Inefficient Journal Submission Policies

In their instructions to authors just about all of the economics journals require that papers be submitted with a certain format for the references, bibliography, figures and so forth.  Except no one I know actually does this until after a journal has accepted the paper; thus no wasted effort.

One day my wife, a microbiologist, was complaining about all the work that it took to reformat a paper for submission.  I told her that only newbies did this.  Shocked, she claimed that if she didn't reformat, the paper would instantly be rejected.  "Ridiculous!" I said, "No journal system could be that stupid."  Sigh.  Of course, my ever-wise wife was correct. In microbiology, you have to submit with the required format or run the risk of instant rejection.  Why is microbiology stuck in the inefficient equilibrium?

Perhaps an author who deviates signals incompetence and thus no one deviates.  But it's surprising that counter-signals aren't stronger.  Couldn't a Nobel prize winner say "enough with this nonsense" and submit without reformatting?  Wouldn't a journal that allowed a more lax initial submission receive more submissions?  Why is it in the interest of a journal to reject a good paper without review simply because the references were in an alternative format?

The official journal policies in economics point to an inefficient past so how did economics evolve to the efficient equilibrium?  Are other disciplines evolving in this manner or is economics unique in choosing the efficient journal policy?  (Readers may have information on this point.)

All else equal, I would expect initial submission standards regarding formatting and so forth to be weaker in the harder sciences.  After all, in science isn't it easier to demonstrate competence with the contents of the paper rather than with the formatting?  The evidence so far, however, does not support my hypothesis. 

Journal submission policy is a small, albeit annoying matter.  But the fact that the clearly inefficient equilibrium is common and apparently robust is humbling and frustrating even to those of us who advocate small steps toward a better world let alone to those of us who would remake the world along more efficient lines.


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