The Editor’s of Global Biogeochemical Cycles published an Editorial last summer, “Criteria for rejection of papers without review.” In this article, they state that the Editors reject 25-30% of submissions because they are out of scope for the journal. That journal is rather specific and the boundaries of its scope can be unclear to authors. Thus, the GBC Editors felt the need to clarify their scope to the community.
Similarly, Geophysical Research Letters rejects a rather high percentage, over two-thirds, of papers submitted to it. I don’t know the exact breakdown, but a significant fraction of those rejected by GRL are not sent out for review because they do not fit the scope of the journal. In GRL‘s case, the scientific scope is very broad, and probably very few are rejected because the topic is not appropriate. Rather, that journal’s Editors reject without review because one or more of them found the paper to not meet the criteria of significant new results worthy of consideration for rapid publication. That is, “significance” is one of GRL‘s major limiting “scope” criteria. For some GRL papers, the Editors send it out for review and then, based on the comments of the reviewers, the Editor will decide that the manuscript doesn’t meet the significance criterion for GRL and reject it at that point.
I see examples of “significance” rejections from GRL in the submissions we get that were initially submitted to that journal before being submitted to JGR Space Physics. Some were rejected without review by that journal while others were sent out for review and then rejected on significance based on the reports.
At JGR Space Physics, we reject less than one-third of submissions, and around 11% of new submissions are rejected without review. Less than one percent of submitted manuscripts are rejected for being “out of scope.” We just revised the journal’s full aims and scope last fall, which can be found at the JGR Space Physics website. Therefore, JGR Space Physics does not suffer scope uncertainty like GBC. In addition, unlike GRL, we do not, at the moment, apply much of a filter on the significance of the results. As long as the findings are within the subject of space science, we will most likely send it out for review. We rely on the community to provide the initial assessment of the significance of the findings, and if it is rejected for this reason, the assigned Editor will read through the paper to be certain about this decision.
That is, the Editors of JGR Space Physics apply the “significance” criterion after review rather than before sending it out. This brings up the concern of burdening the community with refereeing assignments of papers with marginal new results. That is a consequence of our editorial practice, but I think that it would take a very large editorial board to make such decisions before sending them out. It would require more Editors for a few reasons, not only because the average editorial time commitment per paper would increase, but also in order to adequately cover the range of topics within the scope of the journal. Even with more Editors, it would, in my opinion, result in many good-quality papers being turned away from JGR Space Physics, perhaps to be published elsewhere.
If you would like to read other opinions about rejection without review in scientific publishing, then here’s perspective on it from the editors of a nutrition journal, another from a technical editing service, and yet another from a science writer. That last one is where I grabbed the graphic above.