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Dan Dennis

How many times have you emailed them? If only once, then I would try again, explain that it has taken 6 months and that you need a decision soon, and ask when they will give it.

They might realize the error of their ways and make an effort to get someone to take a quick look at it.

If no reply then you could also try emailing the editor to his institutional address. The previous unresponsiveness might be due to a neglectful editorial assistant - its not always the Editor's fault, and he may trust the editorial assistant in which case it would be useful for him to know that the editorial assistant is not reliable.

If still no reply then I would take step 2 and write to the publishers to complain. They have an investment in the journal and have a right to know if it is being incompetently run (as indeed do the rest of us).

By the way, is there any reason why you do not mention the name of the journal in your post?

Marcus Arvan

Moti: sorry to hear about that. I've been in a similar position before. If the journal is being that irresponsible, I don't see anything wrong with notifying them of retraction and then sending it elsewhere before hearing back. One possibly relevant issue, though, is that it's winter break. Not that a journal shouldn't respond to people during these periods, but I suspect that some people go on vacation.

Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa

Sadly, six months is within disciplinary normality. If you withdraw papers after not hearing for six months, you'll be withdrawing a big proportion of your papers without decisions. I'd send another follow-up email and keep waiting.

I think it's considered a pretty serious violation to submit somewhere else without withdrawing. There's a pretty decent chance you'd get away with it, but if it were me, I wouldn't want to risk it. But yes, if you do withdraw, there's no need to wait for a reply. So (2) is the best of the options you list. But my recommendation is still the one of the previous paragraph. Those six months are a sunk cost; submitting somewhere else starts the whole process over again. And there's a good chance you won't hear from the new journal within six months either.

Lee Walters

(1) is a definite no-no. The most aggressive you can be, I think, is to say that you will withdraw the paper after some time t, if they don't respond by then. That is what I'd be tempted to do in something like this situation.

For what it is worth, I email journals after 4 months, if I've heard nothing, but I think I'll do it after 3 in future. I then send follow-up emails at more regular intervals - it has been weekly, but I think I'll change to fortnightly.

I think we should work on the presupposition that journals are doing their best, just as we are, but sometimes they fall short - I miss deadlines and put things off, and I doubt that I'm abnormal in this regard. Sometimes an email will spur them in action even though they don't reply, so it is good to give them a chance once you've emailed them

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks for the advice, everyone.

I’ve emailed the journal twice but never got a reply. Dan’s suggestion to email the editor seems like a good one to me. However, if the journal is one in which the identity of the authors is not known to the editor, emailing the editor jeopardizes the “blindness” of the review process.

I didn’t mention the name of the journal partly because I am working on the assumption that the journal is doing its best (as Lee suggested), and so I don’t want to unjustly stain reputations. As Marcus suggested, it may simply be that the editorial staff is on vacation.

If six months is indeed the norm, as Jonathan says, then I would agree that this particular journal should not be held to a higher standard. But I am not sure that six months is indeed the norm. From my experience, 3-4 months is more or less the norm. But my experience may be unrepresentative.

I agree with Lee that (1) is the worse option. But (2) is not ideal either for the reason that Jonathan mentioned. Retracting a paper after more than six months without a decision and no comments from referees is a complete waste of time. Perhaps I should cut my losses and just wait. That’s an option I haven’t listed. However, after reading everyone’s comments, I’m starting to think that it might be the best thing to do in this situation.

Marcus Arvan

Moti: For what it's worth, I have to second the claim that 6 months is within the norm. I've waited around 6 months around half the time I've submitted things (often with journals that have a good turnaround reputation). The Cullison journal wiki also sort of backs this up. Some journals (JPP, JESP) tend to have very quick turnaround times, whereas others (PPR, Nous) are almost always around 3 months. With most other journals, the Cullison blog more or less matches my experience: you can expect to wait anywhere between 2-8 months, on average. A really broad (and unfortunate) norm, but a norm nonetheless.

Moti Mizrahi

I checked the journal in question on Cullison's journal surveys. The average review time for this journal is 16.60 months.

When Jonathan said that the norm is 6 months, I understood (perhaps wrongly) him as saying that the mode (not the mean) is 6 months. In other words, if 6 months is the norm, then we would expect to see 6 months review time appearing most often in a set of data about journal review times.

