Journal Choice Strategy

Aug 19 2008 Published by under Science Publication

We have been discussing what should happen if a peer reviewer receives the same manuscript she reviewed for a different journal that rejected the manuscript. One of our commenters asserted the following:

Identical submissions to 2nd/3rd/4th choice journals suck! I thought the whole point of having reviewer comments was to improve the paper, but apparently not.


I responded as follows:

Depending on the circumstance, this can be completely false. If the paper was rejected, not because it had scientific flaws, but because it was of "insufficient broad interest" to the perceived readership of a particular journal, there is absoulutely nothing whatsoever wrong with resubmitting the identical manuscript to a journal that perceives its readership as being of narrower scope.
And BTW, if you have never had a manuscript rejected for this reason, you are not aiming high enough.

Ponderingfool argued that rejection not for scientific flaws, but for perceived "breadth of interest" should be rare:

Such reviews should still be rare. You should have a good sense of where your work belongs. Disagreements will occur, which is fine but if you can't be objective enough about your work, you are just wasting your time. Experiments needed for N/S vs. a more specialist journal do differ. Writing styles are also different. Revisions take times as do additional experiments.

This is totally false. Review at high-end journals is extremely capricious and non-objective, and so one's ability to predict what will fly and what won't is exceedingly limited. Accordingly, in order to successfully publish in those journals, you need to expose yourself to the possibility as often as possible.
If your papers are being routinely accepted with only minor revisions, you are almost certainly not aiming high enough with the journals you are submitting to. If you want to publish in high-end journals, the sweet spot to aim for is that only about 1/3 of your papers should end up accepted at the journal you originally submit them to, and the rest should have to filter down.

32 responses so far

  • Morgan Price says:

    "If you want to publish in high-end journals, the sweet spot to aim for is that only about 1/3 of your papers should end up accepted."
    I say, what a waste of time -- for the authors and for the reviewers. And yet I do some of this myself...

  • CC says:

    If the paper was rejected, not because it had scientific flaws, but because it was of "insufficient broad interest" to the perceived readership of a particular journal, there is absoulutely nothing whatsoever wrong with resubmitting the identical manuscript to a journal that perceives its readership as being of narrower scope.
    OK, but you wouldn't be getting reviews at all in such a situation. (And, obviously, reviewers at your second choice journal won't have previously seen it.)
    I say, what a waste of time -- for the authors and for the reviewers.
    A lot of the top journals now charge a $50 submission fee, which I'd imagine both cuts out a lot of the dregs and also makes a tidy little pile of beer money for the editors. In one case (where the paper eventually wound up in a Nature Group journal, so it didn't totally suck) the rejection came in less than 10 minutes after submission and prior to them charging me the $50, so it doesn't seem like it's such hard-earned money for them.

  • PhysioProf says:

    OK, but you wouldn't be getting reviews at all in such a situation. (And, obviously, reviewers at your second choice journal won't have previously seen it.)

    What the fuck are you talking about? Have you ever reviewed for a high-end journal? One of the questions peer reviewers are invariably asked is, "Do you consider this paper of broad enough interest for the readership of JOURNAL, or would it be better suited to a more specialized journal? If the latter, what journal?"

  • DrugMonkey says:

    where the paper eventually wound up in a Nature Group journal, so it didn't totally suck
    HAHAAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHA! oh, my.
    lemme tell ya somthin'. papers that "totally suck" end up in C, N AND S. All the bloody time. Just like they end up in Acta Scandahoovica Oryctolagus Saltus. Where something is published is no indicator that it is good (or bad for that matter).

  • What the fuck are you talking about? Have you ever reviewed for a high-end journal? One of the questions peer reviewers are invariably asked is, "Do you consider this paper of broad enough interest for the readership of JOURNAL, or would it be better suited to a more specialized journal? If the latter, what journal?"
    PP, I think CC might be referring to direct rejection by the editor based on insufficient broad appeal. I haven't gotten reviews in such cases.
    --
    And as for my two cents: It's not a waste of time to submit to high-end journals. They are quick with reviews, and so even if you are rejected, it was worth the shot. Who knows what mood the editor might be in or how the moons are aligned on the day you submit. Anecdotal evidence: one of my labmates submitted a manuscript to Nature, and not only was it rejected, but they told him it was crap. He then reformatted and sent it to Science, and it was published as the cover story.

