As 2013 is approaching its end, I devoted some time on my annual accounts of several issues. One of these issues concerns the papers which I have published. It is a good yield: sixteen peer-reviewed papers (in journals), also counting those in press which will be published in 2014. Even without counting the latter, perhaps 2013 is the year with my record number of journal publications. I have thus reasons to celebrate.
But the reason I am writing this memo is not this. It is the fact that in 2013 I managed to publish several papers that were rejected earlier. It was the academic year 2011-12 which offered my record number of rejections, but rejections are painful in the beginning and it takes some time for the negative feelings to turn into positive. This time has passed and I feel I can now celebrate my record rejections.
Actually, I am proud for my rejected papers. Some of them are my top cited ones (in particular, the top #1, #3 and #6 in my current Google Scholar record). In my web site I have marked my rejected papers so they can easily be located. Also, in each one I publish on line the prehistory of rejections (reviews, rejection letters, rebuttals etc.).
Why do I do that? Please feel free to choose one of the following reasons or to suggest another one:
- Am I a vindictive person who takes some narrow-minded pleasure by putting rejections into public view, regarding this as a revenge on rejecting editors and reviewers?
- Am I a keen unorthodox or heretic guy who builds pride by promoting the rejections rather than acceptances?
- Am I a sick fan of transparency who believes that it should extend to negative aspects of scientific transactions?
- Do I want to offer some fun to rejecting reviewers and editors, as well to spontaneous visitors of my web site?
- Do I want to offer some consolation to people who have had similar problems?
- Do I believe that shedding light on negative experiences within the peer-review system (which, by the way, I have served from all positions, as author, reviewer, associate editor, editor) helps improve the current situation?
- Do I wish to offer some support and guidance to younger colleagues about how to handle similar situations?
- Do I wish to improve my relationships with my students by letting them know that their teacher receives rejections even more often than they do?
- All of the above?
- None of the above?
Some highlights of recent rejections follow.
My paper with the record number of rejections is the brand new one “Physics of uncertainty, the Gibbs paradox and indistinguishable particles.” Eight rejections from eight different journals including the journal which eventually published it, Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics. As indicated in the acknowledgments, several months after the rejection, the Editor accepted my request to resubmit a revised version, which was accepted (with minor revisions). The rejections from the other seven journals are shown in the pdf file under the link “Prehistory” in the above hyperlink. I really appreciate one of the rejections, that of the European Journal of Physics, whose Editor stated:
This paper is quite controversial. Fundamental assumptions of statistical physics, as applied to ideal gas, are questioned and replaced by alternative ones. I have nothing against questioning well established theories, quite often progress in science originates from such considerations. However, EJP is not an appropriate place to publish controversial papers. The scope of EJP is to promote education, and considerations such as presented in this paper do not contribute to excellence in physics education. I am sorry this paper has not been accepted by some research journals, but I encourage the author to
submit the paper to a journal specializing in foundations of physics.
Another recent rejected paper, coauthored by my PhD student Yannis Markonis and entitled “Climatic variability over time scales spanning nine orders of magnitude: Connecting Milankovitch cycles with Hurst–Kolmogorov dynamics” was eventually published in Surveys in Geophysics. A colleague and good friend who saw an early draft of it was enthusiastic and advised me to submit it to Nature or Science. But based on our view of these journals, we were confident that submission to either of them would be in vain and we did not follow this advice. Instead, we submitted it to Geophysical Research Letters, which rejected it. Then the good friend advised to send it to Nature Geoscience, which we did to receive a second rejection. Both rejections can be seen in the “Prehistory” file accessible from the above link. Finally, we followed the advice of another good friend to submit it to Surveys in Geophysics, which accepted it after three rounds of revisions.
The paper “An algorithm to construct Monte Carlo confidence intervals for an arbitrary function of probability distribution parameters” with my PhD student Hristos Tyralis and my postdoc colleague Stefanos Kozanis, was rejected by two journals before it was accepted by Computational Statistics. As can be seen in the “Prehistory” file, the reviewers who recommended rejection and the Editors provided many useful suggestions, but I found the following reviewer’s comment laughable:
I think a journal with lower impact factor would be more appropriate.
Next, my paper “Clausius-Clapeyron equation and saturation vapour pressure: simple theory reconciled with practice” was published by the European Journal of Physics, but before that it was rejected by another journal, as seen again in its “Prehistory” file. What I found most interesting in this rejection was the anonymity of the Editor who rejected it. I wrote to the journal’s editorial office (emphasis added):
Please convey the anonymous editor my difficulty to see where he refers to my rebuttal in his comment (which could fit to any rebuttal referring to any paper). I also have a difficulty to see the ethical grounds of an editor being anonymous.
and the reply was (emphasis added):
Not revealing the editors’ names are a means to protect the editors; it is not by any editor’s request. Similar to the the half-way-blind method of peer review, it applies to all submissions.
As I said, rejection is painful but sometimes outcomes other than rejection may be equally painful, if not more. This is, for example, the case with the paper “A blueprint for process-based modeling of uncertain hydrological system” by Alberto Montanari and me. It took us four rounds of (re)submissions in the same journal and a lot of bitter exchanges to get it approved.
Of course rejections are never ending. Currently, I have (only) one paper rejected (by two hydrological journals) and not published yet. But it is better to postpone the discussion of its prehistory awaiting its completion: the paper is good, so additional rejections are likely. 🙂
Concluding, I wish to express my special thanks to the editors and reviewers of my 2013 papers, whether they approved or rejected them, because they devoted effort and time on my works and they have put some added value to my papers. And I wish a Happy 2014 to all of them—and all readers of this post.