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Fun on Friday

It’s been a hard week this week and I’m clearly going a bit stir crazy. So you can put this post down to that. Back at the end of the last millenium I was working on a publication that published some very short speculative fiction. So I wrote this fictitious rejection letter from a scientific journal that had fallen through a worm-hole from 50 years in the future.

It didn’t get published (too many in jokes) but I thought that it might amuse the readers of this blog. It isn’t meant to be attacking any particular journal, software company or publishing model. If it annoys you please forget it quickly, or at least blame only me, it is all my fault.



Dear Dr Dee,

Thank you for your letter of 18th May 2056 asking us to reconsider our decision on your manuscript, “High throughput desktop transmutation of element 82 into element 79”. I do apologise for the delay in replying. Unfortunately, due to the larger number of submissions for publication in our certificated web area that arrive every day, we are not always able to consider appeals in the depth they require as rapidly as we would like. I have now discussed your manuscript with my colleagues and I am sorry to tell you that we see no overriding reason to reverse our earlier decision not to include your study within the Philosophie Natürliche region of e-SciNet.

Your appeal is chiefly against the workings of our ePeer review process and asks us to invoke a “traditional” human-based review process. We have been successfully using our ePeer system for over two decades now, while “traditional” review became untenable in the early years of this century. At that time the relentless increase in the number of papers published every year, coupled with the explosion in the number of scientific journals publishing these papers, finally reached the point where reputable scientists were being asked to review more papers than they could reasonably assess even were they to do nothing else. In addition web-based publishing put a premium on speed of reviewing completely at odds with a system requiring rigorous and comprehensive refereeing to be performed by two or three human experts.

A partial solution came in the form of expert systems for technical assessments. The first of these, LS-NorthWest‘s “Literati”, did little more than trawl the scientific literature to find every reference relevant to a given text. However upgrades and competitors’ products soon produced programs that assessed the quality of data by comparisons with similar results already in the literature; used machine logic to determine whether conclusions were firmly grounded in the presented results and used priority establishing algorithms to identify what, if anything, had not already been published. Being both omnilingual and web-enabled these programs were more comprehensive and up to the minute assessors than any human referee could ever be. Such programs were quickly adopted as an essential aid for assessing both completed studies and grant applications.

The quality of your study, as assessed by our technical review algorithms, is not in doubt. Indeed its quality quotient falls above the 97th percentile of studies submitted to us. However technical assessment is only a half, some would say the least important half, of the refereeing process. The “traditional” referee also provided an opinion of the importance of the work to the progress of science. Such opinions could never be wholly impartial but rather influenced by a range of unquantifiable factors which could include professional jealousies, animosities and vested interests. These opinions were so erratic that in the “traditional” system the views of numerous referees would have to be solicited and these weighed one against the other. All this made the system both time-consuming and imprecise.

It has been acknowledged for nearly a century that the only objective assessment of scientific importance is citation indices. Originally these were a count of the number of citations to a given study in the literature. In this form they grew in prominence during the late 20th century as an objective judge both of the achievements of individual scientists and the importance of specific journals. More complex algorithms have since arisen, weighting citations by discipline, journal and degree of separation (science is after all a small world!) but the principle remains the same: the most important papers are cited most often.

It was soon noticed that the citation index of a study could be predicted from the technical review statistics, the quality quotient, derived from ePeer programs and this was incorporated into 5th generation upgrades. In our current ePeer system a study’s data quality and the security of its conclusions, are combined with the degree of advance over previous publications and their known citation indices, using a seven dimensional neural network, to estimate a study’s anticipated citation index.

Since we have been using our current system it has proved 98.3% accurate at predicting citation indices and in the years since its introduction has increased Philosophie Natürliche‘s own Impact Factor by an average of 6.4% year on year. This system also has the advantage of reviewing a paper in under a minute so that we now make a decision on 96% of all submissions within 24 hours. We see no reason to abandon such a highly successful procedure.

In the case of your work, it obtained the lowest anticipated citation index that we have ever encountered for a study with similar technical quality quotients. In essence no papers with equivalent or even tangentially related claims have been published in reputable journal space within the 20-year relevance window employed by our ePeer system. We can thus find no justification for your claim that this manuscript is of ‘exceptional general interest’ and will therefore be unable to publish your study within Philosophie Natürliche-space.

You are of course free to present your research in e-SciNet‘s unreviewed, pre-print area where any readers who may happen to be interested in converting lead to gold will be able to locate it.

I am sorry that on this occasion we can be no more positive

Yours sincerely

J. Grimsby,
Associate Editorial Facilitator, Philosophie Natürliche

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