This would never work - journals only respond to threats to their rankings, not their lives

This would never work – journals only respond to threats to their rankings, not their lives

During the first year of my PhD, I noted a problem with our equipment. For some unknown reason, the sensor component was taking 1+ hours to stabilise on a single value when the machine was first set up. Given that I was just starting out, the idea of adding an hour on to the start of every experiment I did was not something I relished.

So after asking other groups (who saw the same problem but had no solution) and then running a few experiments, I managed to come up with both an explanation and a simple solution to the problem, cutting the 1 hour ‘warmup’ down to just 5 minutes.

I then went back to the various groups and told them this solution – many were pleased to hear it was solved and started adapting their own procedures. Realising that other people might benefit from this discovery, I decided that while it was a small piece of work it would be useful to a lot of people. So I wrote a short technical note and sent it off to the most suitable journal I could find (journal A). Their response:

The editors consider your submitted manuscript outside of the remit of the journal.

Okay. I don’t want to name names here but it was a journal that dealt quite a bit with various sensor techniques and methods, but fair enough – plenty more subject specific journals to try; and next on my list was journal B.

While both reviewers were broadly positive about this work, we do not feel that it is a good fit for journal B. We would suggest you consider submitting this manuscript for publication in journal C.

Right… okay, slight improvement – at least this time they sent it out for review before knocking it back, which was good for us (nice to get some detailed feedback) but I’m not really sure why they reviewed it before making what kind of felt like an editorial decision.

With the next journal (journal C) I figured that ahead of sending it (as suggested) I thought it might be a good idea to contact the editors directly and make sure that my submission was going to even have a chance.

While interesting and certainly useful to other users of this method, there is currently no mechanism at journal C for the publications of technical notes. Would you consider expanding the work to encompass all possible materials and types of sensor variation.

My answer to this (all be it quietly to myself) was – not a chance. While I would love to write an in-depth analysis and comprehensive paper on this subject, that wasn’t really what I was trying to do here – I just wanted to solve one significant problem, not ALL the problems. What they are asking is realistically about 6 months work!

At this point, after 3 journals, I have to confess that I had given up. My colleague and co-author however, had a bit more fight left and sent it off to one last journal (journal D) who swiftly (after 4 months) replied with:

The reviewer does not think that this work is suitable for publication in Journal D and recommends submitting it to either Journal B or Journal C who would be more interested in this type of work.


So I give up! The work seems well received by the reviewers that actually get to read it. Other LB groups have expressed interest in seeing it published and the work is of great value to anyone using the sensors I talk about. But no one will publish it. Scientific publishing at its best.

But despite being a broken man, I am not quite prepared to throw in the towel just yet. While clearly getting this work published in a journal is not going to happen (short of starting my own) I still have one option open to me – self publication.

I am going to re-write the paper in a less-journal-paper language and post it up on this blog as a white paper for anyone to freely download and use. I’ll even publish all the raw data etc up on figshare. It’ll take a couple of weeks to sort out but I hope to put it up next week, if not sooner. While the paper has certainly been peer reviewed (so many times) I will of course also enable commenting so that anyone with a concern or question about the work can share it with others.

Update: Okay so in my ranty rage I totally forgot about loads of other open publishing routes that I could try, such as PeerJ, arXiv and BMC Research Notes. I’m going to investigate those as they might be an even better solution. Hat tip: @Protohedgehog, @sennoma and @I_am_grand

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Peter Binfield · 25 September 2013 at 16:41

Matthew, sorry you had that experience at those journals. One other option is to submit to a PrePrint server such as PeerJ PrePrints ( of course. With PeerJ PrePrints, your work can be up and online in 24 hours and you can also solicit feedback from your community.

frank Davis · 27 January 2016 at 14:19

Oh yes, I remember that. Simple problem, simple solution but nobody publishes notes. My thoughts are that although people would read and use these types of notes, they don’t reference them so notes have minimal contribution to impact factor

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