Are your journals permitting only one "major revision" round?

Skeptic noted the following on a prior post:

First time submitted to JN. Submitted revision with additional experiments. The editor sent the paper to a new reviewer and he/she asks additional experiments. In the editor's word, "he has to reject the paper because this was the revision."

This echoes something I have only recently heard about from a peer. Namely that a journal editor said that a manuscript was being rejected due to* it being policy not to permit multiple rounds of revision after a "major revisions" decision.

The implications are curious. I have not yet ever been told by a journal editor that this is their policy when I have been asked to review a manuscript.

I will, now and again, give a second recommendation for Major Revisions if I feel like the authors are not really taking my points to heart after the first round. I may even switch from Minor Revisions to Major Revisions in such a case.

Obviously, since I didn't select the "Reject" option in these cases, I didn't make my review thinking that my recommendation was in fact a "Reject" instead of the "Major Revisions".

I am bothered by this. It seems that journals are probably adopting these policies because they can, i.e., they get far more submissions than they can print. So one way to go about triaging the avalanche is to assume that manuscripts that require more than one round of fighting over revisions can be readily discarded. But this ignores the intent of the peer reviewer to large extent.

Well, now that I know this about two journals for which I review, I will adjust my behavior accordingly. I will understand that a recommendation of "Major Revisions" on the revised version of the manuscript will be interpreted by the Editor as "Reject" and I will supply the recommendation that I intend.

Is anyone else hearing these policies from journals in their fields?
__
*having been around the block a time or two I hypothesize that, whether stated or not, those priority ratings that peer reviewers are asked to supply have something to do with these decisions as well. The authors generally only see the comments and may have no idea that that "favorable" reviewer who didn't find much of fault with the manuscript gave them a big old "booooooring" on the priority rating.

47 responses so far

  • Joe says:

    No, I haven't seen this. What I have seen is journals pushing reviewers to reject manuscripts that actually require major revision. I guess then it would sort-of start over when submitted the next time.

  • Dave says:

    EMBOJ has this policy, and they are very explicit about it. But curiously they don't really seem to stick to it, at least according to the review process files online.

  • GidRothschild says:

    I'm trying to think of the scenarios that require multiple major revision rounds, and actually think that limiting to one may be a healthy approach.
    In the example you mentioned, the authors didn't (sufficiently) address your requests. As authors, we know that this is not something you do by mistake, it means they either did not want to or could not address the critique. Why another round then? either you as reviewer can decide it is good enough without and accept, or not and reject?
    The other side of this story is that multiple major revision rounds can (maybe more?) often work against, not for, the authors. Such is the case when the authors do address the comments in round 1, but the new results spark the imagination of a reviewer, which now requests new major additions. If we view the first round of review as a "contract" laying out rough conditions for publication, that's unfair, and while that hasn't happened to me personally I have seen it second hand. And since time to publication is already an issue, making it clear beforehand to authors and reviewers that they have one major-rev round seems to make sense to me.

  • @Joe
    That's how the major microbial ecology journal ISMEJ works -- they have an option for "rejected but suitable for resubmission" I think they do it to keep the "submitted" to "accepted" time statistics low.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    Some of it is fake accounting to make it seem like the ms hasn't been in their system for years like JB says, other parts are the fact that journal has a policy but they don't really ask their reviewers to treat papers in that light, meaning revised version is a yes or no (this is what EMBO J claims they do), but they constantly say "this is out of the ordinary but we would like to ask for x and y additional thing"- eLife is similar. They are supposed to be one revision and done, but they will make exceptions, but in that case it seems like the exceptions are "we are going to take this paper, but fix this one thing" instead of "we won't even consider taking this paper unless you submit to an arbitrary litany of x and y"

  • drugmonkey says:

    GR-what about a spirited rebuttal? Sometimes the reviewer agrees and sometimes she sticks to her guns. I think that a little tolerance for back-and-forth discussion is a good thing.

