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Light blogging: The cynic’s guide to getting published June 6, 2007

Posted by Johan in Academia, Off Topic.

I haven’t published anything yet (though before the end of ’07, fingers crossed…), so I have no idea how accurate this guide to publishing is. While it’s nice to get an insight into the obscure world of peer review, some of the advice strikes me as a touch.. well, shady. Examples:

Include references to authors who are known to like your papers

* Perhaps they might become referees.
* Include references to people with whom you have had favorable correspondence.
* This is not to bias opinions, but to get a fair hearing.
* Referees have to make a conscious effort and must be alert in order to be fair to unknown authors.
* Include liberal references to famous economists, dead or alive, who are unlikely to be your referees.

34. Delete or hide the references to undesirable potential referees

* Even with double blind reviews, one can often guess the identity of the referee from the report because of references and writing style, etc.
* Editors often select referees from your references.
* If some referees consistently recommend rejection of your papers, drop their papers from your references (in the initial submission).
* You can add them later (after the paper is accepted).
* This may require rewriting the introduction with a somewhat different perspective, but it is probably worth the effort.
* Depending on the journal, you may ask the editor to eliminate some persons from the pool of referees. But you should ask informally (e.g., via e-mail) in advance if it is okay.

Cite your own articles

* An article is considered “important” if it is cited 30 times or more by others.
* Cite your own related papers, provided that they were published or are forthcoming in a prestigious journal. Others may look up your other papers and cite them.
* But do not cite too many.
* If you have a good reputation, this practice can be useful because the referee may figure out that it is your paper.
* Do not cite your own unpublished papers or publications in an obscure journal. The editors and referees may conclude that the current paper also should be published in such journals.
* Do not cite your dissertation. The referees will know you are inexperienced.
* Do not cite someone else’s dissertation. The referees may erroneously conclude that you are him or her or a close associate, all of whom are inexperienced.

And later:

14. Check for related articles in the journal being considered

* Try to find some related articles in the journal to which you wish to submit your paper.
* Authors who published a paper on a related subject are likely to be referees. The editor’s memory is still fresh.
* Obviously, you need to say something about, or at least cite, their papers.
* Even if they are marginally related, try to incorporate their references. Make some effort to explain how your work is related.

Taken together, I think this guide paints a rather dark image of the world of Academia. Peers who disagree with you will try to stop your papers from getting published if they can, so ignore their research at all cost. Peer review is double blind in name only, so make sure to cite people who like you in order to get a favourable review. Editors can be manipulated if you stroke their egos by citing papers in their journal.

Maybe this is really good advice, but I can’t help but wonder what it does to the supposedly open academic debate when people cite their friends and pretend that their enemies’ research does not exist. If people follow this advice, the output is papers that have strayed rather far from the scientific ideals of objectivity and relevance.

I don’t have nearly enough experience of publishing to know if this is an accurate description. What do you think?


1. kristinlm - June 6, 2007

Your conclusion is accurate, if pessimistic. I’ll add a layer of additional pessimism: The people who cite each other repeatedly in their top-tier journal articles are the same ones who decide about funding. Having funding makes it easier to do the type of research required to publish in those top-tier journals, and it’s hard to get funding without a stellar publication record.

Kind of makes you feel like it’s all pointless, doesn’t it? How on earth can anybody get started in this type of academic environment?

2. cambysese - June 11, 2007

It is sad but I also have the impression that Academia, in particular the peer review and funding aspects, are as open as school yard clicks. When you are in, you are in; if you are not…well it is probably best to be on the look out for collaborators you can form a gang with. In the meantime do not forget to get some good science done.

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