fields: Most fields of science are not dominated by small exclusive cabals. If the subject is not terribly important to you, changing fields might allow you to have a more "normal" scientific career.

Which of these paths is best for you, given the particulars of your desires and your situation, only you can judge for yourself.

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