In our March “how can we help you?” thread, a grad student writes:
I have had multiple incidents of getting “too late” reviews. I foresee that this will keep occurring because the wait times at top journals can be extremely long and the reject rates are extremely high. I was wondering how does one deal with such cases and if there are any strategies with avoiding such scenarios. Sending to lower ranked journals with fast times isn’t an option for me because I’m at a top-5 programme and I face a two-body problem (and so need excellent publications to stand a good chance at solving my two-body problem).
1. The typical ‘you got scooped’.
I send out my paper from 1 journal, to the next. Some journals took incredibly long, like 7 mths, and even 1 yr to review (these were the first-round review times). Now, after 2.5 yrs later (the 5th journal I’m trying), I get a reject. The reviewer says that a similar idea has already published more than a year ago, and so my paper won’t contribute to the literature. Should I give up on this paper?
2. The author changed their views.
Philosopher X argues for theory T1 and argues on various desiderata that T1 is superior to T2. Various philosophers respond by trying to show how T2 can also accommodate the desiderata. My paper goes further to show that T1 cannot accommodate the desiderata for the very reasons that X thinks that T2 cannot accommodate the desiderata. I send out my paper from 1 journal, to the next. 2 years later (at the 4th journal I’m trying), I get a reject. The reviewers say that if my paper were sent earlier it would be accepted without revisions. However, philosopher X has changed their views about a year ago. So, my criticisms of T1 are no longer relevant. The debate is no longer between T1 and T2.
I really empathize with this student’s predicament. I got scooped in a similar way in grad school, so this is something that I worried about lot early in my career after grad school as well. The peer review process can be so long, and so unpredictable, and when so many people in the profession are working on similar problems, it’s hard not to worry about other people publishing arguments like yours before you do. As for authors changing their views, this isn’t a problem that I’ve encountered, but I definitely see the issue. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that I have any great tips. My strategy was to shoot for lower-ranked journals where I could get my stuff out more quickly, but as the OP states this doesn’t seem like a viable path forward for them. The only other tips that I can think of, unfortunately, are for the author to check to see whether the reviewer for paper 1 is right that the paper is too similar to one that already came out, and if not, to keep sending it out. Otherwise, I was always told that the only other path forward is to keep writing new papers. But of course this strategy just runs into the same problem: your new papers might get scooped as well. This is, as I see it, mostly just a really unfortunate feature of peer-review today that we all deal with. It makes peer-review itself quite a bit of a lottery–which is unfortunate in that it makes our careers even more highly dependent on luck than they already are.
What do you all think? Do any of you have any better, more helpful tips for dealing with these issues?
Originally appeared on The Philosophers’ Cocoon Read More