  • GidRothschild says:

    Yeah, for that specific situation, of negotiating whether a lengthy request is necessary or not should def be allowed, but that's not a "real" 2nd round of major revisions, and shouldn't be treated as such. The way I've seen it done is asking the editor (who may consult the reviewers) before the first rebuttal, whether doing x would satisfy (actually even asked Noah and he likes it). I think that's better as it saves everybody's time and effort.
    So sure, there should be wiggle room in that case, but it's different from 2 different rounds of major requirements, which I'm guessing do more harm than good.

  • movingturtle says:

    @Jonathan, @Pinko agree re: accounting and keeping acceptance time low. Recently submitted to NeuroImage and was rejected but told to address reviewer comments and submit again as a new MS which I duly did. Immediately after submitting MS that was prepared as new (including cover letter responding to reviewer comments) received email from the editor requesting a marked up version! A trivial request really but it annoyed me that my (and my co-authors') time were considered lower priority than the need to keep the manuscript rejection rate up and acceptance time low. If the editor wanted a marked up version why not ask!

    Colleagues who publish regularly in NeuroImage tell me that the initial rejection is standard unless the only changes needed are typos. Which is one way to improve the apparent rigour of your review process I guess.

  • drugmonkey says:

    And now we segue to the question of appealing, pressuring editors, back slapping and what not that may determine who gets another chance and who does not.

    Fair?

    Unfair?

  • Eve says:

    In one case we had already made revisions in response to the reviewers' suggestions, but then one came back with additional suggestions. Well, that would have been fine if it were allowed by the journal. To then be told it meant a rejection because we only get one chance to revise... that hardly seemed fair, and I suspect it wasn't the intent of the reviewer, either. Yes, we appealed, and we were allowed to make that last little change to have it accepted. But as implied above, that means it is up to the authors to dare to appeal the decision, which is hardly fair either.

    I have since been asked to review for that same journal, and I wasn't sure what to do if I had any suggestions at all for a manuscript that was already a revision. It seems that I had to either accept it as is, or make my comments and risk that it would be rejected. That isn't really fair to the reviewers, either.

    I can understand the temptation to use this as a way to whittle down the glut of manuscripts, but it really makes no sense to me.

  • Busy says:

    This is an implicit rather than explicit rule in my field. Major revisions are expected to be followed by at worse, minor revisions. A second round of major revisions more often than not is understood by the editor to mean "paper isn't good enough, reject".

  • GidRothschild says:

    No appealing, pressuring editors, back slapping or what not.
    You described a situation where authors are asked to do X, which they think is not justified or they cannot do. There are then 2 options:
    1. The authors do everything they do see as justified, putting in weeks/months of work, taking the risk that it's all to waste because the reviewer actually thinks X is important. If he does, it's either rejected or goes to what you call a 2nd round of major revisions (which you complained is often not allowed, so again-> rejection).
    2. Before working on the rebuttal, the authors turn to editor and reviewers explaining why they think X is not necessary for the paper, outlining what they will do, with the aim of agreeing on rebuttal structure *before* the work

    In both cases editor+reviewers "determine who gets another chance and who does not". In my opinion, the latter just saves time and energy.

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    This was four years ago, but I had a manuscript at J Neuroscience that went through three major revisions before being accepted, including bringing in a fourth reviewer. And my motherfucken post-doc mentor was the fucker who kept demanding more! When we were shitfaced at a conference, he was all like, "Yeah. I really wanted to help you make it a paper you could be proud of!" fucken guy

  • Kevin. says:

    What about reviewer 3? Did he know that his request for more experiments was going to sink the already revised paper? Does he even know he's reviewer 3? Did he get to see the other two reviews and the previous manuscript? Would that affect your decisions to throw the authors a bone or not?

