Friday, July 11, 2008

The Ethics of R&R

I just spoke with someone who received a revise and resubmit verdict on a paper that he submitted to an academic journal. As we all know, there are subtle degrees of the r&r decision, ranging from the enthusiastic (borderline conditional acceptance) to the lukewarm ("we like the topic more than the paper, so if you resubmit, we'll send it out, but we don't really care that much either way").

Anyway, this person received what I read as an almost enthusiastic r&r. In the note the editor outlines what she takes to be criticisms most worth addressing, but does not give the further indications of enthusiasm (such as a promise of an especially expedient review for the resubmission).

The author asked me whether it was kosher to respond positively to the journal editor, indicating an intention to revise and resubmit, but then submit the original version of the paper to another journal, with the intent to publish the original version at the second journal if it is accepted in its current form, and revise and resubmit to the first journal if it is rejected at the second.

My view is that in the case of a straightforwardly enthusiastic r&r, submission of the current paper to another journal is not cool. But things are murky with lesser degrees of r&r enthusiasm. Any views?


Krinos said...

Sorry for the long response, but I’ve had a few thoughts about this over the past years.

I’ve heard two stories after the fact from other authors receiving R&R’s from journal X, submitting elsewhere to journal Y, receiving rejection from Y, revising in light of comments from X and Y, and resubmitting to X. In both cases, the authors got eventual acceptances from the X, or first, journal. Additionally, these authors, in both cases, presented themselves as having played their cards right – they had an editor with a slightly positive inclination, and with the right work and help from other reviewers, they got the paper past the gatekeeper. I think it seemed to them (and, I guess, to me, since I don’t find myself objecting) that this was a loophole in the standing prohibition against multiple submissions.

Much of this, in light of this apparent loophole, depends on what the mutually understood conditions are for R&R. The understanding for journal submission is that it is exclusive – that while under review at journal X, paper P will not be submitted to any other journals. In fact, many journals (e.g. REV MET) require this statement in cover letters. (It’s standard for all of mine, now.) But after the review and the R&R verdict, the paper is not under review… so the understood conditions don’t obtain anymore (more on this in a sec).

This said, the extension of R&R does have the implication of exclusivity; namely, that the paper if revised along the referee’s and editor’s lines, is likely to be acceptable at the journal. The author, in accepting the R&R agreement (this is the “respond favorably”), has accepted the agreement to revise the paper for resubmission to that journal.

But here’s the difference: the journal’s claim on exclusivity during review is that they don’t want to waste their resources (referees are hard to come by), but those resources are not in play in the delay between the acceptance of an R&R offer and resubmitting the paper. The grounds against multiple submissions don’t obtain there, because the journal isn’t expending its resources that demand exclusivity.

cw said...

Even an enthusiastic R&R means this: we won't publish this as is. If the author thinks it is publishable as is, he should feel free to send it somewhere else.

What troubles me is the idea that the author would respond favorably to the R&R, and then submit it somewhere else. This just seems dishonest. If I offered an author an R&R, and the author told me he'd make the revisions and get it back to me, that's what I'd expect him to do. I guess it's no skin off my nose if the author lies, since I effectively rejected the paper anyway, but I think I'd think twice about future submissions from the author, if he said he'd return it and didn't, and especially if I saw it later in another journal, after he'd committed to sending it back to me.

Why does the author want to try a new journal? Will the suggested revisions take that long to make? Is there some time pressure involved, e.g., tenure review or job market? Has the author decided, in light of the somewhat favorable R&R, that the paper could land in a better journal after all?

729 said...

I agree with CW's assessment. The author *responding favorably* to the editor about the revisions and then sending it elsewhere seems off to me. And risky. If it turns out that the paper is rejected at the next journal, it's the good case scenario that Krinos describes--but--if accepted, the situation CW describes is not so great.

Do editors expect to get commitments from authors about R&R's in every case? Does the author really need to respond favorably to the editor of the first journal at all? You said that the R&R was *almost enthusiastic*, and didn't indicate more about any deadlines or expectations. It seems okay to send it to the other journal without making any commitment to the first one, *waiting* on that journal, and then seeing what happens from there. I guess if the point is to speed up things and have one's cake and eat it, this suggestion isn't what the author wants to do, yet if one of the points to contacting the editor of the first journal about the R&R was establishing a better "networking" sort of relationship with the journal, I'm really unsure how getting the article published as is somewhere else would further that aim. And, if there isn't any "networking" sort of goal to contacting the editor, I can't see why simply sending in the revised article at some later point wouldn't be sufficient response.

