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I came to know from a senior in my lab that he once submitted a paper in Applied Mathematics in one of SIAM journals and the review came after 9 months and the review was like the following:

  1. Reviewer 1: The problem is well-motivated and the paper contains original results which deserve to be published.

  2. Reviewer 2: The contribution of the paper does not satisfy the journal standards and should be rejected.

He showed me the reviews from his email. Overall the paper got rejected saying that it is not good enough (quality wise, the paper is in the scope of SIAM) for SIAM. My question is that why to keep somebody waiting for 9 months for such rejection. Is the message that "Unless you are completely sure that it is a path-breaking work don't send to SIAM, otherwise you will not get any comment if the paper is rejected and hence it will be time waste ".

I am a PhD student, not aware of much about journals. Sorry if the question is inappropriate.

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    Were the reviews really one-liners, or have you summarized them? I would expect at least a half-page report for a paper that has been under review for such a long time. – Federico Poloni Feb 16 '17 at 14:01
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    One of article passed two reviews, but one of associate Editor was against the publication of works. So despite 2 successive positive reviews by 4 different reviewers my work still got rejected after 7 months. So dear it happens very often, don't feel discouraged, submit to another journal. – IgotiT Feb 16 '17 at 14:04
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    A two line review is not a sufficient review, I am not in maths, but I will rank any journal that gives decision over total of 4 lines of review very poorly. This might happen due to working on a remote field and the editor couldn't find any willing reviewers for your paper. – Cem Kalyoncu Feb 16 '17 at 16:26
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    Regarding the timing: You only get a decision when all (usually at least two) reviews are in. This means it is entirely possible that reviewer 1 sent their reply after four weeks, but reviewer 2a never replied -- nor did reviewer 2b, 2c etc., until reviewer 2f was pressured into giving a report on short notice (which they did) so you only had to wait nine months. – Christian Clason Feb 16 '17 at 21:56
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    Also, keep in mind that your colleague probably shared this experience with you as a "journal horror story"; do not consider it as the typical outcome of a submission to a SIAM journal. – Federico Poloni Feb 16 '17 at 22:35
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This is actually pretty common with high-standard journals as the SIAM journals and this is one of the risks you need to know (and your advisor should tell you early enough).

The SIAM journals are really top notch for applied math, and the top journals try to maintain a high standard and to only publish papers they deem to be good enough. Unfortunately, it is hard to tell the quality of a paper in short time, even for the editors (although a desk rejection happens). So they send them to reviewers for an in depth check and the state of things is that it takes at least a few month (and nine month used to be standard, but e.g. SIAM if working hard to reduce the time). If the reviews are only slightly non-supportive, rejection is likely. This is what happens at the "upper end" of publication venues.

So, I'd say that your conclusion "Unless you are completely sure that it is a path-breaking work don't send to SIAM, otherwise it will be time waste" is quite accurate. So, unless your advisor is very confident, I would advice newcomers (read PhD students) to aim a little lower in the beginning of their career and aim for faster and slightly less prestigious journals - if their work is great, it will be read and recognized (but don't aim too low, too).

As to the question whether such a reasoning for rejection and little to no comments are common: No, this is not really the norm, but happens from time to time. I would guess that also the editors are not happy with such reviews, but their choice would be 1) to forward the reviews as they are, probably with additional comments from their side, 2) neglecting the reviews and write something on their own (which would really be a large waste of time for everybody) or 3) ask for more comments from the reviewer or more reviews. Action 2) has the downside, that the authors would not even see that at least some reviewer was involved and 3) would take even more time and the only benefit for the author would potentially more detailed feedback. So, the editors go with 1). I can not comment on the question whether such a review leaves a bad impression with the editor and may remove the referee from the "favorite referee list".

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    Thanks for the answer. My point was that after 9 month I would expect some review which are not just typos in the paper. I mean the reviewer who said paper is good should also give comments on why he liked the paper. – RIchard Williams Feb 16 '17 at 14:23
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    @RIchardWilliams There are many reasons not to like the standard peer review mechanism. But as always: You either have to follow the rules or to find another kind of job. – J. Fabian Meier Feb 16 '17 at 15:53
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    @J.FabianMeier: My question was is this the usual rejection letter (no comments) in SIAM journals or this is an exceptional case. – RIchard Williams Feb 16 '17 at 16:21
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    @RIchardWilliams you seem to think that the number of months equate to the number of lines in a review -- roughly speaking. Reviewers don't spend 9 months writing reviews. I would say the length of a review is more correlated with a reviewer's interest+expertise and how well the paper is presented. Your paper might have gone to reviewers who are busy or simply not interested. Also note that Reviewer-1, although is an accept, did not provide good reasons for recommending an accept. Also, you don't know what was said to the editor in private by both reviewers. – Prof. Santa Claus Feb 16 '17 at 20:35
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    @RIchardWilliams: assuming that the reviewer is male is, I believe, a manifestation of our implicit gender biases. I encourage people to think consciously about the gender pronouns they use (and why, especially when there's no evidence concerning gender), since STEM fields are already too unwelcoming to women. – Greg Martin Feb 17 '17 at 8:51
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My question is that why to keep somebody waiting for 9 months for such rejection.