  • Mad Hatter says:

    Review at high-end journals is extremely capricious and non-objective, and so one's ability to predict what will fly and what won't is exceedingly limited. Accordingly, in order to successfully publish in those journals, you need to expose yourself to the possibility as often as possible.
    I don't think the capriciousness is limited to high-end journals, although they may well be worse. The number of times I've received mixed reviews at various journals--one reviewer loved it and and had no complaints, while the other one hated everything about it including the title--suggests that if one just "rolls the dice" enough times, one may eventually get two reviewers who love the manuscript. So I agree that one has a better chance of publishing in high-end journals if one takes more shots.
    The problem arises when PIs decide it's GlamourMagz or nothing, and choose to sit on some poor postdoc/student's paper until it can get into a GlamourMag, rather than letting it trickle down. One PI I know actually bragged about how she sat on a paper for >2 years until she acquired the data needed to get it into a high-end journal. Not sure a wait of that length would be worth the high-end publication.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    One PI I know actually bragged about how she sat on a paper for >2 years until she acquired the data needed to get it into a high-end journal.
    How'd that work out for the trainees that were involved with the project?

  • neurolover says:

    "Anecdotal evidence: one of my labmates submitted a manuscript to Nature, and not only was it rejected, but they told him it was crap."
    but was it crap or not? :-0. I once reviewed a manuscript for Nature, where it was rejected, and then promptly saw it a couple of weeks later in Science. But, it was still crap.

  • CC says:

    PP, I think CC might be referring to direct rejection by the editor based on insufficient broad appeal.
    Exactly. In the case PP describes, you'd have reviewer comments along with a rejection. I think maybe I'm taking "identical" more literally than he is, though.
    How'd that work out for the trainees that were involved with the project?
    I did that to myself, and deeply regret it. On the other hand, if it makes the difference between a good faculty position and not, maybe it's worth it...?

  • neurolover says:

    "where the paper eventually wound up in a Nature Group journal, so it didn't totally suck"
    "HAHAAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHA! oh, my.
    lemme tell ya somthin'. papers that "totally suck" end up in C, N AND S."
    To clarify, I think CC meant the experience didn't suck, rather than that her paper didn't suck. But, of course, none of us thinks that anyone who comments here *ever* writes papers that suck.

  • Mad Hatter says:

    DM @ #7: I don't know. I politely asked that PI whether the trainee who was first author was concerned about the delay. The PI said she didn't know, and her expression suggested it hadn't occured to her that the trainee might have a problem with it.
    Let's face it, it's much more likely to be worth the wait for a bigwig PI with many pages of publications on PubMed since one more Field-Specific Journal paper probably won't make much of a difference to her. For the trainee, though, getting one more publication sooner rather than later, even if it's in a lower-tier journal, may be the difference between getting a job now or having to reapply in a year.

  • NM says:

    My, albeit limited, experience submitting to and reviewing for high-end journals seems to be the same. As long as what you are sending them is pretty good it then all depends on which way the wind is blowing that week combined with luck of the draw with reviewers. Think of all the anthrax researchers who had toiled away in relative obscurity for year until 2001? There's also examples of OK work in my field in the NEJM that is far outclassed by work in lower ranked journals.

  • PhysioProf says:

    For the trainee, though, getting one more publication sooner rather than later, even if it's in a lower-tier journal, may be the difference between getting a job now or having to reapply in a year.

