So, a while back I decided to talk about how I negotiate peer review, semi-liveblogging my response to a revise and resubmit request from a pretty big development journal (see part 1, part 2 and part 3).  Well, I now have a response to my resubmission . . .

No.  To quote: “after much deliberation, the editors have reached a rather difficult decision. [The editors] feel that they cannot accept your revised paper.”

Yep, I have gone from revise and resubmit to outright reject.  This is . . . unusual, to be honest. More unusual, however, is the rationale for the rejection.  To quote from the decision:

What makes this difficult is that [the editors] recognize that you have in fact taken account of what the referees said, and have tried to accommodate their comments, but the editors feel that what has emerged from the revision process is not an appropriate paper for Development and Change.

Translation: you did what we asked, and addressed the referee comments, but in doing so you ended up with a paper that we think belongs at another journal.  Well, fair enough, this happens.  But why it is not appropriate is a little odd:

While they still believe that there is an interesting idea at the core of your paper, they don’t feel that the revisions have solved the initial problems, and they are not convinced that further rounds of revision would be any more successful. The intended contribution of the paper appears to be theoretical, but the paper hasn’t managed to work out that contribution in a way that will be accessible / comprehensible to our readers.

Soooo . . . I have an interesting paper, but the editors more or less think their readership can’t deal with the complexity of the argument.  [Note: I am disregarding the assessment that my revisons have not solved the initial problems, since they already have said that I took account of the referees’ issues – this is a contradiction I am just going to leave aside. That, and they did not show me any reviewer comments, so I have no idea what I did not resolve]  One of my colleagues has called this the oddest rejection he has ever seen.

Now, I want to be clear – the folks at the journal with whom I interacted throughout this process were very responsive and polite, and were kind even in their rejection (they were quite apologetic, actually).  I would submit to this journal again, though I admit to wondering exactly what aspect of my work might fit here, as I am confused by what they believe the capacity of their readers to be.

This, folks, is the nature of peer review – sometimes, you just have no idea what happened.  I am not privy to the internal conversations of the editorial board, and will not pretend to know exactly what happened here.  What makes this hard is that I did not receive any substantive comments on this second round of review, so I have no guidance at all on edits.  I am rereading the paper, adding a citation I had missed earlier, and making minor tweaks to the argument (the article I missed before actually strengthens the case for what I am doing in the manuscript).  I’ve sent it off to a trusted senior colleague to have a look, and to see where he thinks it might go next.  I will probably sound out the next editor in advance, just to make sure that s/he thinks the paper is appropriate before starting a long review process again . . .

Two years and counting, folks, since my initial submission.

Any editors out there interested?  Anybody?