What Happens to Rejected Papers?

By Neuroskeptic | January 3, 2017 2:43 pm

The pain of rejection is one that every scientist has felt: but what happens to papers after they’re declined by a journal?

In a new study, researchers Earnshaw et al. traced the fate of almost 1,000 manuscripts which had been submitted to and rejected by ear, nose and throat journal Clinical Otolaryngology between 2011 to 2013.


To find out if the rejected papers had eventually appeared elsewhere, Earnshaw et al. searched PubMed and Google Scholar for published papers with titles and author lists matching those of the rejected manuscripts.

The results showed that by November 2015, about half of the papers had eventually been published, but on average it took over a year for this to happen:

917 manuscripts were rejected over this time period… 511 manuscripts went on to be subsequently published, representing 55.7% of the initially rejected manuscripts. The average delay was 15.1 months (standard deviation, SD: 8.8 months).

In general, Clinical Otolaryngology’s rejects ended up being accepted by journals with a lower impact factor than Clinical Otolaryngology’s (which is modest; it’s currently 2.6, ranked 5/43 in otorhinolaryngology).

untitledA minority of the rejected papers went on to appear in higher-impact journals, though. These ‘ugly ducklings’ even included 18 manuscripts (that’s 2% of all rejects) which the editors of Clinical Otolaryngology had rejected without even sending them out for peer review. This is rather reassuring for scientists (like me) who received such a “desk rejection” recently.

Overall this is a nice little paper, although the results are based on just one journal. It would be good to also look at the fate of rejections from a higher-impact publication. My guess would be that a higher proportion of them would end up being published eventually, but that the delay between initial rejection and publication would also be longer, as authors’ worked their way down the long ladder of prestige and respectability in search of a place for their work…


ResearchBlogging.orgEarnshaw CH, Edwin C, Bhat J, Krishnan M, Mamais C, Somashekar S, Sunil A, Williams SP, & Leong SC (2016). An Analysis of the Fate of 917 Manuscripts Rejected from Clinical Otolaryngology. Clinical Otolaryngology PMID: 28032954

CATEGORIZED UNDER: papers, science, select, Top Posts
  • Rex Jung

    “prestige and respectability” = one mag’s prestige is another’s retraction 😉

  • http://www.hypnoticdreams.com Mesmer7

    I have submitted one epistemology article to four different philosophy journals. It’s been rejected by three with no comments or feedback. Still waiting to hear from the fourth.

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  • Robert Cohen

    Open source journals are more likely to actually be read, even though their prestige is generally less. Do you want your work to be read, or to be prestigious?

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      You have a point, but 99% of academics would say “prestigious” because prestige papers get you jobs and grants.

      Although in the UK there is a move towards only considering “open access” papers when awarding jobs etc., in my experience this doesn’t mean academics are favoring open access journals because there are other ways to meet the requirements e.g. posting the manuscript on your own site.

  • practiCalfMRI

    A few years ago we had a paper investigating a technical problem for which the main critique was “you’re not offering a solution.” But we didn’t have a solution, and nor has anyone else to this point. (We’re in good company!) There was also a request to demonstrate the problem in a group of brains because one French speaking monkey was deemed insufficient. Since two of the four authors had moved on physically (to new positions), and since the other two had moved onto other more pressing (and frankly interesting) problems by the time the second round of reviews were received, we declined to proceed further and simply posted to a preprint server what we wanted people to be able to read. Done. I’m not gonna lie, it was one of the more satisfying episodes in my dealings with journals and reviewers.

  • https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=UUwbGJwCdp96FKSLuWpMybxQ Lee Rudolph

    This is rather reassuring for scientists (like me) who received such a “desk rejection” recently.

    I’ve had only a few “desk rejections”. Of those, the one that felt worst at the time it happened was issued by the managing editor, not even by an actual subject-matter expert (I mean, he was a mathematician, but nowhere near the field of my paper).

    Downhearted but not defeated, I resubmitted to one of the two or three top mathematics journals (Inventiones Mathematicae), which eventually accepted it; a few weeks after that acceptance, I received an e-mail from a subject-matter editor at the first journal (the Subject: header being simply “The paper”), saying they’d accepted it (no referees’ report had ever been sent to me after the desk rejection, so this was presumably a “desk acceptance”). I was very pleased to explain why I was turning down their offer.

    Inventiones published it in 1995, and although it’s not my most cited paper, it’s not at all shopworn—20% of its citations have been since 2015. So there, Journal X!

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  • Franck Ramus

    Sooner or later, Publons will have a great database to investigate this. It covers only a (growing) fraction of reviewers, but to the extent that these reviewers do not select amongst the reviews they post on Publons, this does not obviously bias the final outcome of the papers. And Publons covers all subject areas and journals.



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Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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