We will no longer provide peer reviews for Royal Society journals until they adopt honest editorial policies

October 5, 2012

If you haven’t already read the last post, please go do so before reading this one. Please also see this response from the editorial office of Biology Letters.

I’ve discussed all of what follows with Mike and in this post I speak for both of us.

To briefly recap: like many (but not all) journals, Biology Letters and at least some other Royal Society journals publish dates of manuscript submission and acceptance with each published paper (see an example at the bottom of the first page of this recent paper). Submission-to-publication dates are ostensibly useful for establishing priority in the case of research groups knowingly or unknowingly competing, and for potential authors and others who want to compare the turnaround times at various journals, especially journals like Biology Letters that pride themselves on rapid turnaround. In both cases, the date of interest is the date of initial submission of a manuscript. And since the submission dates quoted by Biology Letters are identified only as “Received [date]“, one would normally assume that that represents the date of initial submission.

But it does not.

At a typical journal a paper deemed worthy of publication by the reviewers would be sent back to the authors for revision, and if the revised manuscript is approved by the editor it may be accepted for publication in the journal. The sequence of events is the same at Biology Letters, but the labels are changed. In the case currently under discussion, a paper that three reviewers recommended for publication (“as it is”, “in essentially its current form”, and with a recommended change to a single paragraph) was rejected, and the rejection letter to the authors made the blatantly false claim that the rejection “has been taken on the advice of referees, who have recommended that substantial revisions are necessary.” That’s a lie, plain and simple.

The authors did “resubmit”–meaning that they performed the minimal revisions and sent the manuscript back, which at any typical journal would not be considered a new submission, and the paper was published by the journal, but with the “Received” date being that of the return of the revised manuscript, not the initial submission. This fudging of the numbers massively shortens the perceived turnaround time of the journal–in the current case, by 60%. As Mike succinctly put it in the last post, “We have the journal lying to authors about the status of their manuscripts so that it can then lie to the readers about its turnaround times. That’s deeply screwed up.”

The editorial office of Biology Letters has now responded to explain their policy. Here’s the relevant section in full:

We receive a huge number of submissions to Biology Letters and competition is intense, with the vast majority of papers being rejected. Therefore, we provide the option of ‘reject and invite resubmission’ to provide editors with the facility to invite resubmission of papers which show great promise but are not publishable in their present form. We believe that authors value this option – it is better than outright rejection and having to start the process again with another journal. The paper is technically a new submission so the time starts again.

So, two problems here. First, they’re taking something that’s clearly negative–lying to authors about their manuscript status so they can fudge their turnaround times–and presenting it as if it is a positive thing. As if the only alternative is to reject any paper that isn’t completely perfect the first time with no possibility of resubmission. As if almost all journals don’t allow authors to revise their work and send it back in without the revised manuscript being considered a new submission. As if they’re not doing the exact same thing that all other journals do in practice, but changing the meaning of the words to make themselves look better–and more to the point, faster. So in the case of the Klein et al. paper, “reject” actually means “accept essentially as-is”, “on the advice of referees” means “in direct contradiction of the advice of the referees”, “received” means “whenever we got the revised version back that we intended to publish”, and “a new submission” means “a resubmission of revised manuscript that changed very little from the initial submission”.

And this from the Royal Society, part of the same nation that produced Orwell.

Second problem is the last line of the section quoted above: “The paper is technically a new submission so the time starts again.” Well, let’s unpack that. In this case “technically” means using the new, counter-intuitive and indeed counter-factual definitions of the terms given above–or what in common parlance we would again call lying. And “so the time starts again” is incomplete; what they obviously mean but do not go on to say is “so the time starts again so that our perceived turnaround time can be as short as 40% of the actual turnaround time at a journal that didn’t fudge its numbers.”

Or, if we accept the obvious fiction that the revised manuscript is “a new submission”, then it would seem that this newly submitted manuscript gets accepted without peer review. As Mickey Mortimer explained in a comment on the previous post:

If the resubmitted paper “is technically a new submission” so that it deserves a new ‘submitted on’ date, shouldn’t it also be peer reviewed again by experts? If the peer reviewers’ original comments are really all that is needed, then surely the new paper can’t be that different from the old one, and should thus have the old submission date attached. If the new paper was actually substantially different, I’d say it hasn’t been properly peer reviewed.