  • jmz4 says:

    I think it serves two purposes for different types of journals. At glamour pubs, it cuts down on somewhat spurious submissions. My last boss would do this. He would send in a paper, rely on his name to get it reviewed, and then let the reviewers fill in blanks, then send back what most of us would consider a real first submission. Then it would have major critiques, and then minor.
    At less glamour places, as mentioned, it makes them look like the have a fast turnaround which is very appealing. It also keeps people from holding data back to package into another paper.

    I think its best left as an unspoken or soft policy, simply because the type and quality of reviews can vary hugely, as can the recalcitrance of individual reviewers when you ignore their pet point (which may or may not be valid/feasible) Also, what constitutes a major revision for one lab might not be one for another, depending on the size of the labs in question.

  • Established PI says:

    There is a practical motivation for the journal to reject and recommend resubmission: it keeps them from having to report overly long intervals between the submitted and accepted date. If they make you resubmit, the time looks shorter even though a year may have elapsed from the time of your first submission.

    I find that journals are highly variable in this regard; some permit multiple rounds of review and a few draw a hard line. On the one hand it seems fairer to the author not to jerk them around endlessly. On the other, it is a good thing for editors to have some flexibility and to allow authors and reviewers respond to new issues that may be raised by the revised manuscript.

    As for appeals, sometimes they work but usually they don't. You need to figure out when to cut bait and go to another journal. But then there was the time our paper was rejected and we prevailed in our demand for a new reviewer. The paper was ultimately accepted (high-rank journal, too). In that case I was able to convince the editor that a biased reviewer submitted a technically flawed review. It's usually not so clear, in which case I find it better to just start fresh somewhere else.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Do you think this is an explicit part of the process GR? If not, do you think it is okay that some authors have no idea they can glad hand the editor into taking their appeal while others do so by default? Or see any problem with disparities of power that dictate who dares to appeal and who does not?

  • rxnm says:

    I hope you cut that bastard, CPP.

  • GidRothschild says:

    I definitely think that's a problem and this procedure should be formalized.

  • Established PI says:

    GR, DM - You don't want to make the process too rigid by applying a cookie cutter solution. Editors need some discretion. Authors need to realize when they are being jerked around and when it is time to go to another journal. And junior folks who don't know the ropes need to talk at length to senior colleagues in their field to get advice.

  • GidRothschild says:

    EPI- I agree about not making things too rigid, but you have "pre-submission inquiry" right? do you find those useful? the editor would obviously never guarantee anything, but I find it's useful in the case where they can tell you in advance it'll be a No. What would be the disadvantage of making a "pre-rebuttle inquiry" procedure, for cases like DM described, where authors ask 'would you consider a rebuttal if we don't do X (because so and so)' ? I am only a PD, so may be missing things, just seems like it can sometimes save a lot of time.

  • This is why all peer review should be done post-publication!!!

  • jmz4 says:

    " In that case I was able to convince the editor that a biased reviewer submitted a technically flawed review."
    -Same. It turned out to be someone with a similar paper sitting on the desk of an assistant editor waiting to be sent out for review, so it was a pretty easy case. But yeah, their "major revisions" were a couple weeks of experiments and some bioinformatics. I don't think you can really apply the 1 major revision rule unless you can standardize what constitutes a major revision, which just seems impossible. And if you make a hard rule you're chambering a torpedo for the unscrupulous/biased reviewer.

  • drugmonkey says:

    And junior folks who don't know the ropes need to talk at length to senior colleagues in their field to get advice.

    Not sure this covers it. Junior folks (and those who trained outside the halls of the "haves" of this world) don't even know to ask for this advice. or that there are any ropes other than the "Instructions for authors".

    Nor does everyone feel as though they face the same consequences from complaining to the AE or EIC for an appeal. I am certain that what with not wanting to look like a whiny crybaby to a well respected senior colleague (at real journals) and not wanting to potentially sour the relationship with a professional editor type (at glam mags) a junior (or outsider) PI does not face the same calculation as does an "Established PI".