You are mixing up two issues here, the rejection "without proper review" and the delay, and I think that's illogical and they need to be addressed separately. So first of all, it's not actually clear to me that it's fair or necessarily correct of you to say the paper was rejected "without proper review". There was a review -- two of them in fact -- you just don't like that one of the reviewers didn't think the paper was up to the standards of the journal. This is a perfectly valid and legitimate reason to reject a paper (one I have used myself on various occasions), and while the report could be a bit more detailed about why the reviewer doesn't think the contribution is important, it's quite possible that this is an entirely subjective matter and there's really nothing useful they could add in terms of justification. So in what sense exactly was the review "not proper"? Moreover, you seem to cite the facts that reviewer 1 liked the paper and that the paper was later accepted to a good journal as evidence that reviewer 2 was being wrong or unreasonable, but I see nothing of the sort; it is perfectly acceptable and reasonable (and common) for reviewers to hold different opinions. After all, if they always agreed, prestigious journals wouldn't have a need or desire to send a paper out to two separate reviewers, would they?

The second issue concerns the 9 month delay to get a decision. Again, I think this should be addressed entirely separately from the outcome of the review. It is in fact reasonable in my opinion to complain about such a long delay (and would be reasonable even in the case of an acceptance), but the conclusion you take away here is again incorrect. You ask:

Is the message that "Unless you are completely sure that it is a path-breaking work don't send to SIAM, otherwise it will be time waste".

Well, no, in my opinion the message is rather "if you really care that much about your paper getting accepted (or rejected) fast, don't send it to the most prestigious journals, which are precisely the ones that have to handle the largest number of submissions from all the other authors competing to publish in them." Keep in mind that the editors of those journals are very successful and (as a result) very busy mathematicians, their workload is high, and the referees they approach to review papers are also very successful and hence very busy mathematicians, who despite their own heavy workload are nonetheless occasionally shamed into agreeing to increase their workload further by accepting thankless and uncompensated refereeing assignments, in many cases out of a sense of guilt or because they are bad at saying no (a very common problem among academics btw). Is it a surprise that some of them might drag their feet in completing their assignment? No, it really isn't.

The bottom line is that if you can't afford to wait 9 months for a decision on your paper, you are free to send your paper to a predatory journal that will reach a decision (that is sure to be positive, another advantage) in a few days, or to a legitimate but less competitive journal that might do an honest job in more than a few days but in less time than 9 months. Yes, it sucks that the academic publishing system in math sometimes (not always) works this way and we haven't been able to reach a point where authors always get detailed reviews and in a reasonable amount of time. But that's life, and that's the best system currently available, and it's precisely the most prestigious journals that suffer from it most (statistically speaking at least; I'm sure there are exceptions). The best that you and your friend can do to change this is to be the change you wish to see in this world, and make sure that when you get requests to review a paper, that you deliver a great report and do it in a reasonable amount of time.

  • My point was that after 9 month I would expect some comments which are not just typos in the paper. If they are not interested they should reject the paper in 2-3 months. Also, when I said that the paper got accepted later in some other journals, I did not mean that the other reviewer was wrong. I just wanted to update what happened to the paper. – RIchard Williams Feb 17 '17 at 2:38
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    @RIchardWilliams as Prof.SantaClaus commented on another answer, there just isn't any connection between the number of months your friend waited and the length or quality of review you should expect. Moreover, I don't really see anything fundamentally wrong with a review that does nothing more than point out typos and provide a recommendation whether to accept or reject the paper. Perhaps it is not as helpful as one might wish, but it fulfills the basic requirements for a review. So I think your only somewhat valid complaint is about the long delay, but it's unrelated to anything else. – Dan Romik Feb 17 '17 at 5:16
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Based on your comments, you seem to really be asking whether the experience you have described is typical for high-quality papers submitted to SIAM journals. I can reply based on extensive experience as both an author and a reviewer for those journals (primarily SINUM and SISC, both considered to be at the top of their respective fields). The answer is unequivocally no, but I did have an experience similar to yours once.

Time for reviews to be completed

As a reviewer, when I accept a request to review for a SIAM journal I am given a 2-month deadline. Of course, the journal cannot and does not enforce this, although they will send a reminder if I miss the deadline, which I sometimes do. I can say that get all of my reviews done within 3 months.

Based on my experience as an author, many reviewers do take longer. Nine months is not out of the question. I usually send a polite request for an update to the editor when 3-4 months have passed, and I often get the reports within a month after that request.

Length and quality of reviews

The papers that I get to review from SIAM journals are almost always reasonably high quality. My referee reports are typically 1-2 pages long. I have on rare occassion written reports of 1-2 paragraphs for exceptionally good or bad papers, but those are probably less than 5%.

I submit most of what I deem to be my best manuscripts to SIAM journals. The reports that I've gotten on my own papers submitted to SIAM journals are usually detailed and of high quality (though, like any referee report, they usually contain some things I don't agree with!) I have occasionally had very short positive reports that were obviously based on a superficial reading. I once got a very negative report (leading to rejection) that was ridiculously short and superficial. In my case also, the same paper was later accepted by a good journal.

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