I haven't done the statistical analysis, so I don't know. But judging by this relatively small sample (http://www.andrewcullison.com/2009/09/journal-review-time-comparisons/ ), which consists of 10 journals, the mode is closer to 2 than to 6.

This sample, although small, also shows why review time average is unlikely to tell us anything useful about the norm in the profession, since review times vary so greatly. For example, JP takes an average of 12.59 months, whereas PI takes an average of 2.29.

Marcus Arvan

Moti: I don't think the claim that 6 months is within the norm as a claim about the mean or the mode. Something can be broadly within a norm without being either of those two things. I understand norm here in a much broader sense: as, very roughly, relatively common. If you scroll through the actual data in the cullison surveys, 6 months is clearly relatively common. So, for example, a journal that has a mean of 3.9 and a mode of 4 months can have many data points along the lines of 6, 7, 8, and 9 months. This sort of thing is very, very common over in the cullison surveys. Journals with means and modes on the order of 3 or 4 months often have many, many data points outside of that. This is what I meant when I said the disciplinary norms are unfortunately broad.

Moti Mizrahi

I see, Marcus. In any case, the journal in question seems to have an average review time that is outside the norm. Perhaps I shouldn’t have submitted my paper to that journal. As an early-career philosopher, I cannot afford spending so much time waiting for decisions. On the other hand, this journal is the ideal place for my paper. It appears I need to find a way to balance time constraints with fit constraints. I guess this is another one of those “catch 22” situations we early-career philosophers tend to find ourselves in.

Marcus Arvan

Moti: agreed. A 16.6 month average is wild. I always go to the Cullison wiki before submitting for just that reason. If a place has an average above 5-6 months, I avoid it at all costs. Surely there has to be some other place the piece would be suitable for with a better average, no?

David Morrow

Moti: Six months strikes me as at or below "the norm," too. In fact, aside from desk rejections, I've rarely gotten a response in less than six months.

I'd advise against your option (3). In mid-2011, I emailed a journal to say that I was retracting my article, having already waited 16 months for some kind of reply. I never heard back from them.

I suggest waiting longer, though I don't think it would be inappropriate to email the editor in another week or so (once the holidays have passed).

Chike Jeffers

(1) is not the worst option, as it is not an option at all. I also don't see very much difference between (2) and (3). Were it not for the discovery that they regularly take over a year, I would have advised (4) waiting. But now (2) or (3) sound good.

Moti Mizrahi

Marcus: I am looking for such a place right now.

David and Chike: Thanks for your thoughts. I think I will wait one more week, then email the journal again (for the third time). Depending on whether or not I hear back (so far no replies to my emails), and whether or not I find another journal my paper would be suitable for, I will either wait a few more weeks or email a request for retraction.

Chike Jeffers

By the way, since you've already revealed their average wait time and since your previously stated reason for not revealing which journal it is had to do with not wanting to unjustly stain their reputation (and their reputation is justly stained at this point), do you mind saying which journal it is?

Dan Dennis

The crucial point is that the journal is not replying to emails. This is unacceptable. If a journal replies and says 'it took us a while to find referees' or 'we keep reminding the referees but they have not submitted their reports yet' or 'one referee had to withdraw so the process is delayed' etc then that's something you can work with. If they do not have the decency to reply to emails then they are clearly in the wrong. Maybe try once more and seek some sort of information. If still no joy then I really think you should contact the editor directly, and if no joy there either then the publisher.

If a journal is screwing around a lot of people then it is the moral responsibility of those screwed around to do something about.

Marcus Arvan

While we're on the subject, I submitted a paper to a journal a couple of weeks ago and haven't heard a peep from them acknowledging its receipt. Although this strikes me as strange, I do realize that it has been the holidays. When does everyone think it is reasonable to contact the journal about this? Thanks!

Anonymous Coward

I'm tempted to out the journal entirely, since you provided plenty of identifying information. But note that the journal in question does not just have a long average review time, but remarkably long review times in every case.

Review Time in Months

Average 16.60

Median 17

Mode #N/A

Shortest 13

Longest 20

Standard Dev. 2.70

I think that, after the journal is outed, it would make sense to call on the editor-in-chief or managing editor to provide a public explanation of the remarkable slowness.

