Sunday, October 14, 2012

That third reviewer and the quality of your research

An interesting piece of meta-research has been circulating recently: Papers that have been refused and resubmitted receive more citations than papers that are accepted as is. This may appear counterintuitive or self-evident depending on your point of view.

It appears counterintuitive for non-scientists because it is easy to think that most of what gets refused is low-quality research. However, I would posit that authors are actually quite good at picking the right journal for their work, and get refused for other reasons than the over all scientific quality. This is where it seems self-evident. If authors are good at picking journals, then papers get refused because of insufficient supporting data. If, in addition, the quality is good this means that the reviewers find the results highly interesting. So interesting in fact that they would like more data to be really certain that the conclusions are correct.

This would certainly fit with the result of Calcagno and co-workers' findings that these previously refused articles are more highly cited. On top of that, a refusal generally includes reviewer comments and suggestions that pin-point the weaknesses of the work as seen from the outside. This often means that the authors will add even more data before resubmitting, and may then choose a higher impact journal as was indicated by the finding that the highest impact journals actually were more likely to accept articles that had been rejected elsewhere first.

There is of course still the possibility that the third reviewer is being an ass.

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