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Thanks for posting this Marcus. The first possibility isn't the case - as all three recommendations were made along the lines of "This is really new and original stuff, but needs some fixing..." The second one...eh I guess that's possible....hard to say. And I guess the third one is always possible too.

I can easily concede there are good reasons, in some cases, to reject a paper even when all 3 referees suggest revisions. I would think though, these cases should be rare. For one, if the journal really just doesn't like the topic, they should have desk rejected it instead of wasting the reviewers' time. But suppose there was a good reason for the editor to reject my paper. Still, even in this case, with three RandR recommendations I think the editor at minimum owes some type of explanation, or acknowledgement. Even a sentence would do. The no comment thing is what bothers me the most.


A journal editor once told me that papers on Rawls needed to be stellar to be accepted because they got a ton of submissions on Rawls. R/Rs were effectively rejections in this context.


cw - well that's not cool. I mean if a journal wants to do this, it seems there should be some disclosure of this sort of thing, in the journal instructions, i.e. "Papers on major figures are given extra scrutiny." (my paper wasn't on a major figure, btw.)

A related note: So I recently learned that Journal of Philosophy regularly publishes papers well over their stated word limit of 8k (I believe) in their online instructions. Apparently the editors have been telling people in the know the actual word limit is 12k. This is so problematic, on so many levels... secret rules, not everyone knows them, etc.


I was an assistant at for a journal for a few years. I can’t think of a time where this lead to a rejection when there were suggested R&Rs, but the publisher of the journal had strict page limits for the year and sometimes we did have to make decisions the turned on that. They were typically more of the form ‘print it this year vs next’ but I could imagine that with page limits in place and big backlogs, a journal might become very very picky about what they add to the backlog.

I had an experience similar to Amanda’s. I was told that the journal was working on the following policy: 2 reports, minimal standard 1 R&R and 1 accept. I thought that was harsh but they claimed 2-4% acceptance at that time.

I wonder what people’s preference is: requiring something Iike at least 1 accept and 0 rejects, or a moratorium as with Nous/PPR. False dichotomy, I know. But my guess is that journals are often struggling to mange the sheer load. I suppose they could be more transparent upfront so that people can make good choices about where to send.

Valdi Ingthorsson

Amanda. I'm with you that it is the 'no-comment' thing that is worst. In fact that is the same with desk-top rejections. They could so easily say that the journal is swamped with submissions, or we don't like your subject, or our policy is to accept only papers requiring no revisions—basically tell us why our paper has been selected for rejection—but they instead (often) say something to the effect of "we trust you understand we are far too busy to motivate our decisions". I sometimes suspect that the idea is that authors would be more frustrated to know the real reason for rejection than with a 'we can't be bothered to tell you' response.

Peter Furlong

I had a similar case recently. I submitted a paper to a top journal and had two referees give R&R recommendations, but the paper was rejected. I really appreciated that the editor gave some explanation. Below I include part of that note:

"I'm sorry to tell you that, having taken into account the advice of our referees, I cannot find room for it in our limited number of pages. We will not consider a revision. Such is the current pressure of submissions that we now have to reject papers immediately for which we do not get a strong positive recommendation from the initial referee. Indeed, we have to reject many papers that could become -- or even are -- good papers."

The note went on to say that the first report was strong enough to ask for a second referee to take a look, but taken together the reports were not strong enough to move forward. It seemed to me that both referees were equally supportive, and both gave the same recommendation, but I think they were looking for at least one accept and one R&R. I get that--the journal only has room for so many papers, and they are looking to take the highest recommended papers. Two R&Rs is not as strong as one accept and one R&R, and if they have enough papers with stronger reviews, there is no need to move further down the list, even if the referees think the paper could be of sufficient quality to publish in the journal.

I think I would have been more miffed if, like you Amanda, I didn't get any sort of explanation from the editor. For any editors reading, the presence or absence of this sort of communication can make a difference.


Maybe I am wrong about this, but I get the impression that straight up acceptances are pretty rare. I have a high number of publications (relative to my junior position in the discipline), and not a single one was a straight out acceptance. Indeed, if I remember correctly out of all my reviews (which is likely hundreds) there was only one person who recommended immediate acceptance. I know I have only done that once in all the times I've reviewed. There is always something you can find that would make a paper better, even if it is only minor revisions. Of course, I suppose that my own path to publication might be idiosyncratic.

As for whether it is better to have a moratorium or have only acceptance recommendations be published: I would prefer the former. My justification is that papers which are especially boundary pushing seem less likely to get a straight acceptance. So I tend to think many of the most interesting papers published are those that had to go through revisions, sometimes several rounds of revisions.

Peter Furlong

If we had to choose between a moratorium and only acceptance recommendations be published (or maybe only allow revisions if the verdict is split between publish and R&R), I would have said the latter. Amanda's comment is pushing me toward the former though. I don't think (as many do) that most work done today is dull and worthless, but I do think that boundary pushing papers should get a fair shake, and I think those papers are more likely to get R&Rs.


That is nice that you got an explanation, Peter. I suppose the referee might have said something very similar about mine, and it would have helped. Although again - I do worry that if this is a general policy at top journals, that it would result in more boring work than could be otherwise. Perhaps editors should also take the topic into account, and whether it would fit well and provides something of special interest to the journal.


I meant "editor" not referee.

Pendaran Roberts

I've never had a journal reject a paper of mine when it has received only R&R verdicts. However, I do think the top of the top tend to have very strict standards. I did have a paper at AJP rejected with two accept verdicts and one reject verdict, even though the accepts were very positive. I thought that was weird. Seems odd to side with the minority over the majority. But the reality is that there are way too many PhDs looking for work and these journals are inundated with submissions. I'm not sure what they're supposed to do. Honestly, I don't see why they can't just publish more articles. In the meantime, I'd just avoid sending articles to top 5 journals unless you're okay with being rejected even if the majority of referees like your work.

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