The acceptances that weren’t acceptances


Chatting with people at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica, the topic from a recent post came up: that journals have cut back on “accept with revisions” decisions.

There was a little disagreement in the comments. Now, on the basis of some conversations, I have to disagree with myself. Talking with three different grad students, this is what I learned:

Some journals are, apparently, still regularly doing “accept-with-revisions.” And they also then are in the habit of rejecting those papers after the revisions come in.

This conversation only happened twice, in the presence of a total of five other people. Yet three of my interlocutors actually received an acceptance from a journal, that was then revoked. In all cases, the cover letters used the word “accept.” Then, in all cases, after the revisions were submitted, the editor wrote back to say that the acceptance was rescinded.

What more can I say about these bizarre incidents? The authors said that they did the revisions as recommended. In at least one of the cases, the editor explicitly wrote that the reason for the reversal-of-decision was because of a flaw in the manuscript that was present when it was submitted, and was not part of the prescribed revisions. (So, I think the proper inference is that that the editor accepted the paper on the basis of the reviews, and then decided to read the paper more carefully after the revisions came in, and then changed their mind.) And this same editor said that a retracted acceptance was unfortunate, but not uncommon. Or something along those lines. What planet is this editor from that retracted acceptances are not abnormal?

Which journals were these? I’m not in the mood to name them the body of this post — especially because it could get back in a negative way on the students — but they all were quite-acceptable specialized journals. And — huh! — a quick search shows that in all three cases, the publisher’s name rhymes with Springer.

I find this particularly bothersome because grad students are new to the publishing game, and when something like this happens, I can see how a student might think that they somehow screwed up the acceptance.

Students who got an accept-then-reject: It’s not you, it’s them. It’s the system that effed up, not you.

Editors: Accept means accept. Don’t say “accept” unless you’re willing to stand behind that decision.

Springer: Tell your editors that accept means accept.

Academic publishing is weird. Rejections may not be rejections, and acceptances may not be acceptances. Hrrm.

4 thoughts on “The acceptances that weren’t acceptances

  1. I can confirm that “accept with revisions” do still exist – I’ve had a couple in my very short experience. Happily, I have never had the experience of then getting a rejection. That’s messed up.

    However, I have been a co-author on a paper that was “reject with invitation to resubmit”-ed, times 3(!!!) Each time it was sent out to a whole new group of reviewers, whose recommendations were often the exact opposite of what reviewers in the previous round had suggested. Who is this benefitting?! Anyway, after the last time, we decided to give up on that journal and go elsewhere.

  2. It’s all stochastic. All of it. The committee, the proposal, the defense, the papers, the job applications, the interviews, the grants… being successful is just a matter of hanging on.

  3. I find this very odd, indeed. I’ve submitted to a wide array of journals and have always received a flat out rejection, a “rejected with an invitation to resubmit” (which also always, ALWAYS explicitly says ‘this is not a provisional acceptance’), or rarely a “provisionally accepted pending revisions” and then it was made clear that if my revisions were not up to par, the acceptance would be withdrawn. This is the first I’ve ever heard of a manuscript being pulled after an acceptance. Hopefully that’s not an exciting new trend….

  4. I saw this happen once. A colleague was EIC for a journal and he actually did this to another group’s paper (accept with revisions and then reject the resub) (it was not my paper but I was in a position to know what was happening behind the scenes). I thought it was pretty messed up. Fortunately, that is the only incidence of this that I’ve encountered so far

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