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I was reading a blog post, How to reject a rejection, by biologist Claus Wilke where he explains that it is common to resubmit a rejected paper to the same journal after a revision or appeal a rejection and get it published there. This was surprising to me because, in mathematics, my impression is that this is very uncommon. I believe overall resubmissions and appeals are uncommon, not just successful ones. I suspect a reason for this is that are many good journals that are appropriate for any given (good) paper, but maybe it happens more than I thought for the most prestigious math journals like the Annals.

While I'm interested in mathematics, I'm also curious about how things are different in different fields, so let me ask generally:

How common are resubmissions and appeals for rejections for the very top journals in your field? How often are these successful?

  • I do not know how often it is, but a colleague of mine was able to transform a "reject" to "accept" through 1 e-mail exchange with the editor of an old and respected TCS journal. – PsySp Aug 28 '17 at 13:34
  • I have a similar story to PsySp, but instead it was a phone call to the editor-in-chief. – Prof. Santa Claus Aug 28 '17 at 20:26
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Good question. At the risk of telling you mostly what you already know, here is my perspective:

After 12-15 years and 40-50 submitted mathematics papers (not counting multiple submissions), I have learned that one should virtually never appeal to the editor with the expectation of it changing the outcome.

In my experience "what's done is done" is the philosophy taken by editors and referees more than 90% of the time. When I have brought up flaws in the refereeing process to an editor after rejection, the most common reaction I get is indifference / mild agreement but with the view that what's done is done. Only rarely have I had an editor willing to substantively engage with issues in the referee process. In one of my earliest experiences, this resulted in an invitation to resubmit...and N months later the paper was rejected again.

At this point, when I remonstrate with the editor, I make it explicitly clear that I am not appealing the decision but just speaking up on the process as a matter of principle. In fact this kind of "principled reply" has twice resulted in an invitation to resubmit. In one case I declined that invitation (cf. the above story); the paper was published elsewhere after one more rejection. The second (rather recent) time this followed a desk rejection by the editor. I just couldn't fathom why this paper was desk rejected by this journal, and since I had had bad luck with the same paper previously, I wrote to the editor basically asking "I just don't get it; could you please explain?" Amazingly, the editor wrote back immediately saying he had completely misunderstood the paper. He invited us to resubmit the paper to the journal. The editor in chief of the journal got involved as well (see below!) in a positive way, and the paper was accepted soon after with minimal fuss. This experience made me realize that submitting a paper was like watching a baseball game: no matter how many times you've done so previously, there's a reasonable chance that you'll see something completely new!

Speaking of resubmitting following a rejection: in our field, I think that is unequivocally a terrible idea. The part of the above story that I didn't tell yet was: after the handling editor apologized profusely, he asked us to resubmit the paper via the journal's automated submission system. My coauthor and I almost did that....but we were stopped short by the dire warnings about resubmitting the same paper after rejection causing us to get automatically banned from the system! We relayed this to the handling editor, whose response was essentially "OMG" and then he contacted the editor in chief. The editor in chief looked into this and eventually asked us if we would be willing to change the title in order to resubmit. We did so, decided not to change it back at the end, and this published paper has a slightly different title than the version on the arxiv or my homepage.

Even if that doesn't happen, I think that resubmitting what is even essentially the same paper to the same journal after rejection is the swiftest way to wear out your welcome with that portion of the community. Imagine how many iterations of proofs of the Riemann hypothesis / twin primes conjecture / ... the Annals of Mathematics must get. At some point they just have to ignore them.

[However, I now remember that I got added as a coauthor to a paper after it had been rejected by a previous journal in combinatorics. My feeling was that the new version of the paper was only by historical accident a new version of the paper; in all other ways it was a different paper. So we resubmitted to that journal, and it was accepted. Then I submitted a solo followup paper to the same journal the following year. They told me that they didn't want to publish two papers in the same subject at approximately the same time (long backlog)...and they offered me the option of merging my new solo paper with the previously accepted triply authored paper!! Baseball indeed.]

Your question is about "top journals." I am starting to suspect that "top journal" means something different in mathematics than in some other academic fields, e.g. after reading questions like "I have five papers accepted in top journals but don't think I can complete my PhD." I mean, I am a successful research mathematician but have never even submitted a paper to any of the top three math journals. But I find it unlikely that e.g. the Annals is more forgiving about resubmissions / more amenable to editorial remonstrations than other math journals. I would expect it to be less so...

