Sub-sub-field accepting bloc

Jan 06 2015 Published by under Careers

I have been on the editorial board of a middling journal (IF ~4) for some years now. I get sent a lot of the manuscripts that are in my sub-sub-field. My job is to obtain reviews and make a decision as to the fate of each of these manuscripts. It's become apparent to me that there is a group of reviewers who all display the same phenotype when it comes to their reviews. They all i) are quick to agree to review manuscripts in our common sub-sub-field, ii) submit their reviews on time, and iii) will recommend acceptance or minor revisions for all manuscripts. All.

This journal rejects ~70% of all submissions.* ~40% are desk rejects so ~50% of all manuscripts sent out for review are rejected.

Odd, yes?

Did I mention that this bloc of reviewers are all strongly linked to one particular well-known member of our sub-sub-field? Former trainees, co-authors etc. Given that pretty much none of the manuscripts they've reviewed for me in the past have authors from within the group, I doubt this is a organized ring of shady reviewers. In fact, having interacted with some of them I suspect this is more a misguided** attempt to raise the profile of the sub-sub-field promoted by Dr. Well-Known.

I don't use these reviewers anymore.



* Yes, there really is that much crap being submitted even to middling journals.

** "Misguided" is somewhat euphemistic.

12 responses so far

  • dr24hours says:

    You think this is a semi-organized attempt to raise the profile of a sub field regardless of paper quality? How would that do it? By giving it a reputation for having a bunch of garbage published?

  • qaz says:

    Do they demand citations for Dr. Well-Known? Is this a misguided** attempt to get Dr. Well-Known (and progeny) increased citation counts?

    • odyssey says:

      Nope. And since he has an h-index well north of 70 I'm not sure he would care.

      • drugmonkey says:

        And since he has an h-index well north of 70 I'm not sure he would care.

        Of course he cares. More importantly, the Disciples-of-WK care about their h-indices. And a rising citation tide lifts all h-indices you know....

  • drugmonkey says:

    Odd, yes?

    Submitting on time? Yes, definitely suspicious.

  • So why invite these reviewers? I know it isn't always possible to avoid, particularly in subfields where everybody knows everybody else, but I try to avoid inviting reviewers that have a connection with the authors on the manuscript, whether it is a former student/postdoc (or in cases where I know it, a former student/postdoc of the arch rival of one of the authors).

    Technically, most journals only consider reviewers as having a conflict if they have co-written a paper with one of the authors in the last few years or so, but I think the mentor/mentee bond can last a lifetime in some cases.

  • Odyssey says:

    Ummm, guys, I think some of you have missed this line:

    "Given that pretty much none of the manuscripts they've reviewed for me in the past have authors from within the group,"

  • E rook says:

    I'm tempted sometimes to ask for feedback from editors. (As a reviewer) I get invited to review for very low IF journals, and generally give authors the benefit of the doubt because I can tell the authors went way down the food chain to get where they are. So I only recommend reject if appears to be outright lies, nonsense, or lacking any controls. I will recommend copious revisions as if I were guiding a student or undergrad in a senior thesis. It seems like more work than reviewers, but it keeps total garbage from the literature while allowing obscure or low import things in. The other reviewers seem to just say things like, "add the following caveats & weaknesses to Discussion, and gtg" I've even gone so far as using the summary statistics reported to make charts showing the data are weaker than the conclusion lets on, but otherwise, the authors aren't lying, and let the editor decide whether to put weak data in their (low status already) journal. It's also why I get angry if a particular paper would have obviously been better if the senior author (who I know) had spent an hour with the ms before letting the grad student/PD submit. They are implicitly getting free labor from me in mentoring their trainees using the inefficient peer review system.

  • Rheophile says:

    I think the dynamic E rook mentions is pretty important. Maybe this isn't one group pushing a subsubfield, but one group who has decided fixing other people's papers in the review process is a waste of time, but that rejecting them isn't the best outcome either. For low-impact journals, I feel like people may culturally be moving toward this norm, where journals are essentially preprint servers.