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The editor rejected my manuscript

  1. Aug 22, 2012 #1
    I just sent a manuscript to PRL which is in the field of quantitative biology. The editor from high energy physics rejected it in one day without sending it to any reviewer. I know that is the policy of PRL (and other high impact factor journals) to do this screening. But I think it's not fair to assign an editor in a completely different field. Has anyone come across the same experience? Can I still submit it to another physics review journals?
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  3. Aug 22, 2012 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    You sent a biology paper to PRL and are surprised that it was rejected?
  4. Aug 22, 2012 #3
    I think it belongs to the category "Quantitative biology" in arXiv.
    We used Physics approach to describe and understand a biological system. There are a lot of such papers in PRL and PRE. Please, please, lots of physicists work on biophysics.
  5. Aug 22, 2012 #4


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    Given that the OP said it was a quantiative biology paper, and PRL has a section titled "Soft Matter, Biological, and Interdisciplinary Physics", I don't think it's reasonable to assume that that alone is the reason for rejection without more information about the paper.

    To the OP, sometimes it's just luck of the draw like that. You can appeal the decision, but that usually doesn't work. Especially in this case, I think - PRL has papers from lots of subdisciplines in physics - arousing the interest of an editor not in your field is not out of the question of reasonable criteria, and I don't think telling the editor that they didn't understand the significance of the work is likely to win them over, unless you really think it's a truly outstanding piece of work. Did the editor give any specific comments as to why it was rejected?

    Going forward, You could submit it to PRE (interdisciplinary physics, impact factor 2.352), or another journal like one of the PLOS journals, like PLOS ONE (impact factor 4.092), PLOS Computational Biology (impact factor 5.215) or PLOS Biology (impact factor 11.452). With these ones you shouldn't encounter any prejudice about biology, but the quality of your work will have to be really good to get into a journal with impact factors like that. PRL has an impact factor of 7.328, so a more bio-friendly editor is still going to demand that your paper be pretty impressive to get into PLOS Biology (especially as from the name I gather a lot of traditional (i.e., not quantitative) biologists read that paper, so you wouldn't want your paper to be thick with mathematical details, for example.
  6. Aug 22, 2012 #5
  7. Aug 22, 2012 #6
    Thanks Mute and carlgrace for the reply. Below is the editor's response:

    We have considered your manuscript and conclude that it is not suited
    for Physical Review Letters.

    We make no judgment on the correctness or technical aspects of your
    work. However, from our understanding of the paper's physics results,
    context, and motivation, we conclude that your paper does not meet the
    Physical Review Letters criteria of impact, innovation, and interest.
    Our criteria require a clear justification for consideration of the
    paper by PRL, rather than by a specialized journal. Your work appears
    to be principally aimed at a very specialized audience and it would be
    better served by the space and scope of a specialized journal. [Please
    see our editorials http://prl.aps.org/edannounce/PRLv95i7.html (2005)
    and http://prl.aps.org/edannounce/PhysRevLett.103.010001 (2009).]

    In view of our assessment, we are not sending your manuscript out for

    I doubt whether an editor in a totally different field can draw a fair conclusion on the "impact, innovation, and interest". From the point of view of a person not working on biophysics, my work is definitely very specialized.

    @Mute: I am not sure whether my work is a truly outstanding one, but I do believe that it will have "impact, innovation, and interest" to theoretical scientists in my field based on the feedback I got after my presentation. At least I would hope to hear from the reviewers. Given that my funding is nearly over, I prefer to resubmit it to PRE rather than other more biological journals because it will take some time to make the manuscript biologist-friendly. Another reason is that my work has more implication to theorists. Now my concern is: will my manuscript be sent to the same editor?
  8. Aug 22, 2012 #7
    I believe the editorial board of PRE is different than that of PRL, so no concern to have the same editor. However, you may need to reshape your paper a bit from letter format to long article.
  9. Aug 22, 2012 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    Had he said biological physics, that would be one thing. But he didn't. He said biology, which is not appropriate for PRL. And it would appear that the editor agrees; there are two reasons for an immediate flush. One is the journal is wrong, and the other is the paper is wrong.
  10. Aug 22, 2012 #9


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    Since PRL changed their strategy to being more picky, they really expect papers to significantly advance that field or have broad impact across several fields. If your cover letter was not able to convince someone from a different field that your manuscript is one of these papers, either your cover letter was not well written or PRE is indeed a better choice. By the way referees also tend to be more friendly when refereeing PRA-PRE compared to PRL. However, also in the cover letter to PRE you should make clear, why your manuscript belongs to biological physics and is well within the scope of PRE.

    If you really feel that the decision was unfair, you could appeal to a DAE. But typically this takes quite long and has a chance of succeeding which is pretty much zero, although some DAEs are a bit "soft".

    Definitely not.
  11. Aug 22, 2012 #10
    I thought everything in this forum is by default related to Physics. Anyway, my background is physics and maths and my approach in the work is also very physics-oriented. So I doubt whether the editor in high energy physics field could make a fair judgement on a biophysics manuscript. Can it happen that the editor is wrong?
  12. Aug 22, 2012 #11
    I do think my work can make a step further in my field, but in my field only. When I look at the cover letter again, there is indeed not enough emphasis on the physics techniques I have applied. But it's clear in the manuscript if the editor has skimmed through it. I didn't expect that the cover letter is so important.

    To appeal or not, I will think it over. Thanks for all the kind advice!
  13. Aug 22, 2012 #12

    Andy Resnick

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    Yes, far more often that not. Proposal reviews are sometimes even more arbitrary.

    Only if you want to end up with a published paper.
  14. Aug 22, 2012 #13


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    Note that PRL is these days placing more emphasis on the demand that the paper should be of "interest to a wider audience" ; i.e. if you've written a paper that can only be understood by specialists in your field it will automatically be rejected. Your paper SHOULD be readable by the editor in HEP, and it should (ideally) also be clear to him/her why the paper might belong to PRL just from reading your introduction.

    Even really good papers are quite frequently sent over to PR A-E for this very reason, sometimes the manuscript is accepted as-is as a rapid.

    Writing papers is a bit of a art-form; and can be very formulaic.
  15. Aug 22, 2012 #14


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    Perhaps the point is that in order for a paper to have sufficient "impact, innovation and interest" for the journal, someone outside of the particular subfield needs to be able to appreciate it. If that can't come through to an experienced physicist outside of your field, either it isn't there or the presentation needs to be improved.

    Of course editors can be wrong. They're human. Most of them have day jobs in attention to their editorial duties. And we're talking about extremely subjective quantities.

    Unfortunately there isn't much authors can do about it when they are. You can perhaps appeal, but as has been pointed out that's time consuming and has a low probability for success. Your best bet if you want to get it published is to follow their advice and try submitting to a different journal.
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