[This is one of a series of entries I will be writing about the job of editing a peer-reviewed journal.]
Sometimes at a conference, I joke that if you hear maniacal laughter coming from my room, JAWRA’s rejection rate is going up again. Joking aside, turning down manuscripts is an unpleasant necessity of my job. We got 248 submittals last year, and have room to publish about 117. You can do the math.
Many manuscripts sail through reviews and on to acceptance. A sound first draft draws constructive review comments which the authors incorporate into their next draft. Others travel a much more difficult path.
A few reject decisions are easy. The manuscript may be on an unsuitable subject or execrably poor. Sometimes, reviewers find a fatal flaw and save the author public embarrassment. Foolish or arrogant authors may do themselves a disservice by ignoring their reviewers. I read ‘em so you don’t have to!
Nevertheless, some manuscripts invariably come down to a tough decision. Looking at all the recommendations, I have to weigh the potential value of the science against the likelihood of the authors fixing all the problems. Can this marginal manuscript be upgraded to a publishable paper our readers will treasure? Remember, we only have room for so many articles.
I realize authors have worked hard to produce a manuscript up to this point. What do I really owe the authors? Nothing more or less than an honest, informed decision. Honest means I take the manuscript at face value looking how it would stand as an independent article. Informed means considering all the available information from reviews and Associate Editor recommendations. If I’ve done all my homework in this regard, I make my best decision and move on.
Maybe it’s a defense mechanism, a way of coping with the necessary bad news I have to deliver, but I sometimes surprise myself with how little I think of past decisions. Lest I give the impression editing is gloomy, one of joys is seeing solid reviews turn a good manuscript into a great paper!
I know I don’t get all the calls right. But, if I follow good practices, I don’t worry about it.