    Speaking for myself, I am now *considerably* more willing to whinge to the editor about a rejection on a crap review than I was as a lowly Assistant Professor.

  • drugmonkey says:

    EPI- I agree about not making things too rigid, but you have "pre-submission inquiry" right? do you find those useful?

    ok, now you are just trolling with this nonsense.

  • qaz says:

    This is a system designed to (1) change the original submitted time to reduce the apparent review time [as mentioned by many above] and (2) to weed out the young and naive. But I have also definitely seen an increase in the number of "reject-but-we'll-look-at-it-again-if-you-want" responses over "revise-and-resubmit". I wonder if this is Glamourness (which always did this) percolating down to more classic journals trying to Glam up (JNeurosci [cough]).

    If we assume that the role of a reviewer is to actually improve the paper (and not just to be a gatekeeper - unlike with grants [see long discussion trails on this blog]), then there are LOTS of cases where multiple review is both necessary and useful. For example, where the authors misunderstood a review, where they brought in new data that has its own issues, and where the authors have brought an incomplete answer to a reviewer issue. My last GlamourMag publication required four rounds of review. But I'm glad we stuck with it and got it published rather than starting over at a lower impact-factor (less likely to be cited) journal, which honestly would have taken just as much time. The paper is much improved for the multiple rounds of review.

    There is no reason to think that a paper has to be one and out. That's silly. But there does need to be a process for journals to be able (and willing!) to say that the paper is not going to make it through review and the authors should not be wasting their (or the editors' and reviewers' time). What I really don't like is the way that editors are using "reject" for "major revision". It makes it harder to determine what really is going to get rejected and what isn't. The worst is when you go through multiple rounds of review and get rejected anyway because you really don't have that last piece of critical control to convince the last reviewer.

    PS. I am definitely more willing to appeal a rejection now that I am more senior, but a large part of that is that editors are now more willing to listen to me. What is really interesting is that there is clearly a set of journals that will listen to my appeal and a set that won't. Being very aware of the meta-process for publication, I have been watching as the number of journals (and their Glamourness) willing to take my phone call has increased over the years.

  • Established PI says:

    DM - If junior PIs don't know to ask for advice, they had better learn quickly. Whatever lab you came from there are gaps in training. I started asking for advice early and often and got some invaluable tips from senior faculty that helped me navigate the publishing, grant and promotion world successfuly. I tell all our junior faculty to seek out this help early and often - we spent all this money and time hiring them and now we want them to succeed.

    I agree with all the comments that your ability to prevail with editors increases with your age and stature in the field. I never could have gotten a glam journal to get a new reviewer (see above) when I was a starting Asst. Prof. At the same time, dealing with criticisms effectively at the review stage, including challenges to requests for more experiments, can sometimes head off a rejection and subsequent appeal. This is where it helps to get input from experienced colleagues. It is possible to persuade an editor that the demands for experiments are not reasonable, and saying it the right way can help your case.

  • Established PI says:

    "If we assume that the role of a reviewer is to actually improve the paper."

    qaz - The role of the AUTHOR is to improve the paper - the REVIEWER is supposed to judge whether the hypothesis/model is reasonable, whether the data support the conclusions, and whether the results are of sufficient importance for the readership of that particular journal. One of the reasons publishing has become so awful is because too many reviewers have come to view themselves as advisors or coauthors who are trying to extend the studies. eLife, for example, explicitly instructs its reviewers to judge the science in front of them, not the paper that they think the authors should have written.

    You may be glad you were forced to go through multiple rounds to get into a glamour mag, and this has happened to me as well. The postdoc got a job and I got a few more grey hairs. But the down side is a dragged out process in which the postdoc misses yet another job cycle, gets out of sync with a spouse who is also looking for a job, misses out on K99 eligibility, and then loses in the end when the paper is ultimately rejected. The field also loses as results that are two years old still don't see the light of day.