    And getting a glamour pub versus a non-glamour pub may be the difference between getting a tenure-track position with good space and a real start-up budget, and spending the rest of one's life working for other PIs.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    And getting a glamour pub versus a non-glamour pub may be the difference between getting a tenure-track position with good space and a real start-up budget, and spending the rest of one's life working for other PIs.
    While this is true there are a couple of considerations. First, that this is a vicious circle. The more that individual postdocs buy into this and fail to agitate for a reasonable publication schedule from their PIs, the more they are as a group making their prospects more and more ridiculous.
    Second the fact that there is a risk/benefit ratio here in which the risks are 1) no GlamourMagz pub actually results or 2) no pubs AT ALL actually result in any conceivably relevant time horizon.
    Now the thing is that I know a couple of labs in which I have seen the "we only publish in CNS" thing play out over many years. I've seen people go for years without first-author pubs. In the worst case it was significantly over 5 yrs and yet in a new environment that postdoc absolutely flourished with production and even grants. so it wasn't the postdoc. I've seen the toll it takes. While I only feel a little sorry for these individuals for not manipulating the situation more to their own benefit, the bottom line is that the results are clear.
    If a lab shoots only for the GlamourMagz pubs at the expense of any reasonable output rate for individual postdocs, many of these postdocs are going to pay a very high price. And to the extent that I have relevant evidence (say their production after leaving the lab) it is not because the individuals in question are crappy scientists.
    My belief is that the objective evidence of what these people can do and have accomplished after leaving the bad environment, combined with the comparison of who else is landing jobs, supports the conclusion that the risk/reward of shooting only for GlamourPubs is not justified.

  • If your papers are being routinely accepted with only minor revisions, you are almost certainly not aiming high enough with the journals you are submitting to. If you want to publish in high-end journals, the sweet spot to aim for is that only about 1/3 of your papers should end up accepted at the journal you originally submit them to, and the rest should have to filter down.
    PhysioProf, this is the second time I have heard you offer this advice (the first being on my humble blog). I am intrigued by it. Having only ever published in Science, Nature, and Cell, Dr. Isis, of course, wouldn't know about rejection. However, are you suggesting that individuals (especially early career) only ever submit to these "high end" journals and then lets the paper trickle down like the rain on my window pane? Is this an effective use of their time? I don't dispute you, I only ask for more data, PP. Are you going with the "even a blind squirrel eventually finds a nut" mentality?
    I sense that I am smelling sage advice from you (at least, I think that's what I smell) but surely one does not send every paper they write to Nature. Can you elaborate a bit more? I'll allow you 10 dirty words in your reply.

  • neurolover says:

    Perhaps another number physioprof would like to calculate for us is the ratio of papers you *should* submit to a glamor mag (aiming for a 1/3 acceptance rate). Does one submit all of one's papers to glamormags (and get 1/3 of them accepted there)?

  • Mad Hatter says:

    And getting a glamour pub versus a non-glamour pub may be the difference between getting a tenure-track position with good space and a real start-up budget, and spending the rest of one's life working for other PIs.
    Not arguing that getting a glamour pub isn't more prestigious and therefore more helpful in procuring that tt job. But it's simply not true that having a glamour pub is required for getting a tt job. And I'd hypothesize that a glam vs. non-glam pub would only make the difference in whether one gets a job if the rest of one's publication record were less than stellar (assuming the non-glam pub isn't in a complete crap journal, of course).
    I was also going to point out that holding out for a glam pub doesn't guarantee one will get it, but I see DM has already said it, and better than I would have. So what DM said.

  • whimple says:

    PP is right. You should aim high with your submissions. There's a simple math argument: Say it takes you two years to acquire the data for your paper (or person-years or whatever). The average high IF journal pre-submission inquiry takes 1 week or less. If sent for review, the reviews in these journals take about three weeks. It doesn't make much sense to take two years to acquire the data for a solid paper and then get all panicky about the 4 months it takes to get it sold and published somewhere that can really give your career a major boost.
    Of course, if you're working on crap, don't waste your time with high IF journals... just send it somewhere fast and crappy, like PLoS-ONE. šŸ˜›

  • Coturnix says:

    Remember that CNS Disease afflicts a relatively small (but loud and prominent) subset of scientists - those working in biomedical fields, molecular biology, immunology, cancer, etc. and want to get tenure-track jobs at hyper-competitive Ivy League schools.
    Most scientists do not do that, do not even consider submitting to CNS, have no wish to ever work at Harvard, laugh at the super-competitive crowd, publish in society journals and have their students nicely employed in nice departments in nice schools around the world.

