How the scientific review process works

High-impact scientific journals: not for the likes of me

I am not much good when it comes to writing scientific papers.  I always take too long trying to make them perfect, when such a thing is impossible.  And then, when I finally submit them, the review process usually leaves me disheartened.

In 2010, I gave a talk at the Geological Society of America meeting in Denver.  Off the back of the presentation, I submitted a paper to a British-based journal.  I thought the manuscript was quite interesting, and so did one of the reviewers, but unfortunately the other reviewer didn't like it at all.  The editor sided with his opinion, and the paper was rejected.

With my co-author I spent some months revising it, trying to address the concerns raised, and finally tried my luck again, this time with an august publication on the other side of the pond.  After a few months, the new reviews came back, as follows:

Reviewer 1 - the paper is "of great scientific interest [and] has potential to contribute significant progress on our understanding of the processes involved."

Reviewer 2 - "The paper is well constructed and well written [and its] premise is compelling."

Handling Editor - the paper "provides a number of important insights.  I agree with both reviewers that this paper will be of broad interest and have a high impact."

The conclusion?  Reviewer 1 recommends major revision, and Reviewer 2 recommends rejection.  I was baffled, and on the brink of despair.

Fortunately, the Handling Editor decided it was a paper worth persevering with, and (in conjunction with the Co-editor) wrote to us to say that if we could address the main issues raised, they'd be happy to consider publishing it.

In the midst of all this, I'd been given a couple of papers to review, both co-authored by some key people in my field.  As such, I expected some decent work, but both were frankly shoddy.  I could do little but reject them, and scratch my head as to how the whole system operated.  Why was I receiving such drivel whilst my own submission was bouncing endlessly around?

Anyway, today I've resubmitted the re-re-re-revised manuscript and, perhaps, with a bit of good fortune, it might finally be on its way into print.  I shan't be holding my breath though.