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posted May 23, 2014, 1:04 PM by Austin Milt   [ updated May 23, 2014, 1:06 PM ]
Today I received an email from Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment informing me that my paper was rejected without review because "...we have just accepted a review on the impacts of shale development and in order to balance the content of the journal we cannot consider another one on this general topic at this time." I have mixed feelings about this decision. On the one hand, there are several reasons to be happy. First, my paper was turned around quickly, which saves me going through at least one round of reviews and then being rejected. Second, the work I did wasnt rejected, nor really was the topic. Ostensibly, I was rejected because my work was popular enough that someone else beat me to the punch. On the other hand, I can't help but be let down. I spent a good amount of time on this and it was rejected for the topic; my work wasnt even given a chance. As a result, I now have to reformat my paper and send it elsewhere, and I took the chance to format it for Frontiers, which has a non-standard format. Excellent.

This is part of the academic lifestyle. We spend gobs of time on manuscripts. We do our best to make them interesting, even compelling, easy to ready, highly communicative, statistically rigorous, and so on. We format them with tedious care for a particular outlet. And in the end, a large portion of papers get rejected at least once. We spend so much time making the argument that what we're doing is novel and should be read by others that we probably convince ourselves it's true. Only to be told otherwise.

And what happens when a paper is accepted? You get a gold star, you're the envy of your peers, and someone, somewhere, might eventually take notice enough to perpetuate your existence. But what proportion of the published peer-review literature out there will, on its own, make a difference in the world? Half? 10%? Probably more like 1%. Billions and billions of dollars, lifetimes spent, resources used, for a drop in the sea.