  • Mike_F says:

    [I]Most scientists do not do that, do not even consider submitting to CNS, have no wish to ever work at Harvard, laugh at the super-competitive crowd, publish in society journals and have their students nicely employed in nice departments in nice schools around the world.[/I]
    [B]What planet do you live on?[/B]

  • Kathryn says:

    I'm working on a master's thesis at a small college without adequate lab resources. I don't think I'm going to have enough data for a paper worthy of publication in the sorts of journals where C. elegans neuro or aging labs usually publish, because I spend all my time solving technical issues that people at real worm labs consider as big a deal as getting a cup of coffee. Nobody else at my school is working on anything that could possibly support my data, and I didn't find any collaborators interested in doing so at the last couple of conferences. (Nobody tried to recruit me for their PhD program either.)
    My PI tells me it doesn't matter where my paper is published, as long as it's a good paper, but I don't think anyone's going to take my data seriously if I don't find another line of evidence to support it. That's the input I've gotten at all three conferences, presenting posters at two of them. He says it's no big deal whether or not it's published in a journal indexed in PubMed as long as I get it published somewhere. Since the main point of my research is its potential relevance to Parkinson's disease, I feel like I might as well throw my work down the toilet if it isn't available in PubMed.
    I don't want to go near an Ivy League, and my disability probably precludes a PhD program. There are already too many PhDs fighting over too few academic positions. I'll probably be a technician and hopefully a scientific illustrator someday. But my research is important enough I got a grant from a regional chapter of a major society, and I've been working on it for four years. (A post-doc at a major worm lab would've done this in six months, but it's four years of my life and my student loans. No stipends in this state university system.)
    Actually, maybe I shouldn't steal a slot in a decent journal from someone who needs a publication for a tenure-track position.

  • whimple says:

    He says it's no big deal whether or not it's published in a journal indexed in PubMed as long as I get it published somewhere.
    He's wrong. If it's not indexed in PubMed, it doesn't exist.

  • CC says:

    However, are you suggesting that individuals (especially early career) only ever submit to these "high end" journals and then lets the paper trickle down like the rain on my window pane? Is this an effective use of their time?
    ...
    Does one submit all of one's papers to glamormags (and get 1/3 of them accepted there)?
    I think both you are missing the point, which is that if you routinely get papers accepted on the first submission, you're obviously leaving impact factor points on the table. If you try to aim higher across the board (submitting what you think is a B paper to A and what you think is an E paper to D) you'll reap rewards more thoroughly. Conversely, if your first submission acceptance rate is zero or close to it, you're being too aggressive and annoying everyone.
    I was going to analogize this process to designing an experiment, but I shouldn't need to do that, right?
    Anyway, this is all distinct from what level of publication you target from day one, and what level you hold out for instead of settling, both of which have been discussed here previously.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Aiming to publish in N/S is and should be the standard today, if one is to achieve her personal academic scientific goals. A paper of mine that was published in Science actually assured my promotions, my tenure and the direction that my scientific research career has taken. This paper has been cited more than any other paper of mine and its mark on its field is still being felt twenty years later. Based on my experience, I must agree with PP's statement: And getting a glamour pub versus a non-glamour pub may be the difference between getting a tenure-track position with good space and a real start-up budget, and spending the rest of one's life working for other PIs.

  • PhysioProf says:

    However, are you suggesting that individuals (especially early career) only ever submit to these "high end" journals and then lets the paper trickle down like the rain on my window pane? Is this an effective use of their time? I don't dispute you, I only ask for more data, PP. Are you going with the "even a blind squirrel eventually finds a nut" mentality?

    Perhaps another number physioprof would like to calculate for us is the ratio of papers you *should* submit to a glamor mag (aiming for a 1/3 acceptance rate). Does one submit all of one's papers to glamormags (and get 1/3 of them accepted there)?

    No. Obviously, there are cases where it is clear that a paper is absolutely not going to fly at a glamour mag, and these should be submitted elsewhere. The point is that you should always give every paper the benefit of the doubt, and aim high. If all of your papers are always getting accepted at the first place you submit them, then you are definitely not aiming high enough. The 1/3 acceptance-rate figure is for those papers that actually get sent out for review by a glamour mag.

    Most scientists do not do that, do not even consider submitting to CNS, have no wish to ever work at Harvard, laugh at the super-competitive crowd, publish in society journals and have their students nicely employed in nice departments in nice schools around the world.

    Nice!? Dude, this is not about "nice"; this is about world fucking DOMINATION!!!!!

