I'll admit that I don’t always see eye-to-eye with journal editors although it has been a while since I last blogged on this theme. Recently we published an article on prediction of alkane/water partition coefficients and, as was noted at the end of the blog post, the article had originally been submitted to another journal which declined to review the submission. Much is written about peer review and, if your manuscript actually gets reviewed, you’ll get a good idea about why the journal said nein. Put another way, there is some accountability even if you don’t like the outcome.
It can be very different when the journal declines to review and I see this as a sort of shadow land in the manuscript review world. You often (usually?) don’t get any useful feedback as to why your submission was not even worthy of review and the explanation will often be that the manuscript lacked broad appeal. Sometimes the manuscript will be farmed out to a member of the editorial advisory board who will effectively make the decision for the editor but you never get to see what actually got said. This is why I talk about a shadow land.
Our alkane/water partition coefficient manuscript was originally submitted to the Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling and I really did think it was a JCIM sort of manuscript. Those open science enthusiasts reading this might be interested to know that we were providing source code (albeit source that used the proprietary OEChem toolkit from OpenEye) and the data that was used to build and test the model. I went through the submission process which included creating a graphical abstract and providing email addresses for potential reviewers (whom I contacted to see if it’d be OK). The response from JCIM was swift:
'Thank you for considering the Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling for your manuscript submission. The Journal is committed to promoting high standards in the fields that it covers, so we will be quite selective. Most ACS journals including JCIM are also experiencing substantial increases in submissions that are burdening the editorial and reviewing systems. Consequently, most editors are now prescreening and returning ca. 30% of submissions without further review.
For JCIM, some typical problems that will lead to return of a manuscript by the Editor include papers that:
(A) fall outside the aims and scope of JCIM, sometimes characterized by few if any references to papers in JCIM or other mainstream journals in computational chemistry,
(B) are routine studies, do not provide significant new results, or promote new methods without demonstration of advantages over prior alternatives,
(C) center on developments and interest in research areas that are tangential to the scope of JCIM, or
(D) are characterized by poor presentation of the work that is inconsistent with the style and quality of typical papers in JCIM. In particular, QSAR/QSPR submissions are welcome, but authors must be careful to avoid problems under heading (B).
In my judgment, your submission is inappropriate for JCIM. The journal has limited interest in QSAR/QSPR studies; ones that are considered need to adhere to the guidelines published in JCIM 46, 937 (2006).
I regret any inconvenience, but hope that this prompt return will allow you to consider alternative journals without further delay.' (07-Mar-2013)
I was genuinely surprised by the decision but take the view that journals can publish anything they want to. Nobody is entitled to have their manuscripts published. Unless of course they have paid for the service as is the case for Open Access. I was a bit alarmed that the journal appeared to be using number of references to its own articles ('…fall outside the aims and scope of JCIM, sometimes characterized by few if any references to papers in JCIM or other mainstream journals in computational chemistry') as a criterion for deciding whether to send a manuscript for review. However, life must go on and so I replied as follows:
'Thank you for your prompt response to our manuscript submission. While we are disappointed to learn that JCIM is not interested in prediction of alkane/water partition coefficients, we fully accept your decision and will seek a more appropriate home for the manuscript.' (07-Mar-2013)
The manuscript was duly submitted to JCAMD which accepted it but just as the article went to press, I noticed that JCIM had recently published an article on alkane/water partition coefficients. I was aware that our article had cited two or three articles from JCIM’s predecessor JCICS but only one from JCIM itself. Given that that it appeared that JCIM were actually interested in alkane/water partitioning, I sought specific feedback as to why our submission was not considered worth sending for review:
'Although our alkane/water partition article is currently in press at JCAMD, I must now confess to being perplexed by your decision to reject the manuscript without review given the recent publication of "Structural Determinants of Drug Partitioning in n-Hexadecane/Water System" ( http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/ci400112k ) in JCIM. The possibility that number of references to JCIM articles might be used as a criterion for deciding whether to send a manuscript for review did worry me (and continues to do so) when you first communicated the decision in March. I would be interested to know if you are able to comment more specifically on this matter.' (23-May-2013)
JCIM have not yet responded to my query and I am still perplexed.
Kenny, Montanari, Propopczyk (2013) ClogPalk: A method for predicting alkane/water partition coefficient. JCAMD 27:389-402 DOI
Natesan, Wang, Lukacova, Peng, Subramaniam, Lynch, Balaz (2013) Structural determinants of drug partitioning in n-hexadecane/water system. JCIM 53:1424-1435 DOI