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    It does seem to mean something very different outside of math. Math biology (where I am) is a tough case to walk because it mixes these cultures. Nature, Science, Cell, PNAS, and then a few others like it (ELife, then depending on the field something like BMC Systems Biology) dominate the impact factors and are things that are insanely high compared to most math journals. These journals are big and broad enough that "most" successful tenure-track applicants seem to have at least one (a few) papers in these journals, and it inflates all of the stats tremendously. – Chris Rackauckas Aug 28 '17 at 17:03
  • @Chris: I just checked: it seems that Annals of Math. publishes about 50 papers per year while Nature publishes about 800 papers per year. This is a pretty remarkable difference! On the other hand, Nature is a journal for several different academic fields, so this is far from definitive. – Pete L. Clark Aug 28 '17 at 17:21
  • The referee process is like the jury process: you may not agree with the decision but unless there's some obvious technical error the chances of turning the verdict are very slim unless the referees left explicit room for revisions. Plus let's face it: it easier to reject and let authors argue their case than if the case is marginal. It's not like the top journals are short of submissions. – user67075 Aug 28 '17 at 19:30
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    The papers in Nature I reckon are much shorter than those in Annals. Probably counting pages/words is better :) – Prof. Santa Claus Aug 28 '17 at 20:32
  • Thanks, Pete. My impression from that blog post is that many of the resubmissions (at least which are successful) are major revisions, or at least address "potential major flaws" pointed out by the referees. Perhaps one difference is that in math major flaws tend to be more cut-and-dried than other fields. For a paper submitted to the Annals, typically it either correctly solves a problem or it doesn't, which a referee can assess with a careful reading. – Kimball Aug 29 '17 at 2:06
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I've seen rejections get turned around in biology for journals like Nature and Nature Biotechnology; these rejections are treated like a harsh review and are appealed with a letter to the editor and an extensive rebuttal plus rewrite. The process is strongly similar to the blog post you are linking.

This is a possibility if the reviews can be addressed thoroughly and the editor seems to find the paper interesting. And although I have no comparative data on this, I suspect it helps enormously if the group leader is well-known.

Almost all group leaders I know do appeal in this way. Also, a panel discussion with editors from major journals revealed that such appeals are quite common but that there are no guidelines for them in journals, meaning the process depends a lot on the editor.

Some speculation on why this is happening: in biology, reviewers will always ask for more experiments and/or more analysis. For most published papers, the reviewers have had a strong say in how the final paper looks. This is different at least to my former field, theoretical physics, where it is perfectly possible that an article makes it through the review process without any (major) changes.

This back-and-forth with reviewers makes the review process more subjective and also creates more room for bargaining with editors and reviewers. In particular, it becomes possible to bargain about rejections.

  • Thanks. It sounds like you are roughly in the same field as the writer of the blog post I mentioned, and it would be nice if you could add to what I gathered from that post. Do you have any sense of how common it is to resubmit/appeal a rejection to the same venue (say for top journals) and how common this is successful? Is the blog the typical viewpoint in biology? – Kimball May 1 '18 at 17:38
  • I'm awarding the bounty to this answer as it was the most detailed of the additional answers within the bounty period, but I still welcome additional answers. – Kimball May 5 '18 at 20:51
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Been there done that...

In the domain of electrical engineering, IEEE Transactions are the most prestigious ones amongst authors. However, transactions within IEEE have different prestige/ranking.

I once submitted a journal paper to an IEEE transaction, which got rejected with no resubmit. I submitted to another IEEE transaction and this time it was accepted after two rounds of review. From my experience and people around me, this is very very very common. However, note that when you submit a rejected paper, sometimes you need to declare that.

  • I can't tell if you are actually talking about rejections and appeals/resubmissions, or just resubmissions after major/minor revision decisions. Can you clarify, and if you are talking about the former, give more details about what situations would lead to resubmitting rejected papers to the same venue and what factors would make this successful? – Kimball May 1 '18 at 17:30
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I would also add that you can "reject" reviewer comments also. Just tell the editor to take it or leave it. (If you think the reviewer is screwing the paper up.)

Also, there are a gazillion outlets out there. So it is very easy to just move to another one. Sometimes editors threatened with that will take the paper as is. Not always of course. And I wouldn't make a drama over a comma or a cite or the like.

protected by Alexandros May 3 '18 at 18:21

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