“Comments” in Journals

I came across a hilarious and terrifying description of the experiences of a physicist attempting to respond to a published paper that refuted some of his research.  This paper, “How to Publish a Scientific Comment in 123 easy steps” reveals quite a bit about the publication process.  I recommend that you read the entire harrowing piece if you are interested in learning something interesting about the academic publication process.

I have been through the “comment” process as a participant a three times in economics journals.  I never ran into this sort of Kafka-esque situation, but I am not at all surprised that this sort of thing goes on, and believe all of it.  Comments are an important part of the publication process.  They provide an additional layer of peer review in the publication process, and help ensure that scientific inquiry advances in the right direction.  The IJSF hasn’t yet published a “comment” on a published paper, but I’m sure that day will come.  I certainly hope we handle the situation better than the editors described in “How to Publish …”.

The suggested “fixes” to the publication process at the end of the paper are a mix of interesting, often-heard, and completely off the mark suggestions.  Clearly, the editor who published a paper should not handle a comment on that paper because of the potential conflict of interest.  Economists have been howling for an archival process for data used in empirical research for years, to mixed success.  However, I take issue with the final suggested remedy

Finally, lets face it: most journal editors are simply too arrogant and have lost sight of the goal, which, it appears I need to remind them of here, is to publish only truth.  Perhaps they could be required to take a course or two in humility.

I am a journal editor, both for the IJSF and Contemporary Economic Policy.  I know several other journal editors in economics, finance and sport management.  I have dealt with many others in my career.  I have not found them to be arrogant.  The journal editors I know are mostly hard working and well-meaning.  They have a difficult job, because they make most of the authors they deal with unhappy.  I certainly try to deal with authors and referees in a respectful manner.  Some tension is unavoidable, because being an editor entails rejecting papers, a painful process.  Of course, Professor Trebino was dragged through a horrible process.  The whole Catch-22 “one page limit” on his comment is painful to read, even though he manages to make light of it.  I can’t say that I would have any less scathing suggestions if I had to go through what he did.

(Hat tip to the always interesting Craig Newmark).


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