  • Philapodia says:

    "If junior PIs don't know to ask for advice, they had better learn quickly."

    While I do agree with this, it would behoove more departments to put formal mentoring plans in place for junior faculty rather than let them flounder on their own. Lots of departments don't do this, and since most Uni's lay down a significant chunk of change for newbie faculty, it would make sense that they actually make sure they are well-mentored (not just yearly tenure review meetings) to maximize their chances of success (aka publications and bringing in IDCs to keep the deanlets funded).

    Established PI - "I agree with all the comments that your ability to prevail with editors increases with your age and stature in the field. "
    @DM - "a junior (or outsider) PI does not face the same calculation as does an "Established PI".
    Qaz - "I am definitely more willing to appeal a rejection now that I am more senior, but a large part of that is that editors are now more willing to listen to me. "

    So you're saying that if an assistant professor and a full professor were to submit the same paper to a journal the full professor would be more likely to get it published because they have better pillowtalk with the editor? How is this not an explicit ol' boys club? I agree this happens, and I've seen junior colleagues include BSD post-doc mentors on their first couple of papers from their lab to get them through easier, but is it really ethical?

  • Skeptic says:

    In my case, one of the original reviewer was satisfied with the revision and no more comments. New criticisms were raised by a newly brought on reviewer. The editor said that the other original reviewer was not available to review the revision. Have you seen any reviewer who says the paper is near perfect and needs only a minor change on the first round?

  • Susan says:

    'So you're saying that if an assistant professor and a full professor were to submit the same paper to a journal the full professor would be more likely to get it published because they have better pillowtalk with the editor? How is this not an explicit ol' boys club? I agree this happens, and I've seen junior colleagues include BSD post-doc mentors on their first couple of papers from their lab to get them through easier, but is it really ethical?

    This. So much this.

  • Established PI says:

    Philapodia - The old boys network is alive, well and unfair. Some people have an easier time of making it past the bouncers guarding the entrances to GlamorPubWorld because of their reputations. I wouldn't call it an ethical breach, but rather a flaw of human nature. It is also the downside of having professional editors rather than practicing scientists as gatekeepers.

    I would never include former BSD mentors as co-authors - it looks bad at your tenure decision. Better to have accomplishments that are 100% your own than to give the impression that you are riding someone else's coattails.

    Departments should have better mentoring systems in place, but that will never completely replace self-advocacy. I will keep saying this until I am blue in the face and they take my office away and force me into retirement: Everyone must identify mentors on their own and seek their advice repeatedly. You never stop needing advice, as each new career stage and situation presents its own new challenges. Start early, ask often.

  • eeke says:

    CPP - old boys club at it's best. You were given three rounds to get the paper in. Most of us would have been kicked out after the first round. I asked for major revisions as a reviewer once, and the editor disregarded my requests and accepted the paper as is - no controls, n=1 experiment, whole nine yards, as is. I'm sure the author & editor knew each other well and were drinking buddies. I'll never review for that editor again.

    Anyway, I agree with qaz - this business of 1-2 rounds of reviews gives the appearance of a short turn-around time at the editorial office of the journal. A resubmission sets the clock to time '0'. I've reviewed for journals with this policy, but I've never seen it enforced.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    I don't know that I've ever seen "one and done" as a formally stated policy, but it's certainly the common practice.

    I've only ever contested a rejection once. Maybe I should try more often now that I have tenure...

  • drugmonkey says:

    Philapodia-
    I don't know that I think it is unethical but I do think our profession, supposedly all about objectivity, can do better.

    E PI- I think journals need to own this a lot more than you are suggesting. And yes, mentors need to get the word to their junior colleagues, just look at what great Glamour Douche training GR has had. Only a postdoc and he knows all the glad handing techniques already.

  • Dr Becca says:

    this business of 1-2 rounds of reviews gives the appearance of a short turn-around time at the editorial office of the journal.

