Journal editors – unregulated and unmonitored

HI Friends

I’ve been quiet for a couple of months – summer schedule and all – and wanted to get back to the blogosphere. I’ll try and be more diligent.

Many strange things have been brought to my attention over the summer, but I thought I would start with a more personal experience. That way, if anyone want’s to comment, at least one side of the equation is available.

Last spring we sent a paper in to an unnamed FT50 journal. Normally, these top journals reply within three months – at least – that has been my experience until now, for the most part. One consequence of the enhanced competitive environment is that journal editors seem to invite submissions by promising faster turn around.

In any case, a full six months went by, without hearing from the journal. As a result, I contacted the editor directly.  The editor immediately responded, on a Friday,  by saying “I should have contacted him earlier” and that he would ‘get on it’. By Monday, we had our rejection, along with only one review, and a note from the editor saying he was unable to get a second review. He didn’t even bother adding his own comments to the rejection letter. Needless to say, the first review was not very helpful, but that is beside the point. This little exchange once again brings me to question the authority, transparency, and lack of professionalism sometime exhibited by editors of even top journals. One cannot help wondering, given the importance of these gate-keeping roles, how it happens that we have processes that appear cavalier, with no recourse regarding accountability, transparency, appeal, or arbitration. In this particular case, my career does not hinge on the outcome – but I must report – in many cases where individual careers are in jeopardy, I have more often observed arrogance than compassion.

So, this brings me to raise an important question – and I must highlight – this question does NOT apply to Academy of Management journals, where transparency and fairness seems to be much more institutionalized.

Who appoints these people as editors?

Who governs their behavior?

Why do we allow autocratic and incompetent behavior by editors, even of prestigious journals?

In my view, we have a serious professional need for an equivalent of ‘rate my professor’ for academic journals. Such an idea was posed a few years ago in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Robert Deaner who called for a “consumer reports for journals”. We could monitor and evaluate the review process, the editorial process, the time taken, and other aspects of peer review. If anyone is interested in starting such an activity, please let me know – as I think we really need some monitoring out there.

Happy Research!



4 thoughts on “Journal editors – unregulated and unmonitored”

  1. Hello Benson and welcome back! As one of those editors (I co-edit the Journal of Management Education), we as a management education & development (MED) community have been engaged very intentionally in just what you’re calling for: transparency, service to authors, and taking our gate-keeping role very seriously. There are efforts already begun to make our practices, and both authors’ and reviewers’ experiences with our journals, much more open to scrutiny and examination. One that we are just starting to be involved with is Reviewers and authors can search by title, and rate the authoring experience on many constructs, not the least of which are the aspects you include in the post. And, in real life, we and our AEs run about 20-25 “Roadshows” every year, all over the world, where we engage with authors in the service of helping increase their chances for being published in our journal. By doing so, we meet our authoring community where they are: no hiding behind editorial systems.
    We agree, fully, that the process deserves much more transparency. I would be curious to see if anyone out there has used SciRev and what their experiences have been.

  2. Hi Benson,

    Some colleagues and I had a similar unfair (albeit more positive, though not good) experience earlier this year. We submitted to a reputable journal in December 2015. We waited. In April 2016 we followed up with the editor to see if there was any movement (the submission system still said awaiting reviewer selection). We received no response. We followed up again in May 2016 one last time after agreeing to give it one more shot before formally withdrawing the submission. The editor then responded it was under review and we would have feedback in 1-2 weeks. Nothing came. We followed up again in July and within 24 hours of sending the editor an email we received an acceptance decision. Never did we receive reviewer feedback nor did we make any revisions. We just got an acceptance out of the gate. This journal is 40+ years old, is published by a major publisher, is ranked an “A” on the ABDC list, is included in SCOPUS and on ABS, has a >1 impact factor, claims to have a ~15% acceptance rate, and states online it follows the COPE guidelines. The paper certainly could have been improved by a fair peer review process, and it wasn’t special enough nor perfect enough to warrant an editorial accept sans any sort of observed peer review.


  3. Thanks, colleagues, for your thoughtful reply. Kathy, thanks for reminding me that 1) many editors do a great job (I was an editor for 7 years, and hope that I was a decent scholar at the job) and 2) about Scirev (I am a registered user) and it is a good start. What it doesn’t do, as yet, is open up the door to who becomes an editor and how – or in providing direction if abuse is observed – it mostly focuses on the review process itself. However, it’s a great start – and yes, one can add comments – so let’s all use sci-rev as a beginning (note – it is still very emergent, and many journals have no data as yet). As a follow up – I noted sci-rev is planning to experiment with a paid reviewer process. THAT should be interesting!

    As to E’s post regarding acceptance – here at least an editor seems to demonstrate a conscience, although clearly a misdirected one. Given the odds of getting an A publication these days (typically less than 10%) one wonders if our publications are rife with ‘merciful mistakes’ of one sort or another than transpire. More importantly, your post is a rare acknowledgement that the system is failing us, even when one receives a positive answer.

  4. Thanks both Benson and E for the conversation. I also want to acknowledge E’s experience as a rare glimpse into a broken process even with a ‘happy’ ending. And definitely: reviewing journal editors’ and reviewers’ behaviors toward authors is important, but it’s ex post. The process by which editors are chosen needs more robust infrastructure. At any journal, and certainly at JME, the Board looks for people who have published in, reviewed for, and ideally associate-edited (see how I made that a verb?) for the journal to be the next EIC. That makes much sense, serving those in that disciplinary community well from both content and process perspectives. There is, of course, the insularity that comes from such an approach that should be discussed more freely and frequently.

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