Ben said...

I've never had a R&R, but I agree it's his response to the editor that sounds like the problematic part to me. If one is called for, which I guess it probably is, I'd favour a vaguer one (mirroring the editor's own not quite enthusiastic message) - something like 'Thanks for the feedback. I'll take another look at the article and hope to get back to you in a couple of months'.

The Brooks Blog said...

As a journal editor, I agree that there are more than one category of "R&R" (not to be confused with "r n' r" of course!). With our journal, R&R's that require minor revision are normally given an expedited review. Those R&R's that require more extensive revision fall into a different category, as extensive revisions may produce a different paper. Depending upon the advice of my board, papers are either rejected at this stage or given a R&R with the proviso that the substantially re-written piece would be reviewed as a new submission.

Now to your main point. I think authors are free to do with their work what they like. When a journal does not accept a paper submitted to it not under consideration elsewhere, the author is then free to send it elsewhere. Of course, editors often hope R&R's return --- our JMP accepts just 10% of all submitted papers, with two-thirds of those papers accepted only accepted after revisions --- but there is nothing wrong (as far as I can see it) with submitting the paper elsewhere if a journal has not yet accepted the paper, irrespective of how enthusiastic they are about it.

Spiros said...

These comments are helpful. I suppose a lot turns on what is said to the editor of the R&R journal. If one says that one is grateful for the opportunity to R&R, and hopes to get a revision submitted, etc., then perhaps no explicit promise is made and submission to Journal B is OK.

But here's a question: Do things change in the case of conditional acceptance (CA)? Suppose one gets a CA on a paper, with really helpful comments. Suppose the comments are so helpful that revising in light of them might kick the paper up a tier (viz., make it a plausible candidate for publication in a better journal). Is there anything wrong with submitting the revised version to the better journal?

The Brooks Blog said...

I suppose with a conditional acceptance things are a bit different. I would treat the case like an acceptance and withdraw the piece from the journal.

Spiros said...


I agree that CA seems to be different. But how so? The journal has in effect said that the paper in its current form is not ready for publication, and has not exactly *promised* to publish the revision (the revised version is accepted only on some *condition*, and it's the editor's call whether that condition has been met by a revised version).

cw said...

The CA is still not an acceptance, though it may pay to treat it like one. R&R: make these changes, submit again, and you've got a better chance of getting in than before. CA: if you do X, you're in; the paper won't go to reviewers again, the editor will make the call. What seems relevant is that the CA offers a much lower hurdle, with a much greater probability of a payoff.

Still, not accepted is just that, so if the author thinks the paper is ready, they should feel free to pull it.

I think if someone pulled a paper after a CA, I'd be annoyed, but would get over it. I don't think the reviewers do that much more work in either case, so that isn't the issue. But the conditions of the CA aren't generally that big of a deal, and you can argue your way out of some of them. But if the author really objects to the conditions, she should make her case. If the ed insists on the changes, and the author isn't satisfied, so be it -- take the paper elsewhere.

If someone gets helpful comments, and then decides the paper can go higher up the ladder, I'd be peeved. But, again, since I didn't accept it initially, I'd have to live with it. I don't think I deserve any special credit for the fact that a review proved especially insightful or helpful -- just luck of the draw, really.

I suppose that if an author did get helpful comments, and decided to take the paper elsewhere, it wouldn't be out of line for the author to request the reviewer's name, so said reviewer can be credited in the footnotes for being especially helpful or insightful. (Should the rejecting or non-accepting journal get credit too? I've heard this suggestion made before, but it seems a bit too friendly.)

Spiros said...


All of this sounds right. I guess though that there's a point at which (esp. in the CA case) submitting to another journal feels like using the resources of Journal A spuriously. There are things that come out in blind review (when done properly) that do not come out when you're just passing your work around to colleagues. So Journal A, even is it does not straight-away accept your paper, has invested some resources in your work. The questions is when the investment of those resources constitutes an obligation to see the process through.

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