  • PhysioProf says:

    Based on my experience, I must agree with PP's statement

    Who the fuck are you, and what the fuck did you do to Sol!!??!!??

  • CC says:

    To clarify, I think CC meant the experience didn't suck, rather than that her paper didn't suck.
    Actually, no: the point was that the paper wasn't as dismal as a rejection time measured in minutes (six, IIRC) might suggest.
    He says it's no big deal whether or not it's published in a journal indexed in PubMed as long as I get it published somewhere.
    As whimple says, this is completely wrong. If you can get your PI to go for it, I'd advise writing up what you have and shooting for PLoS One or BioMedCentral or something like that. It doesn't sound like sticking it out for more data is possible, and wouldn't make sense in your situation anyway. Good luck!!!!

  • S. Rivlin says:

    PeePee,
    Sometimes, one can be correct despite one's corrupted language. šŸ˜‰

  • If your papers are being routinely accepted with only minor revisions, you are almost certainly not aiming high enough with the journals you are submitting to. If you want to publish in high-end journals, the sweet spot to aim for is that only about 1/3 of your papers should end up accepted at the journal you originally submit them to, and the rest should have to filter down.
    *************************
    Or you have a good sense of what you are doing and write well. The advice is from academy members which is an elite group. These scientists have a high opinion of themselves and are highly competitive. They are not the types to undervalue their work. They also have a good sense of where work should go. Experience is useful. Knowing and talking with editors at CNS journals is important as well. Pre-screen. Talking with other faculty members helps as well. That combined should keep rejections to a minimum.
    If you are a junior faculty member aiming higher may be a good idea, especially if have the time. The risk to reward is there especially since you don't have the contacts & experience to more accurately gauge where your work should go. If your lab is publishing 14+ journals a year with 2+ CNS articles a year, 6+ next tier down, 4 + mid-tier and 2+ speciality journals along with everything else a senior faculty member does, aiming too high for a 1/3 rejection rate is not acceptable. You should have a better sense of your field and have better contacts. Be aggressive but sensible.

  • And as for my two cents: It's not a waste of time to submit to high-end journals. They are quick with reviews, and so even if you are rejected, it was worth the shot. Who knows what mood the editor might be in or how the moons are aligned on the day you submit.
    ***************************************
    They are not always quick. My lab scooped another lab because the review process at a CNS took awhile. It was ultimately rejected. They had to rewrite for a next tier journal. In the meantime my lab caught up to them and published in a journal one tier lower than CNS. We thus published first and in a slightly higher journal than them. The two CNS papers our lab submitted so far this year were lengthy reviews (mostly due to lengthy review times between minor revisions including a two month wait after minor changes).

  • NM says:

    Kathryn
    Listen to whimple. If it isn't in pubmed then it doesn't exist.
    I too came from a small place with very few student colleagues who could help me figure things out. My advice is to do the best job you can. Reading as widely as possible and be very very exact in what you do.
    Then do a very good job of writing it up. Get advice- get other people to read and critique- pre submission peer review is very usefull. You can get into decent journals even if you're living in the boonies. It's harder but it is possible.
    Then follow PPs advice. Aim high. You never know it might just work.

  • SD says:

    Kathryn,
    I apologize in advance for commenting on a topic I don't know anything about. But I would like to share two stories of scientists with disabilities (that happen to have done C. elegans research!), and say that perhaps your disability won't keep you from doing a PhD if that's what you want to do.
    The first scientist was a postdoc in a C. elegans lab in department I majored in. I met this person, not through my coursework, but because my social science-major roommate had a part time job reading to and doing data entry for this postdoc, who had MS. The university provided funds for undergrads to support his postdoctoral research as part of their accommodation of his disabilities. He was wheelchair-bound, and the lab was wheelchair accessible. This particular scientist passed away a few years ago, but he wrote papers in several high impact journals and had the career he wanted to have.
    The second was a postdoc in my PhD lab, who conducted his PhD research on C. elegans. This person is hearing impaired, and now has a lab of his own, and the grants are starting to roll in. I have never felt this person needed any additional physical assistance, as was so necessary for the person above, but I am sure things have been less smooth for him than for a hearing person getting to where he is now. But he's doing what he loves for a living, in a part of the country he's thrilled with.

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