18 April 2011

My previously reported message to Springer, announcing that my paper was no longer on offer to them, was sent at 7:03 PM PDT on 28 March. (My last entry on the history of the submission was posted a couple of minutes later.) At 7:31 PM PDT, I received the fastest reply that I'd got from Springer:

We are extremely sorry for the delay.

I have not yet received any response from the editor in this regard.

However, I have taken your mail with high priority and will surely inform you about the outcome.

Many thanks for your patience.

As a general matter, it's an interesting tactic to act as if someone has not made a declaration that one doesn't want them to have made, in the hope that it will be rescinded de facto; sometimes that tactic works. But, while I would have been open to Springer's negotiating for the article, I continued to operate on the presumption that the paper would have to be submitted elsewhere.

I changed various things (largely as I'd indicated at the end of my previous entry on the paper), and began looking for-and-over a list of other journals to which I might submit it. (Unsurprisingly, I no longer considered any of those published by Springer to be candidates.)

Meanwhile, I noted that Springer's Editorial Manager continued to list my paper as Under review, and offered me no way of changing its status to indicate that it was not available for consideration. This creäted a potential problem. Typically, simultaneous submission of an article is not acceptable; and, while the article would not in fact have been simultaneously submitted, there was an all-too-plausible scenario under which it could appear to be.

Assuming that the handling editor at Springer has not been even more negligent than he appears to have been, there has been — and should be expected to continue to be — a very real problem finding reviewers for my paper. When the next journal begins looking for reviewers, they will be looking at largely the same pool. I could envision a reviewer saying Wait! I am already reviewing that paper for Theory and Decision! and an ugly mess ensuing.

To-day, at 12:39 PM, I sent the following to the Springer JEO Assistant, with a CC to the Editor-in-Chief,

On 28 March, I informed you that I was no longer offering this paper to you. However, I note that Editorial Manager continues to list it as "Under review", with seemingly no option for me as an author to stop that.

On 23 April, I will be submitting the latest version of the paper to another journal. If indeed this paper is somehow now in the hands of reviewers for Springer, then there is the unfortunate possibility that this other journal would call upon exactly the same reviewers. As I do not want the inappropriate conclusion to be drawn that the paper is being simultaneously submitted, you must contact any reviewers before 23 April, and inform them that the paper was withdrawn from your consideration on 28 March.

If the institutional arrangement there is such that handling editors do not tell you who in particular is reviewing a paper, then you are going to need make a sort of general announcement, as you plainly cannot rely upon the handling editor to act.

At 1:00 PM (even faster!), the following arrived:

I have received the decision from the Editor on your manuscript, THEO789 "Indifference, Indecision, and Coin-Flipping"

With regret, I must inform you that the Editor has decided that your manuscript cannot be accepted for publication in Theory and Decision.

Below, please find the comments for your perusal.

I would like to thank you very much for forwarding your manuscript to us for consideration and wish you every success in finding an alternative place of publication.

There were, in fact, no comments what-so-ever below. We may reasonably infer that they were not so much omitted by the JEO Assistant as simply never made in the first place.

It's of course somewhat offensive that Springer has the felt need to suggest, even pro forma, that they rejected an article which was not theirs to reject. But, at least, I can move on to the next submission without the worry that I'll be accused of unethical behavior.

Anyway, as I indicated to them, the paper will be submitted to a different journal on Saturday.

Up-Date (2011:04/19): This morning, my e.mail included five more messages from the Springer JEO Assistant, all from within a span of two minutes. The first was a CC of a message to the Editor-in-Chief,

Please find the mail below from [confused rendering of my name] who is willing to withdraw the paper.

Kindly let me know if I can set the final disposition in EM as “Withdrawn”.

Thank you very much and looking forward to your response.

This was followed then by three messages directed at my e.mail system as such, attempting to un-deliver that first message (something that some systems permit), then a message

Thank you for your mail.

The editor has rendered the decision for your paper.

Curious, I have checked the Editorial Manager status for the paper, which remains that of alleged rejection, rather than of withdrawal.

I'd already suspected that the last message from yester-day had not actually come from the JEO Assistant, though the e.mail address was hers, and that it was likely to have been an automated result of someone else entering a rejection into Editorial Manager. Beyond that, I don't know what here is mindlessness and what here is editorial pique.

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2 Responses to Closure

  • borky says:

    Daniel, I've been following your travails in this particular area for a while now, and I wonder if you've read Richard Smith's Classical peer review: an empty gun, yet, (located here, which basically wales on every spectrum of peer review.

    Here's the Electric Universe's take on it:

    • Daniel says:

      I'd not read either Smith's article nor the Electric Universe take on things before now. Thanks for the links.

      There's actually a fair amount of hand-wringing going-on about peer-review (or what Smith more precisely calls pre-publication peer review). See, for example, recent issues of American Scientist. But I'd agree that most scientist have not scientifically examined how the significance of its associated problems might rank.

      In any case, the ultimate response from most scientists would be What else you got?, a response that is used with respect to other matters as well. (For example, there are more problems at the foundations of statistical theory than most people imagine.)

      Peer-review is really the use of Athenian democracy; a tiny jury of experts is recruited, and vote. Unless the experts apply scientific criteria, the process is not itself science at all; and, quite frequently, they do not.

      One very real problem is a lack of agreement on what scientific criteria might be, which lack is not likely to be filled anytime soon. Practicing researchers tend to be philosophically unsophisticated, and unable to choose rationally amongst philosophies of science.

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