    I've heard this forever, but who is this "appearance" for? When I'm choosing what journal to submit to, I've never in my life scoured recent articles' "submitted" and "accepted" dates as part of the decision process. I know which journals are appropriate for my work, and will submit to the best one that I think might accept the paper. FTR, all the journals I've submitted to since being faculty have gotten a 1st-round decision to me in less than a month, EXCEPT J NEUROSCIENCE.

  • Established PI says:

    DM - How would you propose getting the journals to change their ways?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Thought on the resetting of the date of original submission. One thing it does is keep a lid on people submitting a priority place holder before the study is even half done. I could see this as a positive step.

  • drugmonkey says:

    You should be Dr Becca. Knowing the timeline to likely publication is important for strategic behavior.

  • drugmonkey says:

    E PI: ranting about it to your editors might help. Those on editorial boards can use the annual meeting to complain about it too. Suggest creating more decision letter boilerplate if necessary.

  • Dave says:

    You should be Dr Becca. Knowing the timeline to likely publication is important for strategic behavior.

    Yeh, exactly. I even recently lobbied an editorial office after acceptance to get a recent paper in print before the end of 2014. They originally told me the last issue of the year was full, but eventually after some back and forth they found room for us (probably another lab was slow in returning proofs) and our paper was out in 2014. Sounds trivial, but for productivity metrics it could be major!!!!!

  • drugmonkey says:

    Nice work dude!

  • boehninglab says:

    I regularly submit to a journal with a one revision policy. My last 4 papers:
    1. 1 paper currently in revision #2
    2. Paper published after 1 rejection, resubmission (reset date), and 3 revisions
    3. Paper rejected after 3 revisions
    4. Paper published after 2 revisions

  • Dr Becca says:

    Are journals really that consistent? I can see the time from acceptance to publication being a consideration, but as far as submission to publication time goes, I'd imagine there are just so many factors that contribute that it would be hard to predict how long your particular paper would take to get out. Show me the box-and-whisker plots, dammit!

  • drugmonkey says:

    If they didn't juke the stats, it would be more useful.

  • qaz says:

    @EstablishedPI - You are 100% wrong. The role of the editor is to judge whether the paper is ready for publication. (Many editors abdicate that role to reviewers, but that is not the reviewer's role.) The role of the reviewer is to provide expert advice from someone separate from the authors' inner circle. That role includes identifying errors in the paper, directions that could solve those errors, and identifying other improvements that the paper needs in order to justify its claims. (Yes, there are problems with reviewers thinking they need to order new unnecessary experiments [something I don't defend] - but, again, it is the role of the editor to decide whether the paper is publishable in their journal or not. It is the editor's journal - not the reviewers'.)

    @Becca - I don't know any authors who look at these turn-around dates as part of their decision. But a lot of authors do know the real turn-around time, and (as DM says), that's important for strategic processing (as complained by Established PI who apparently misjudged a timeline)). But every survey I've ever seen from any journal has asked this question. I think it is something that the publishing companies care about or think we do.

    @Philopodia - I am not defending that reputation makes it easier to Glamorize. I am merely acknowledging its existence.

    Finally, this process of who an editor will listen to occurs just as much with established scientists as with professional editors. In my experience, established science editors are more willing to give that benefit of the doubt to junior people coming from the right pedigrees (which basically means family trees they know - not necessarily famous ones) while professional editors are more likely to give the benefit based on fame and position.

  • Philapodia says:

    "this process of who an editor will listen to occurs just as much with established scientists as with professional editors. In my experience, established science editors are more willing to give that benefit of the doubt to junior people coming from the right pedigrees (which basically means family trees they know - not necessarily famous ones) while professional editors are more likely to give the benefit based on fame and position."

    If it's scientific breeding/pedigree that matters to editors, I wonder if it would help to get the great Jim Watson to adopt me as his illegitimate scientific love child...

Leave a Reply