So, either Biology Letters is publishing newly submitted manuscripts without having put them through peer review (what they rather bizarrely claim to have done), or they’re just lying by referring to revised manuscripts as “new submissions” (what they’ve actually done). They can’t have it both ways.

All in all, this response from the Biology Letters editorial office is about the most empty piece of writing I have seen outside of politics or postmodernism. If you dig through the banal reassuring verbiage, you find that they just restate their crimes in terms that sound positive, like when the US Department of Defense used to describe radiation exposure in “sunshine units“. I am disappointed–by the specific treatment of Klein et al. in the case of the current paper, in the discovery that this is not an isolated incident but is in fact journal policy, and in the pathetically transparent non-response of the editorial office.

What to do, what to do.

In looking back over my notes, I see that 12 of the 64 peer reviews I have performed to date in my career have been for Royal Society journals, either Proceedings B or Biology Letters. In fact, in 2009 I was named one of their “Top Reviewers” because of the number of reviews I performed that year. They sent me a certificate and everything. Of Mike’s 16 peer reviews, 4 have been for Royal Society journals. So we are stakeholders in this process. We invest considerable time and mental energy in reading manuscripts and providing the most thoughtful and constructive reviews that we can. The Royal Society benefits from this unpaid effort, in that editors get our expert opinions on which manuscript are acceptable for publication, and authors–the actual lifeblood of any journal–get feedback that hopefully makes their work better.

We’re not going to continue to invest that effort in an organization that has a deliberate policy of lying to authors about reviews and lying to everyone about the speed of manuscript turnaround. Until the Royal Society adopts more honest editorial policies, we will no longer perform peer reviews for papers submitted to Royal Society journals. We encourage anyone who currently reviews for Royal Society journals to join us. If you’re an author considering sending your work to a Royal Society journal, ask yourself whether you want to have your paper spuriously and dishonestly rejected just so the journal can fudge its numbers. If you’re a reviewer, ask yourself whether you want your laboriously constructed report to be ignored by the editor, even when it agrees with those of the other reviewers.

Members of the Biology Letters editorial office, and members of the Royal Society at large, we welcome your comments.

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30 Responses to “We will no longer provide peer reviews for Royal Society journals until they adopt honest editorial policies”


  1. Well said!

    In fact, the reply by the BL editors angers me more than their numbers fudging. How can they really believe that they can lie to our faces and get away with it? Scientists are very good at picking apart texts, and those guys should know that.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I just realized something even worse about this. You said that Biology Letters treats each resubmitted manuscript as a separate submission, correct? With its own submission date?

    Well, what if a paper is submitted to a journal like Biology Letters, and then receives the “reject and resubmit” response. However, between this rejection and the resubmission of the paper (where it is essentially accepted as is), someone else publishes a paper on the same subject in a different journal with a faster turnaround time (say PLoS ONE, for example). Who published on this first? The manuscript accepted date for the first article is later than the second one, but at the same time the first paper was in peer-review first and was essentially “accepted” before the second was even published.

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    Right. It’s a real problem.

    Heinrich Mallison suggested on his own blog that another motivation for this behaviour might be to increase the apparent rejection rate — double it, in fact — and so the perceived prestige of the journal. (Not that I see what is so great about a high rejection rate myself, but I know that a lot of people do.)

  4. David Marjanović Says:

    Well, a high rejection rate can mean that the journal is so prestigious that it gets a lot more submissions than it has space to publish. Some people will then want to send their manuscripts there, because if it’s prestigious, it must be good (right?) – especially if you think your manuscript is awesome enough to pass the awesomely high standards of the journal in question (…or if you were the best man at the chief editor’s wedding).


  5. Yeah, rejection rates are stupid as no fat milk, but some people thrive on them for exactly the reason David described.

  6. Nathan Myers Says:

    Curiously, the expression “more honest” (about matching “honester”, which has since declined) came into use only about 1795:

    http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=more+honest%2Chonester&year_start=1780&year_end=1820&corpus=0&smoothing=3

    Until then it was like “more unique”, which still hasn’t really caught on.

