When publishing an article takes forever… for no good reason

by | May 9, 2014 | regular

Earlier this month, we published ‘The spectacular human nose: an amplifier of individual quality? ‘. In this article, a group of Norwegian researchers show that small decentralizations of the nose tip on facial images have a large impact on attractiveness assessments, while similar decentralizations of another central facial trait (i.e., the mouth) has no effect on attractiveness ratings. Conversely, artificial centralization of the nose tip increases attractiveness while no such effect is found for mouth centralizations.

As the corresponding author Ivar Folstad explains, “these provocative results may relate to the seemingly unique human habit of fist fighting, especially common among young males, and the occurrence of rhinoplasty. We daringly suggest that preference driven selection may have been involved in the evolution of the brittle, but spectacular human nose.”

This is an interesting, unusual study, and we felt it would be informative to ask Dr Folstad a few questions on his experience publishing this study.

PJ: Could you tell us a bit about the history of the submission?


IF: We started submitting in 2005 (!), and it has been rejected from 15 journals before being accepted in PeerJ. Most of the time, the editors kept sending the manuscript back to us without reviewing it. It has been reviewed a few times but we never had the possibility to resubmit, except in one case. We were just turned down again and again, and we did not have any possibilities to reply to comments.

PJ: How much time, money, and effort did you waste trying to publish your findings?

IF: I have no idea, but certainly too much time and also too much money. Except Åse Kristine [first author on the paper], we all have permanent jobs at the University of Tromsø, making it possible for us to keep resubmitting for the past 9 years.

PJ: In your opinion, why did so many journals turn your manuscript down?

IF: I think it might be two reasons.

One is the little attention given to preference driven selection of morphological traits, especially those traits that might have evolved as “amplifiers”. Since Oren Hasson coined the term “amplifier” and stringently modeled the evolution of these signals in the very late 1980s, they have been given relatively little focus among researchers in the field. As the theoretical research focus of the present manuscript is probably not well known, it might have been turned down out of ignorance.

The other reason, which might be more important, relates to the slight embarrassment many scientists working with facial attractiveness may feel after largely ignoring the importance of the nose for attractiveness. I feel that we have gotten unwarranted negative feedback, presumably from scientists who already have an established career working on facial manipulations. Yet, the latter is entirely my own speculation, as I do not think that any reviewer ever revealed his identity during our first 15 submissions. I do not know how large the community of scientists working with facial attractiveness is, but with some of our most recent submissions, the editors had problems finding scientists who were willing to review it.

However, I might be wrong. I will leave it to future meta-analyses to test the robustness of the results.

PJ: Has it ever been ‘officially’ rejected for subjective determinations of ‘impact’, ‘novelty’ or ‘interest’?

IF: Yes. My co-author Nigel Yoccoz makes it clear that the latest rejection, at the editor stage, was based on “I don’t think this will be of strong interest to a wide audience” and we also got comments by referees such as “I’m not sure it adds enough to the literature to warrant publication”.

PJ: How would you describe the PeerJ submission process compared to your prior experiences?

IF: Very smooth, and I particularly liked the pragmatic attitude towards details of symbols and punctuation in the reference list and the preprint option. The latter made me feel that it was actually published before it got accepted! Additionally, Jackie Thai [Head of Publishing Operations] was of great help whenever problems occurred.

PJ: How was your experience with the PeerJ review process?

IF: The manuscript was submitted on Jan 15th, received a first decision on March 19th, and was finally Accepted on Apr 1st. That is very good. The process was well organized, tidy and speedy. The reviewers had some excellent suggestions and the Academic Editor was very positive.

PJ: Why did you choose to reproduce the complete peer-review history of your PeerJ article?

IF: There are so many interesting stories untold about the history of scientific publications, and at least some of the history of this publication now becomes available. Thanks, for making this possible.

PJ: What kinds of lessons do you hope the public takes away from your 9 year submission experience?

IF: It’s a bit sad, but especially when starting out as a young scientist I think you should be careful when choosing a subject area for your study. However, when you are starting up you are the one with the least knowledge about where the controversies will emerge and the consequences of your choice. On the other hand, if you are an established scientist you should, with the knowledge of the general theories of your field, move out from your comfort zone, try out your hypothesis in another field and not easily give up.

PJ: Would you submit again with us, and would you recommend that your colleagues submit?

IF: Absolutely, I will be back to PeerJ with more manuscripts! And I have already recommended your journal to many of my colleges.

PJ: Thanks very much for your time.

If Dr Folstadt’s story seems familar to you, and if you are also having a bad experience with traditional journals, then we encourage you to submit to PeerJ and experience the future of publishing!


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