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Michel X.

I've got a similar story about a paper of my own. Every time it's rejected, I tinker with it for a little while and then send it out again. It's clearly improved enormously between drafts, but it's still not meeting with a whole lot of referee approval. I guess my difficulty has been with framing it properly; the paper is straightforwardly philosophical, but it mobilizes some work in two other fields, and makes an original contribution to one of them. My last rejection involved a brief note telling me that I had no hope of publishing it in *any* philosophy journal.

I'm not giving up on it, because I think the point I'm making is an important and interesting one (and that's been confirmed every time I present it to a new audience). I just sent it out again, so I'll wait for that rejection. And once it comes, I'm going to try re-writing the paper from the ground-up, to see if I can't manage to frame it in a way that's more pleasing to referees. And if that still doesn't work, then I think I'm just going to send the old draft to a fancy journal in one of the other fields I discuss.

But I'll confess that the boundary-policing is starting to get me down. It would be nice to get a referee sympathetic to the paper's point and methods for once, even if they still recommended rejection!

Shane J. Ralston

Make the paper a chapter in a forthcoming book. It’s much easier to slip a controversial paper past a publisher’s editor than a highly opinionated peer review referee. I had a paper defending homeschooling that I presented at many educational conferences. It was extremely upsetting to those who’d been trying to improve public schools for most of their working careers. At a few conferences I was shouted down by audience members. After submitting it to about 20 journals and receiving rejections, I rewrote it and made it a chapter in my first book. It’s out there. People can read it. And I beat the censors!


Thanks for sharing your story Marcus. I am glad to hear your paper is being cited so much! I tend to think that if my paper ever did get published, it would get cited a lot since it says controversial stuff relevant to big debates. But I really struggle with revisions, because it all seems so random to me what a reviewer might say, and then I get depressed thinking about writing revisions and it making no difference at all. And other times a rejection puts me in such a bad mood I can't bear to read the referee comments in much detail, because the line "hopeless project" made me feel hopeless. Patience has never been my strong suit, which is not good for a philosopher.

One of the major players in the field read my paper, said it was really good, and then I told them what has been happening. They said to keep trying. I will think about it. I am not sure what Jason's reputation was 20 years ago, but I am not sure if he had to worry about the same sort of things non prestigious people have to worry about. Is it irrational for me to have the fear that my paper will be published and then a former reviewer will see it and think, "Oh Amanda is the one who wrote that awful paper". I worry about that, and I have a lot of other work I could be doing so...just not sure.

Oh and if anyone was wondering, this is a different paper than the one that went through 6 rounds of revisions at the same journal. That paper has had mostly positive feedback, and I am still waiting on an RandR.

So I am glad and not glad to hear others have heard that their paper is "hopeless". I am curious what on earth reviewers are thinking when they say this. First, given Jason's story and many like them, it seems pretty questionable to think you can know a paper is hopeless. Second, I am not sure what intellectual value the referee is hoping to offer. It just seems like an obvious (and often successful) attempt to make someone feel bad. I have read a number of referee reports that seem almost angry: it is as if the reviewer is offended he/she had to read the paper. Beyond being rude, I just can't relate to this at all. If I review a bad paper (and I have reviewed many), I just think "oh well". I can't imagine getting angry. So strange.

senior post-doc

While I agree with Marcus (if you are convinced it is a worthy endeavour, rethink your paper, improve it and then send it out again), let me add a different perspective. As the editor of various volumes and of a journal, I encountered several times weak articles. I never desk rejected them and always tried to help their authors improve them. Sometimes the reactions are positive, sometimes the authors are just horrified and reply with some versions of "My PhD supervisor/Superstar X/Well-known Prof. Y said it is an excellent paper, so YOU must be wrong". Now, this is probably not Amanda's case, but it made me aware of the fact that sometimes one's PhD supervisor or senior colleagues might prefer (or find easier/less time-consuming) to encourage one than to really engage in improving a paper. Long story short: The support one gets in informal conversations is not always an evidence of a paper's value.


My advice Amanda is to never give up on a paper if you are convinced it is a novel and important contribution. I've given up on 1 paper in the last 5 years, and that is because I became convinced it wasn't good. It didn't have my heart!

A couple of my other papers that are now published were rejected half a dozen times or more. I would always improve them if I thought the comments were worth addressing, and then send them out again. I didn't really have colleagues who knew my subject area to read my work, so I was more or less dependent on referees. Referees' comments were sometimes very helpful even if the majority of the time the reports were nonsense. I am very grateful to the good ones!

Right now I am dealing with two papers, both of which I think are my best work, which have been rejected more than a few times. One just received an R&R, the other has a split decision that the journal is trying to resolve. History tells me that if I just keep working on the papers I am convinced are good that eventually they'll be accepted somewhere, usually a top 20.

As someone who works both in X-Phi and in traditional philosophy, one thing I've noticed is that in traditional philosophy there really is a lot of schadenfreude and resentment (maybe this is due to the job market?). So I agree with Jason Stanley here. Many referees seem determined to be uncharitable and reject your work at all costs. I think some referees auto reject everything.

(I just received a report in which the referee summarizes my paper and then proceeds to write a one paragraph argument undermining the entire project. He then rejects the paper on the basis of that argument, without any reflection. The argument he makes, unfortunately, commits a fallacy where he does not respect the de re/de dicto distinction. If he had paused to reflect on his argument and the paper, I think this would have been pretty obvious. However, the referee was too eager to just reject the paper to bother with any reflection. I immediately sent the paper elsewhere.)

However, with X-Phi things seem to be totally different. Although you do run into anti-X-Phi referees (or referees that will never be satisfied no matter the experiment), editors seem to avoid sending your work to these people. Your work gets sent to X-Phi philosophers. X-Phi philosophers seem to be excited by X-Phi and all together positive about the subject. So, whether you're given the chance to revise seems to have a lot more to do with the actual subject matter of the paper: whether the experiment is up to standards, whether its original, etc. The comments are also often much more useful. Anyway that's just my experience based on a relatively small sample size.


Thanks everyone great hearing these perspectives. To clarify, those who have given me positive feedback were not associated with my grad program. My thesis supervisor doesn't work in my niche so I don't really get feedback from him. Well, when I do he just reminds me he hates my entire sub-field lol. Now, it is still possible those who read my paper feel extra pressure to like it because they do know me personally, which is something I keep in mind.


This is not directly related to the post but I'm hoping for reassurance. Does anyone know what it means for a paper on scholarone to go from "awaiting decision" to "awaiting recommendation"? I ask because my whole future probably hinges on how this one paper gets treated at this one journal. Sounds dramatic, I know, but tgis is actually my situation. So any info would be much appreciated.

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