    This is a roundabout way of suggesting that RS journals be snubbed until they can be honest, not just honester.

  7. Anne Weil Says:

    Anonymous (above) has put his or her finger on the thing that I find troubling.

    I’m not sure who puts a lot of faith in journals’ statistics about themselves (or any institution’s statistics about itself, in the U.S.*), though I’m sure someone does. But it’s not hard to imagine the situation in which this policy could put an author at an unfair disadvantage.

    *I generally believe the SVP. :-)


  8. [...] response to our recent post about reject-when-you-mean-revise and submission-date massaging at Royal Society journals, Susie Maidment tweeted: @H_Mallison as [...]

  9. Paul Barrett Says:

    In the case of a recent submission I made, our paper was rejected with the option to resubmit. In our case, one referee had very minor comments, whereas the other had some more substantial criticisms that were effectively a moderate to major revision. It took us around a month to revise it (needed some additional phylogenetic work and some changes to the text and supplementary info). It was resubmitted and re-reviewed. Following this it was accepted subject to some minor copy-editing changes.

    As background for the following, I am on the Editorial Board of Biology Letters and have handled around 90 MSs for the journal. My role is to assess MSs that come in on palaeo topics (I am one of three palaeo editors on the board) and decide whether they are interesting and sound enough for review and then recommend referees. I do not see the MSs again after this point in most cases (the assigning of referees and decisions are made by one or two decision editors, who are senior biologists, and the Senior Editor, who is a very eminent population geneticist), though I am informed of the final decisions. I only see the MSs again if i) they need a specialist referee and can’t get one else to referee the MS in the very short period allowed for review (two weeks, I think – it is rare that I am asked to do this) or ii) if the referees are in conflict and I am asked to act as an adjudicator (more common). In the latter sense, I am treated as an additional referee, not a decision editor, and the overall editor takes my review (of the MS and my comments on the other referee’s comments) into consideration in making the final decision.

    Biology Letters is genuinely very fast: the editorial office generally gets stuff out to review within a few days of receipt (most editors turn their requests around very quickly), review periods are short, and decisions occur within hours to days or reviews coming back in.

    Following from the comments on your blog I think it’s worth bearing the following in mind:
    1. The journal aspires to really high standards and only wants to publish the most interesting papers it receives. A significant proportion (around 50%) of MSs are rejected prior to review.
    2. Because of these high standards, the bar is set differently from many specialist journals. ‘Minor Revisions’ in the journal’s view (as far as I can tell) are essentially typos and maybe changes to the odd sentence. ‘Major Revisions’ is essentially any substantive change to content. In papers of only 1,500 words, even changes to a single paragraph are proportionally larger changes than in a standard length specialist journal paper.
    3. Most journals treat the ‘Major Revision’ option as a ‘soft reject’. This is because, most will re-review at this point as there are substantive changes in content that result from the revisions that need to be checked by specialist referees. As a result, decision emails announcing Major Revisions generally make clear that there is no guarantee a paper will be accepted following revision, whereas the language is generally much more positive for Minor Revisions. Moreover, authors are capable of adding in errors during revisions (this happens more frequently than you might think, as people add things in they didn’t mention in the original submission as other new things occur to them or they misinterpret/misanalyse some of the new information added in the revision).
    4. In the case of Biology Letters, as standards are high, a Major Revision decision is effectively the same as the Reject, Resubmit option. The latter requires substantive changes and gives no guarantee of acceptance. Reject and resubmit isn’t offered as an option to referees, but is offered as an option to the editors. Hence, if referees recommend Major Revision, the practical implication of this is a Reject, resubmit for an editor. Some authors at this stage decline from resubmitting, as also happens in some cases at specialist journals when a Major Revision option is returned (JVP for example, has no Reject, resubmit option, but uses Major Revision to manage the process in exactly the same way).
    5. Some people already commented on this, but in the case of the example you used, the editor might feel that although each referee indicated Minor Revisions, these revisions did not overlap to the extent that taken together the revisions request in total were more than a minor revision (i.e., referees A, B, and C request changes X, Y, and Z, all of which are different). Moreover, referees do use the confidential comments box and their criticisms there are often blunter than those in the text sent to the authors. This can be for various reasons, either not to give offence or to protect confidentiality for some information. Examples of the latter could include potential legal conflicts, flagging possible plagarism or exploitation of junior lab members, inappropriateness of data repositories, mentioning unpublished conflicts of interest, etc. The list is quite long and snarky comments of a more personal nature are really rare in my experience and are usually strikingly obvious to editors.

