Patients Wait for Cures While Journals Fuss About Font Sizes

Andrew J. Vickers, PhD, DPhil


August 26, 2011

The Cases

J'accuse: Red tape at journals is unnecessarily delaying science and wasting scientists' time. Here are a few everyday cases.

The Case of a Dozen Authors

I submit a paper describing the results of a large, multicenter study. An editorial assistant at the journal immediately rejects the paper for having 12 authors because the maximum is 10. It takes about 4 weeks to negotiate a revised author list with the various study sites. The day after resubmission, we are informed that the paper has been rejected by the editor before peer review for being "out of scope."

The Case of the Honeymooning Author With Nothing to Disclose

A paper submission cannot go forward because all authors are required to submit a conflict of interest disclosure statement. This is a problem because one author is on an extended honeymoon, whereas the other 2 -- who were research fellows -- have just started full-time surgical practice in South America and are overwhelmingly busy. Nonetheless, my assistant manages to track down the signatures and resubmit. We are then informed that the manuscript is 58 words over the word limit. I rewrite and my assistant resubmits, but again the submission is halted because the resubmission has to include an updated disclosure statement. The paper was eventually rejected on the basis of a single peer review.

The Case of the Misformatted Paper

I ask my assistant to submit a paper. She logs on to the journal Website and is asked to select a "topic category." She emails a list to me and I select one that seems reasonable. I receive a return email from the journal asking for keywords, and following that, I receive a third email requesting information on the contact details of an author who left the institution. After submission, we receive an email stating that our paper requires "corrections" before submission goes forward. These include creating different headings in the structured abstract, putting figure legends and table text in 12-point Arial, moving figure legends to the end of the manuscript file but putting table legends in the separate tables file, and reducing the number of graphics files. We don't understand the last issue so we email the journal for advice. After a bit of back and forth, they ask us to relabel figure 2 and 3 and figure 2a and 2b.


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