The trouble with some journals

This is an increasing problem with some journals that I have now experienced after having others report to me that they have had similar difficulties with journals from a particular organization. They are one that also runs some of our larger learning technologies conferences.

The story

I had a book chapter that was accepted through peer review into an edited book, but I also had another with a student and they would only take one, so we went with hers. I revised it and submitted to a journal that I am an editorial board member on, because I hadn’t published there and wanted to be supportive.

That was February of 2013. The reviews came back 8 months later with some light revisions. I turned those in mid-November.

December 13 2013, I received a rejection notice, saying that only three pages were submitted to the system of the original article. Any reasonable person might think that perhaps there was an error with the online system on their end and ask me to submit it again, or perhaps send it by email. Instead, it was just rejected outright.

I was, understandably, a bit miffed and sent an email to the editor/publications coordinator explaining what had happened and re-submitted it through the system in early January 2014. They apologized and promised no longer than 2 months for another review (which should just have gone back to the original reviewers).

By July of 2014, I had no response, so sent another email and again, an apology and a promise of a turnaround in a month.

I got busy with the semester, Koan, etc. and so didn’t check back again until early October and still nothing. I emailed again and a promise of November first.

Yesterday I had a minute, so sent a query to the editor again and received a reply from the publications coordinator that it had been rejected, which was interesting since it had been accepted over a year ago with minor revisions. The following were the only comments and closely mirror those that five of my peers have received. Some received literally none, so I suppose I should count myself lucky.

Reviewer #1: “While the paper was well written, I did not feel the discussion went deep enough around the pedagogy of the course”

Reviewer #2: “No additional comments.”

Reviewer  #3: “No additional comments.”

The article wasn’t remotely about the pedagogy of the course, but the instructor’s experience of using Twitter to support it. They clearly didn’t read it and just were saying something to say they did.

I don’t like rejection, but I don’t mind a revision if it is really a problem and I have truly done a poor job. However, this was accepted through TWO separate peer review processes. Given this level of feedback, it feels more like they had an embarrassing backlog of articles to review and simply went through and rejected the oldest ones without peer review. However, I have no evidence to support it except the non-existent feedback and incredibly long turnaround time. This is nearly two years that it has sat in their system, waiting.

The last time I asked about the submission in October, I offered to serve as an editor if it would help the journal. No response to that.

A similar, but better experience elsewhere

Once upon a time, I had this happen with another major journal early in my career as an assistant professor. They didn’t want to publish it because it didn’t particularly fit with their outlook. There, the group of hardcore cognitive scientists, sent it out over a dozen times until they could tip the scales to issue a reject. Despite this, I at least received a huge amount of feedback from many colleagues that I was able to use it to think new thoughts and publish different ideas elsewhere. That one took 18 months instead of the 4 months promised. My co-author decided not to try to publish it again after the process, as it was too demoralizing. To be fair, it needed a lot of work as I was new to academic writing at that level and it is something I understand now.

Despite the negative outcome, the level of feedback we received is something that I believe is part of collegiality and support for fellow academics. While I wasn’t enthused about their process, they did try to help and I still appreciate it today.

Credibility of journals

The one I received the reject from yesterday is the #4 e-learning journal in our field. Upon reviewing the masthead, the editor is:

a. the head of the organization,
b. the editor of nearly all of their journals as well as
c. organizer for most of their conferences.

I don’t know, especially with my schedule, how one person can do all of this, so I’m guessing it is not really getting done in some arenas. The second editor listed is a technology developer with no academic credentials, so I’m not sure how much help he is. Both are listed as the only editors for 5 out of 8 journals for the organization.

The problem with this kind of experience is that it destroys the credibility not only of the journals, but the process by which our work is expected to be judged.

The importance of peer review

If it says it is peer-reviewed, it must be a fair, peer-reviewed process, because that is the agreement we enter into with the editors when we submit our work. If the journal says it is a 3 month (on the outside) process for review it takes nearly two years to finally receive a decision, that should be viewed as unconscionable from both the perspective of the editors and authors.

With that said, the peer review process is part of the larger academic mechanism by which our field operates. It allows us to better our work towards publication so we can share our ideas with a larger audience. Serving as a reviewer should not be something that is onerous, but something to be celebrated.

We have the honor of reviewing one another’s work, which acts to give feedback to students and new faculty publishing for the first time. It is as much a part of collegiality and mentoring as anything else we do.

I know I’m not always on time with my reviews, but I vow to be better in the future.

It is important to keep the wheels of our field moving, even if they are a little rusty from time to time.


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