    One other thing you queried in your Blog piece was whether submissions by Biology Letter editors are treated in the same way as submissions by other people: they are, as my opening paragraph notes.

    Overall, I thought the tone of the discussion following the comments posted here stems from some misunderstanding of what the difference is between the various options available to editors actually mean and how they are used in practice. I don’t think Biology Letters is misleading anyone and hopefully the above explains why the Reject, resubmit option is, actually, essentially the same as a Major Revision option at a specialist journal. Major Revisions at other journals are treated as new submissions too – it comes down to whether a particular journal treats the option as a ‘soft reject’ or not. The main benefit I see from the discussion you started is whether or not all journals should treat a Major Revision option in the same way – either as a totally new submission (as in Biology Letters) or one that might extend the handling time of a MS, but still ultimately lead to possible rejection (as at JVP).

  10. Mike Taylor Says:

    Many thanks to Paul for his detailed response to our complaints here. I will also mention that I’ve been in conversation with another representative of the journal — I’ll write about that separately. It’s good to know that the Royal Society is listening.

    To respond to a few of Paul’s points:

    In the case of a recent submission I made, our paper was rejected with the option to resubmit. In our case, one referee had very minor comments, whereas the other had some more substantial criticisms that were effectively a moderate to major revision. It took us around a month to revise it (needed some additional phylogenetic work and some changes to the text and supplementary info). It was resubmitted and re-reviewed. Following this it was accepted subject to some minor copy-editing changes.

    Given that in this case the paper did need non-trival work, that doesn’t seem unreasonable. (I’d still say it’s a bit off to say “reject” when you mean “accept with major revisions”, but I suppose that boils down to nomenclature.)

    One of the key points here is that your resubmission went out to peer-review — showing that it really was treated as a new submission. In the case of the Klein et al. paper that I wrote about, the editor approved the resubmission immediately without reference to the reviewers, proving that “reject” to the be the sham that it was.

    Biology Letters is genuinely very fast: the editorial office generally gets stuff out to review within a few days of receipt (most editors turn their requests around very quickly), review periods are short, and decisions occur within hours to days or reviews coming back in.

    Yes, it is fast. Which makes it all the more mystifying to me the they apparently see a need to falfisfy times that are already fast. The Klein et al. paper went from initial submission to acceptance in something like 58 days. That’s good going, and something the journal could be legitimately proud of.

    A good fix would simply be for the article to list three dates instead of two: initial submission, revision, and acceptance.

    2. Because of these high standards, the bar is set differently from many specialist journals. ‘Minor Revisions’ in the journal’s view (as far as I can tell) are essentially typos and maybe changes to the odd sentence. ‘Major Revisions’ is essentially any substantive change to content. In papers of only 1,500 words, even changes to a single paragraph are proportionally larger changes than in a standard length specialist journal paper.

    Even by those standards, what the reviewers requested for Klein et al. were only minor changes. I don’t know whether as a BL editor you have access to the reviews, but if you do, I think you’ll agree when you take a look.

    4. In the case of Biology Letters, as standards are high, a Major Revision decision is effectively the same as the Reject, Resubmit option. The latter requires substantive changes and gives no guarantee of acceptance. Reject and resubmit isn’t offered as an option to referees, but is offered as an option to the editors. Hence, if referees recommend Major Revision, the practical implication of this is a Reject, resubmit for an editor. Some authors at this stage decline from resubmitting, as also happens in some cases at specialist journals when a Major Revision option is returned (JVP for example, has no Reject, resubmit option, but uses Major Revision to manage the process in exactly the same way).

