Arg. I've been going back and forth in my brain as to whether or not to actually post this, because I'd like to think that I'm self-aware enough to know to keep the whining to a minimum. Everyone has their publishing struggles.
This blog is about my career. And while I wish every aspect of my career could be described using only self-deprecating humor and charming stories re: The Follies of Youth, that's just not the way it works. In the immortal words of PhysioProf, Academic Science is not a Care Bears Fucking Tea Party, and never is that more patently clear than when you're approaching the one-year anniversary of the submission of a manuscript to a journal that is still reviewing it.
So be warned, and get your dialing fingers ready: someone needs a waaahmbulance. Read at your own discretion.
There's this paper, you see. A paper that contains nearly three years of work--novel, rigorous, and award-winning-at-conferences work--that I submitted for publication to a medium-high impact journal nearly one year ago. I'd just had a related paper accepted relatively easily in this journal, and thought they'd be happy to have the follow-up, which was much more interesting. The reviewers' comments were brief and favorable, with one saying they'd like a histological figure demonstrating that our surgeries were accurate, and the other saying--literally--that they were "unable to find any methodological problems with the study," but that they'd like a list of abbreviations. The paper was rejected.
Now, I know that a journal isn't obligated to take the advice of the reviewers, but I feel like if they're going to do that, you should at least get some kind of explanation for the glaring discrepancy between reviewer comments and editor's decision, instead of the form rejection letter stating that the reviewers had substantial concerns when that was obviously not the case. My PI and I were floored that such positive reviews could result in an outright rejection, and we naturally wrote a very polite "WTF???" (if I may paraphrase) letter to the editor, asking that he reconsider and allow us to resubmit. He said sure, but we'd have to change the title and he'd be sending it out to a new set of reviewers. We agreed, but we shouldn't have.
The next review took 3.5 months. Three and a half months!! An entire season came and went, and I could do nothing but sit and wait like a chump. When the decision finally came back, it had comments from FIVE reviewers. FIVE!! Much more critical and lengthy than before, but not rejected this time. We could only conclude, then, that this journal makes its decisions not according to the reviewers' comments, but through randomized-trial questioning of the Magic 8-ball.
Reply hazy, try again.
Cannot predict now.
Outlook not so good.
After a thorough revision we resubmitted, and waited another 2 months. This time, the non-rejection decision letter came with a loooong message from the managing editor claiming that despite all of our revisions the paper was still not satisfactory, and for him to accept it as it was, he would have to lower the standards of the journal. Really, was that necessary? He could have just said, "one of our reviewers still has several concerns that need to be addressed," but he just had to be a dick about it. He also demonstrated that, after what was now almost 10 months of dealing with a paper titled "Factor Q affects factor R in brain region A," he was under the impression that we were studying brain region Z.
Now, I do not toss around the term douchebag lightly, but seriously. This guy and his inflated ego can't even manage to read the title of my paper, and then feels it appropriate to condescend like that? I'd have loved to be able to just say "fuck 'em" and try a different journal, but after so much time had gone by, I didn't think I could risk going through it all again somewhere else. So back in it went after another revison...and we're still waiting.
The problem is that in a lot of ways, my career is hinging on this paper. It contains half of the work I've done as a post-doc, and until it's published, I'm not going to look like a super-productive scientist. The fact that it was reviewed so favorably the first time around but not given an opportunity for a "revise and re-review" is killing me, because things might be so different for me now.
I know that journals don't owe any single author anything, but the lack of accountability in the publishing process is really frustrating. That a journal can allow its reviewers to take nearly 4 months to submit their comments is ludicrous, and that a managing editor feels it appropriate to write a misinformed, insulting, and all-around unprofessional decision letter is, frankly, outrageous. What's worse is that in taking so long with each review, they've put me in a position where there's nothing I can do but sit there and take it. I'm their bitch. Boo.
Erm...thanks for listening to me rant. It felt good to get it all off my chest and down in writing, because when I try to talk about it, I'm often unable to speak.
The Plight of the Post-Doc