Economic Inquiry has a new policy

R. Preston McAfee (a great choice) is the new editor, and he writes in a mass email today:

insidious, in my view, is the gradual morphing of the referees from
evaluators to anonymous co-authors. Referees request increasingly
extensive revisions. Usually these represent improvements, but the
process takes a lot of time and effort, and the end result is often
worse owing to its committee-design. Authors, knowing referees will
make them rewrite the paper, are sometimes sloppy with the submission.
This feedback loop – submitting a sloppy paper since referees will
require rewriting combined with a need to fix all the sloppiness – has
led to our current misery. Moreover, the expectation that referees will
rewrite papers, combined with sloppy submissions, makes refereeing
extraordinarily unpleasant. We – the efficiency-obsessed academic
discipline – have the least efficient publication process.

The system is broken.

Consequently, Economic
Inquiry is starting an experiment. In this experiment, an author can
submit under a ‘no revisions’ policy. This policy means exactly what
it says: if you submit under no revisions, I (or the co-editor) will
either accept or reject. What will not happen is a request for a

will ask referees: ‘is it better for Economic Inquiry to publish the
paper as is, versus reject it, and why or why not?’ This policy returns
referees to their role of evaluator. There will still be anonymous

who receive an acceptance would have the option of publishing without
changes. If a referee noticed a minor problem and put it in the report,
self-respecting authors would fix the problem. But such fixes would not
be a condition of publication.      

You could try dating women on this basis as well; we’ll see how it goes.  Elsewhere in the world of journals, Science is ending its link to JSTOR, a sad moment for scholarship.


It's nice to see some experimentation aimed at cutting submission-to-publication times, which are ridiculous. It'll be interesting to see how many (and which) authors choose to take advantage of this option. The likelihood of what would have been a revise-and-resubmit decision becoming a rejection might affect author behavior only by scaring them away from this option.

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Great, now could somebody please explain to me, speaking slowly enough for my dim little brain to understand, why we can't submit the same paper to multiple journals in economics?

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But there are lots of papers that are good, with a couple fatal errors that are easily fixed. To give a 'yeah or neigh' ignores these cases, and would either publish them with their dumb, easily correctable errors, or not publish them. I think he's being too extreme, and should just say we are going to edit less and reject more, and leave it at that. Most journals have a very long backlog anyway.

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"I cannot judge this paper until it is rewritten in English". A few more referees saying that would be a Good Thing.

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If McAfee has abandoned his role as editor it seems only because the authors have abandoned their role as a writer.

The policy makes sense. Surely if there are significant, but easily fixed flaws that can be communicated in the pass-back. Same for small edits. What needs to be policed is the lazy first draft that is submitted.

All that said, isn't there an efficiency to having early drafts submitted? If an author is going to devote time to a paper, doesn't s/he want to ensure its publication? If all polishing is done pre-submission, and it is still rejected, then a lot of inefficient work has gone into writing.

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I am happy that Dr. McAfee is describing this approach as an experiment. I think that it is likely that Dr. Rosser is right and that he'll find it hard to stick with no revision. But I think that a serious effort to minimize the revisions cycle is not a bad idea. If nothing else, maybe he'll gain some new ideas as to how to improve the revisions cycle.

Having been caught in the endless loop of revisions (without any guarentee of eventual publication) and watched it with my colleagues, I agree that this is unpleasant -- especially when it requires large amounts of additional analysis or data collection between submissions.

What I would like to see is a quick up or down decision of "Should we work with this author to get this paper into press at this journal". I do not, and never will, mind doing major work or implementing constructive suggestions on a paper that is going to be published. But huge amounts of time and effort to not get published slow everything down and reward nobody!

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I should have also mentioned that "Evolving Standards for Academic Publishing: A q-r Theory," Glenn Ellison, JPE, Oct, 2002, describes a theory of how changing social norms in publishing can explain the slowdown. Yep, two articles in the same JPE.

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I was influenced greatly by Glenn Ellison's study, and I have discussed cures for the refereeing slowdown with him. One of the things we discussed is that changing a journal, in his case, Econometrica, is very difficult because the referees have expectations that an editor can't change.

I want to make two points. I spent over 9 years as an AER co-editor and rejected over 2000 papers. I don't have a problem with commitment and have already rejected no_revisions EI papers with fatal defects that could have (likely) been fixed. Balancing the lost papers, EI has received submissions from Steve Levitt and Jim Heckman that it wouldn't have otherwise obtained.

I made the policy extreme so that a failure to follow it is demonstrable. A policy like "only minor editorial revisions" isn't verifiable, which makes it useless. It is also an advantage to use an extreme policy because it influences the way referees think about evaluation.

Second, much of the discussion here and elsewhere neglects that no_revisions is an OPTION. Young, inexperienced authors should use the old system. People who know what they want to say, how to say it, and who know the literature will benefit from no_revisions, as will 5th year assistant professors who need a decision.

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