    The thing is, “reject” just doesn’t mean the same thing as “accept with major revisions”. It just doesn’t. So we have to ask why the journal is saying one thing when it means the opposite? And when I asked myself that earlier in this saga, I just couldn’t find any other answer than “to game the statistics”.

    I am honestly keen to know if there is any other reason?

    (Don’t forget, too, that in defending BL’s standard practice as calling Accept With Major Revisions by the name Reject, you don’t address what happened in this case: which, to recap, was that all three reviewers said Accept With Minor Submissions, the editor reported it as Reject On Advice Of Reviewers, and told the author to send a new version which would be reviewed, and then that new versions was accepted without review. As Mickey Mortimer rightly pointed out, either this is lying about the rejection, or a new submission was accepted without peer-review. We could argue about which of those two scenarios would be most distasteful, but I think we can agree that neither represents the high standards we’d expect to see from the Royal Society.

    5. Some people already commented on this, but in the case of the example you used, the editor might feel that although each referee indicated Minor Revisions, these revisions did not overlap to the extent that taken together the revisions request in total were more than a minor revision (i.e., referees A, B, and C request changes X, Y, and Z, all of which are different).

    I accept that this could happen in some cases. But having seen all three reviews I can assure you it’s not what happened here.

    Moreover, referees do use the confidential comments box and their criticisms there are often blunter than those in the text sent to the authors. This can be for various reasons, either not to give offence or to protect confidentiality for some information.

    I know that this was not the case for two of the three reviewers. Of course I can’t know it for the third reviewer, not having been contacted by him or her. But I can tell you it would be completely against the tenor of his or her other comments.

    One other thing you queried in your Blog piece was whether submissions by Biology Letter editors are treated in the same way as submissions by other people: they are, as my opening paragraph notes.

    Yes, I regret having brought this up now. My bad. I never really doubted that editors’ submissions are treated the same as anyone else’s, I was just trying rather hamfistedly to make the point that when an academic body is seen to behave dishonestly in one respect, that perception affects how we see everything else that it does. I want to trust the Royal Society fully. Right now I can’t do that. I hope I soon will be able to.

    Major Revisions at other journals are treated as new submissions too.

    I really don’t think “all the other kids are doing it” is a legitimate line of argument. Even if it’s true, I return to the point that we’d hope and expect the Royal Society to set a higher standard of integrity, not to sink to the less honest level of other publishers.


  11. “we have to ask why the journal is saying one thing when it means the opposite?”

    because it is published and run by people with the mentality of investment bankers – no surprise the same twisting of words is employed in both cases!

    ROFL!!!!!

  12. Mike Taylor Says:

    Because it is published and run by people with the mentality of investment bankers.

    Come on, you don’t really believe that of the Royal Society and the BL editorial board, do you?


  13. No, Mike, that was pure sarcasm. but I do see similarities in the way verbious wordage is used to lie to us. “major revisions” = “reject”? Come on!

    And no, I do not have much respect for the Royal Society. Huge institutions with long traditions develop their own dynamics, and you can never trust these. Look at the fact of every single case, look at the motivations of the individual people. Don’t let yourself be blinded. This is also true, btw, of the MfN or the NHM.

    In this specific case, I do not believe that the Royal Society or the editoral board of BL is full of people of questionable character. And I am sure they will change things pretty soon.


  14. [...] anyone who’s been following this issue should read this lengthy comment from Paul Barrett, who among his other roles is on the Editorial Board of Biology [...]


  15. Oh, and Paul, a high rejection prior to review rate is actually the mark of a journal that wants to be exclusive more than it looks for quality. Effectively, rejection prior to review is nothing but “one (possibly non-peer) man review”. After all, I hope BL is not rejecting paper on racist etc. ground (country of origin, name or gender of the author(s), or based on the editor’s choice of morning drink (“had coffee today, so all papers today will be rejected”), or perceived impact (need I say “new, feathered, theropod, China”?) but based on the CONTENT of the submission.

    50% tells me you’re either getting a whole lot of ridiculous shit submitted, in which you’re having one peer (i.e., one qualified reviewer, who happens to be the editor) do a review, or you’re throwing out a whole lot of good stuff based on one peer review that’s not even detailed. At worst, the editor will not even be a peer, but an expert on something else totally unqualified to review the paper he is tossing out.

