Bonus journal apoplexy post

Two in a day again, I am being for too productive. Sill this is cathartic and has put me in a foul mood and is worth highlighting as one of the pitfalls of science. (There are plenty more here if you want them).

I am a young researcher and I’m currently applying for a variety of jobs and grants to try and extend my career in palaeontology beyond the end of my current contract. As such, each new publication is valuable and every accepted (or better yet, published) manuscript goes a long way to improving my CV and the chances of getting a job. However, that is reliant on the actual journals doing their job, which leads me to the (current) source of my anger.

Nearly seven months ago I submitted a large manuscript to a leading palaeontolgoical journal (I won’t say which, that is rather unfair) which had taken me a long time to assemble – it represents a major bit of my work of the last year or so. Typical journal review times are about three months, but being generous I gave it four before I actually contacted the journal to ask if there was any news on my paper. The answer? They had not even sent it out for review, but ‘would do so shortly’.

Fast forward another three months and I kind of assume that things will be done by now, they have sent it out, it was well before the new University year started and the autumn meeting season, so researchers should have a bit of time free. The response I got back yesterday? The replies from the referees came back in September, and the editor was waiting to ‘make a decision’ (which frankly sounds a awful lot like ‘no’).

So there you have it, a huge piece of my research has sat with the journal for more than half a year, and I still do not even have a reply yet, and that is very likely to be ‘thanks, but no thanks’. I could have sent this piece to two or even three journals in this time and had a response by now, had the thing accepted (because even if there are problems, a couple of rounds of review will soon iron those out) and added to my CV. Instead I have nothing. At all. And yet it seems that the referees actually did their jobs in about six weeks, which is actually pretty fast, and the delays have been simply a case of the journal not actually doing anything with the manuscript, and not telling me about the delays either except when I ask.

I wonder if I should ever bother using this journal again, I am exaggerating of course, but my career could hinge on this. A 30 page paper in a major journal would go a long way to showing my credentials as a researcher and the thing could be in press by now with a faster journal. Cheers guys. Oh, and incidentally, this is the second time this has happened this year, the other journal lost my manuscript for five months and didn’t tell me, even when my co-author inquired as to why it was taking so long. Magic.

4 Responses to “Bonus journal apoplexy post”


  1. 1 Chris Bennett 09/11/2008 at 11:12 pm

    Having at one time waited in excess of eight years between submission and publication (without any significant delay for revision), I can say you shouldn’t really start complaining about the unfairness of the things until you get to around fice years.

  2. 2 David Hone 10/11/2008 at 12:01 am

    Well there is that Chris, yes. I have heard of a book chapter supposedly delayed for over 20 years now which is really pushing it so I’ll try not to complain for anything under a halfg decade from now on, but don’t bet on it.

  3. 3 Mike Taylor 10/11/2008 at 5:17 pm

    You know, this really is shite. It can surely only be habit that makes us think this kind of thing is acceptable. Even most of the “better” journals are unlikely to go from submission to publication in less than a year, which when you think about it is insane in this day and age. (I am particularly sensitive about this right now, because as 2008 draws to a close, I realise that my most productive year is going to end with my nominal productivity at a big, fat zero).

    Maybe we should all send everything to PLoS.

  4. 4 David Hone 10/11/2008 at 8:20 pm

    Yes Mike it is an issue. I do find it especially vexing since Nature get all their papers refereed within weeks so why can’t every other journal? How come some journals can demand a referee return a manuscript in days and others in months?

    I do appreciate that not everyone is always free and doing reviews is rarely ayone’s priority, but if a review takes 5 hours it will take 5 hours. It will take 5 hours if it is done today, or tomorrow, or in 3 years. So why does it take 3 years?

    In the case of these two it is especially annoying as it seemslike the usual drag (getting referees to reply) has been very fast and it is actually the journal sititng on stuff. I am with you, I have submitted a bunch this year, mostly in the first few months, and yet I can probably expect to not actually have the MSs returned until 2009 which menas a probably 2010 publication date for work I completed a year ago!


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