Anonymous Anonymous

I'm having a similar problem with a journal: it has been almost 8 months since submission (average turnaround time for this journal is about 3.5), I've emailed the journal twice asking for a status update (I waited a month after my first status email to email again), and received no response either time. (I did receive confirmation that the journal received my article right after I submitted it.) The person I am emailing is the editor (as this is the person who confirmed receipt of the paper when I submitted it), not an editorial assistant, and I've tried two different email addresses, thinking that perhaps my message was going into spam or that the editor checked one account more than another.

I agree with Dan that the real annoyance here is the lack of response; if they are behind with referees, etc., I can deal with that, but they need to communicate with me since at this point I'm not sure whether the article is under consideration there at all anymore. And since I'm dealing with the editor already, I don't really know to whom I would complain. A colleague of mine suggested I try telephoning the editor, rather than emailing, but this seems rather confrontational and may be perceived as nagging.

I can entirely understand why Moti does not want to reveal the name of the journal: if by some chance the article is still under consideration, the editor or whoever has dropped the ball at the journal may not look favorably on an author who has publicly chastised the publication.

Marcus Arvan

AA: I'm very sorry to hear of your situation. That's incredibly unprofessional of the editor, and I have no good idea of what you should do at this point (after 8 months, withdrawing the paper without a decision seems like a terrible result; but what else can you really do now? You don't even know whether the paper is under review/lost, etc.).

I can't help but think that there really needs to be a widely visited, anonymous forum to publicly lodge complaints like these. The Cullison wiki has a section to leave comments for each journal, but it's hidden at the bottom of the surveys, and no one (ever) posts there. Anyway, I suspect that if there were a public forum where people reported stories like yours, journals might face real pressure to change their ways.

Moti Mizrahi

AA: I feel your pain.

Marcus: I like the idea of having a forum for sharing this sort of information about journals.

a very frustrated author daydreaming

I want to offer a potential defense of option 1:

If it's been a long enough time and the journal isn't responding, then it's likely that both the referee(s) and the editor/editorial assistant are failing their duties to the professor. If you go with options 2 or 3, they have wasted your time and that's the end of it. But if you go with option 1, then you get to waste theirs as retribution. Unless one is against retribution is all cases, what's the downside?

What if you send it to another journal, the editors and referees make an effort, and then slow journal gives you an r&r before the new journal can submit a verdict? You've now wasted the time of the second journal, right? Not necessarily. It's wasted only if you accept the r&r, but nothing says you need to accept it. You could just ignore it forever if you wanted to, or keep it as a back-up if the new journal rejects your paper.

But what if everyone did that? Well, I don't think it'd be very different. The slow journals, if anything, would now in fact be missing out on papers that they might want to publish! So it would provide a potential disincentive for journals (so long as everyone truly gave the new journals first-dibs). You might think it would make some referees less willing to review papers. Maybe so, but probably only those who were already effectively refusing by taking so long that authors were going with options 2 and 3.

Perhaps there's a good referee who turned in their report early. By going with option 1, you're wasting their time! No, it was already wasted with options 2 and 3. In fact, the only scenario in which it's not wasted is scenario 1, because it's only in scenario 1 that the author reads the comments.

But it's against the standard norms! Well, yes. But sometimes standard norms aren't good, and need to be changed.

mad referee

Incidentally, my average turn around time for referee reports is less than a week. I have refereed over 150 papers - not surprising, given that I turn the reports around so fast.
I would be furious if I had refereed a paper, and while it is still under review, another journal contacted me to ask if I would review it, because the author sent it in to another journal. I would regard the author as a supreme @hole.


Hi mad referee,

Thank you for being a responsible referee. It definitely doesn't get the credit it deserves. I too referee responsibly, though not yet at your volume: I never take more than four weeks, I accept ~90% of requests, and my comments average about 1500 words.

But I think your hypothetical is under-described. Imagine if you received the same paper and also knew that you wrote your original report a year ago. If that were me, I would not be mad (though I'd be mad if it were a month or two earlier that I wrote the report). But maybe you'd still be mad. If so, can you say *why* you'd be mad?

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