  16. Mike Taylor Says:

    Note to self: must around to writing that post on equating “high rejection rate” with “prestigious”.

  17. Heinrich Mallison Says:

    that’s the English equivalent to Berlin German: Get by with incomplete verbs ;)

  18. Paul Barrett Says:

    Hi MIke,

    I said practically everything I wanted to in my earlier post, but a couple of things might need clarification.

    To respond to some of Mike’s comments (and apologies for the disjunct nature of this way of replying):

    “One of the key points here is that your resubmission went out to peer-review — showing that it really was treated as a new submission. In the case of the Klein et al. paper that I wrote about, the editor approved the resubmission immediately without reference to the reviewers, proving that “reject” to the be the sham that it was.”

    Do you know that the Klein paper didn’t go out? I know that in the case of my paper it did go out and the that both referees responded effectively instantly and positively (within just a day or so of the resubmission). It’s entirely possible this also happened with respect to Nicole’s paper – people do sometimes respond that quickly and as I said before the editorial office for the journal is -very- efficient. You’d need to check with the journal what actually happened otherwise this is a surmise on your part.

    “A good fix would simply be for the article to list three dates instead of two: initial submission, revision, and acceptance.”

    I don’t think this is a bad option: in fact, I introduced it at JVP a year or two ago. It actually tends to show the editors in a good light – the lengthiest delays in the process are clearly referee reports/author revision generated in our case rather than editorial delays.

    “Even by those standards, what the reviewers requested for Klein et al. were only minor changes. I don’t know whether as a BL editor you have access to the reviews, but if you do, I think you’ll agree when you take a look.”

    I don’t have access to these comments at all so can’t comment. Even if I could it would be a breach of confidentiality to share other review comments (even if paraphrased) outside of the author/editor/referee pool without explicit permission. Reviews are meant to be confidential after all (there are statements about this in most invitations to review) and sharing that information in the public realm without adequate permissions is not good practice.

    “I know that this was not the case for two of the three reviewers. Of course I can’t know it for the third reviewer, not having been contacted by him or her. But I can tell you it would be completely against the tenor of his or her other comments.”

    Exactly – you don’t know. And I have seen private comments that are much harsher (but equally fair) that the more polite versions people post to the authors. As you don’t know the detailed comments etc. you are not in a position to pass judgement on the tenor of the total comments the editor received. Don’t prejudge the issue without the actual facts.

    “The thing is, “reject” just doesn’t mean the same thing as “accept with major revisions”. It just doesn’t. So we have to ask why the journal is saying one thing when it means the opposite? And when I asked myself that earlier in this saga, I just couldn’t find any other answer than “to game the statistics”.”

    As I said in practical terms these are essentially synonymous – you could equally get rid of one option or the other and the path the article would have to follow to get published would be exactly the same. I thought I made this clear in my earlier post. How difficult is this to get?


  19. Paul, Paul, I am quite disappointed! Do you really think repeating BS makes it any less stinky?

    If ‘reject’ and ‘accept with major revisions’ “are essentially synonymous” – then why does a journals with such high standards as BL insist on having BOTH options? And why do so many other journals treat them differently? And why does nobody with a sound grasp fo the English language every think that ‘rejection’ and ‘acceptance’ are the same thing? If it was so, you’d have the Euro in the UK, I’d be a curator, and my best friend would be married to a Hollywood star.

    That aside, your constant “you can’t know” is also off the facts: the letter to the authors and the journal’s later statement contradicted each other. Nobody needs to prove anything here beyond a reasonable doubt – after all, Mike called BL’s bluff and they replied with an untruth.


  20. and in addition, I must say that I do see a clear place for ‘reject and resubmit’. That’s appropriate if, e.g., the science is good, but the writing horrible and beyond rescue. In such a case it is entirely OK to say “scrap the paper, we do not want it. But we do want you to try again, because there is good substance, which may well be turned into a good paper”.

