Edifying editing

by on August 5, 2009 at 7:42 am in Education | Permalink

One well-known irate author, after a rejection, wrote me “Who are you to reject my paper?” The answer, which I didn’t send, is “I’m the editor.”

That's from R. Preston McAfee, in a short and excellent piece he wrote on what makes for a good journal editor.

I enjoyed the section which started with this sentence:

There are authors who attempt to annoy the editor.

This part was good too:

Pretty much 100% of kooks are theorists; you won’t meet a, say, physicist or physician with a Great Economic Idea that involved running regressions or doing lab experiments, although occasionally there is a table illustrating a correlation between some economic variable like lawyers or fluoridated water and per capita GDP.

And this:

The essential mystery of editing is why the reports I receive as an editor are so much better than the reports I receive as an author.

For the pointer I thank Chris F. Masse.

Candadai Tirumalai August 5, 2009 at 10:08 am

The best editors recognize work that is very
good but way ahead of its time. Routine
editors publish clever variations on
hackneyed themes.

dearieme August 5, 2009 at 12:08 pm

The most unusual paper I ever wrote was rejected without being refereed on the grounds that “we don’t carry papers like that”. But there were no papers like that.

SN August 5, 2009 at 1:05 pm

“I have seen one that had a
heading “Conclusion† with only one
sentence: “See the introduction.†”

I bet this was a paper written by John H. Cochrane:
http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/john.cochrane/research/Papers/#for_phd

Barkley Rosser August 5, 2009 at 2:04 pm

I am an editor who has debated these matters in person with the acerbic McAfee.

1) There is a fine line between being “opinionated,” which he approves of, and “having a personal agenda,” which he does not. Clearly there is some virtue to decisiveness, even if it is based on “opinon” or whatever.

2) I desk reject 50% of papers and my board is very pleased that I do. I think the rate at many journals is higher than the one 15-20% McAfee reports. And it is a favor to authors, and most know it. Those who do not are either first time submitters or major egomaniacs (plenty of them around).

3) As a referee, if I am writing a negative report, I tend to come down hard to give the editor ammunition, if they want to go with it (editors can always ignore negative reports). As an editor, I try to be kind. Most of us are sympathetic with authors, even those we are desk rejecting, even if many think we are not.

4) I will sit on papers that are close or hard calls for awhile to think or get another report. Otherwise, faster out the better.

5) I think this “no revisions” option is mostly a marketing scam. Of course there are revisions. They are called “editing” after the paper is accepted. I do not think EI publishes papers with misspellings or incorrect references.

6) Ellison is right that too many revisions has been the biggest problem. I have dealt with that by making sure that coeditors and I try to make a basic yes/no decision after the first revision. If it goes beyond that, the paper almost certainly will be accepted (unless the author(s) just simply refuese to do what is asked).

7) Oh, and yes, trying to annoy editors is a really bad idea.

anon August 5, 2009 at 5:32 pm

The last attribute of a good editor is a very thick skin.

As an editor of specialized (and profitable) practitioner books for the last 25 years, with small and large publishing houses, my experience is that *authors* must have thick skins.

Phil August 6, 2009 at 7:49 am

Pretty much 100% of kooks are theorists

Is that why Marx, Keynes and Obama never ran regressions?

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