  21. Mike Taylor Says:

    Just a couple of clarifications. Paul wrote:

    “One of the key points here is that your resubmission went out to peer-review — showing that it really was treated as a new submission. In the case of the Klein et al. paper that I wrote about, the editor approved the resubmission immediately without reference to the reviewers, proving that “reject” to the be the sham that it was.”

    Do you know that the Klein paper didn’t go out? I know that in the case of my paper it did go out and the that both referees responded effectively instantly and positively (within just a day or so of the resubmission). It’s entirely possible this also happened with respect to Nicole’s paper – people do sometimes respond that quickly and as I said before the editorial office for the journal is -very- efficient. You’d need to check with the journal what actually happened otherwise this is a surmise on your part.

    Yes, I do know that the resubmitted paper did not go out to the reviewers — because I am one of them. (Perhaps you missed this part of the initial story? It’s my own involvement as one of the reviewers who recommended only tiny changes that made me react so strongly to misrepresentations in the editor’s letter.)

    I don’t have access to these comments at all so can’t comment. Even if I could it would be a breach of confidentiality to share other review comments (even if paraphrased) outside of the author/editor/referee pool without explicit permission. Reviews are meant to be confidential after all (there are statements about this in most invitations to review) and sharing that information in the public realm without adequate permissions is not good practice.

    Indeed. That’s the only reason I’ve not published the editor’s decision letter and accompanying reviews in full. If I’d been able to do that at the outset, it would have removed 90% of the doubts that various commenters have expressed.

    “The thing is, “reject” just doesn’t mean the same thing as “accept with major revisions”. It just doesn’t. So we have to ask why the journal is saying one thing when it means the opposite? And when I asked myself that earlier in this saga, I just couldn’t find any other answer than “to game the statistics”.”

    As I said in practical terms these are essentially synonymous – you could equally get rid of one option or the other and the path the article would have to follow to get published would be exactly the same. I thought I made this clear in my earlier post. How difficult is this to get?

    It’s clear that you’re saying that “reject” means “accept”. It’s not clear that you’re right.

  22. Paul Barrett Says:

    You (and Heinrich) seem to be conflating ‘major revision’ with ‘accept’. A MS can be rejected at any stage of the process and major revisions may be substantially different from original submissions. Many ‘major revisions’ for many journals are still ultimately rejected and not accepted. A major revision decision is not a provisional accept. Moreover, the referees are only recommending a decision: it is the editor who decides what the actual decision is on the basis of the referee’s reports and their own opinion of a paper.

    Even paraphrasing reviews is a breach of confidentiality.


  23. Paul, twist words all you want – the facts are not on your side. Many journals explicitly use the words “provisionally accepted” for “major revisions”.

  24. Mike Taylor Says:

    Even paraphrasing reviews is a breach of confidentiality.

    That kind of attitude is precisely why problems like this persist unexamined for so long. Confidentiality does much more harm than good — it provides a cloak of secrecy for all kinds of unacceptable practices, and when they are brought to light it allows a means for people to distract attention away from those real issues to the artificial one of confidentiality.

    Our field needs accountability and transparency much more than it needs more secrecy.


  25. Isn’t it nice how one can commit any crime behind the smokescreen of “confidentiality”?


  26. [...] We will no longer provide peer reviews for Royal Society journals until they adopt honest editorial … [...]


  27. [...] And that brings me to peer review–the real “peer” in PeerJ. When you sign up a lifetime membership, you agree to review one paper a year for them to keep your membership active. Certainly not a crushing amount of work, especially since I’ve been averaging 5 or 6 reviews a year for much less congenial outlets. [...]


  28. [...] things that actually hurt science, like rejecting papers because of anticipated sexiness or for other BS reasons, not publishing peer reviews, etc. Happily, now there are better [...]


  29. […] by Royal Society journals (Dear Royal Society, please stop lying to us about publication times; We will no longer provide peer reviews for Royal Society journals until they adopt honest editorial …; Biology Letters does trumpet its submission-to-acceptance time; Lying about submission times at […]


  30. […] as a new manuscript. To be clear–I have no proof this happens,although I note that I’m not the only one raising the possibility. Suffice to say that, personally, I think rejection with invitation to resubmit as a new ms should […]


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