Rise above the gloom!

Oh dear! Looking back over the last few posts to this blog I detect a rather negative vibe being emitted. Put it down to the weather (the coldest British spring for 60 years, is now transforming into damp and only the occasional blue sky of summer) and an intensive period of marking examination papers. My apologies…

Perhaps to balance against the unremitting accounts of rejection I should just pause a moment to congratulate the authors of the half dozen or so papers that we have accepted in the last few weeks- well done to them and to thank all of the authors who continue to send us their work for consideration.

Rejection without review- the Editor’s side of the story

In common with the majority of journals which publish high quality research, JHND receives many more articles than we could reasonably expect to publish and indeed, the ability to review all manuscripts received is limited. Like most of our competitors we find our team rejects a proportion of our papers without sending them for peer review. Although we are not in the same league as journals like Nature or Science (reject about 90%. purely on the basis of editorial assessment), JHND still rejects approximately 15-20% of manuscript submissions on this basis. Decisions to immediately reject are generally made by myself following careful consideration of the abstract and methodology, and where necessary I will pass them to the appropriate associate editor for a second opinion. It may seem unreasonable to not ask reviewers for an opinion on every paper and avoid the risk of missing out on publishing a truly wonderful, discipline-changing paper. It is worth remembering that every paper that goes for review will be looked at by at least 2 expert referees and that these are busy people, who are sometimes very difficult to track down (for the average paper we invite 6 reviewer just to secure 2 reviews). We see little value in asking them to review papers which are obviously of low quality, with obvious flaws. This may use up their patience and goodwill and make the review of future manuscripts challenging.

As an author I too have been on the end of decisions to reject without a review (far too often in fact) and I appreciate that it can be a painful experience. The impression it gives is that the journal has not given you a fair crack of the whip, or that a biased editor has acted as judge, jury and executioner, particularly as the automated system will almost certainly send out an impersonal email that does not explain the reason for the rejection.  Although in the paragraph above I have highlighted the fact that we don’t want to send low quality papers out to reviewers, a rejection without review does not mean that your paper is bad, or that you have been engaged in flawed science. More often the view of the editorial team is that the manuscript doesn’t fit with the scope of the journal, or that it would not be of high priority for publication over some of the other papers that we have in the system. Maybe the work is not sufficiently novel or topical.

The good news about being rejected quickly is that you don’t suffer a lengthy delay in getting your manuscript prepared to go to a different journal. JHND will attempt to get a decision like this back to you within 72 hours of submission. This is of course small consolation, but is a significant gain over waiting for maybe 6 weeks to get a rejection decision, which can often be just as abrupt and disappointing as the rejection without review. As always, when faced with rejection, don’t be too discouraged and don’t give up. One of my old mentors once told me that to be successful in research I would need to have a hide like a rhino. This was good advice as rejection (which is of course ALWAYS totally unreasonable) is a regular occurrence and perseverance and sheer bloody-minded determination is an essential characteristic. It is worth noting that two of my most successful papers had very rocky beginnings.

Langley SC, Jackson AA (1994). Increased systolic blood pressure in adult rats, induced by fetal exposure to maternal low protein diets. Clin. Sci. 86 217-222.

This paper has now been cited by almost 500 other papers and is the basis for a huge body of further research around the world, but was rejected without review by 4 journals before being accepted by Clinical Science, who published a commentary alongside it which challenged the findings very strongly. Incidentally, when I presented the same data at a conference I was more or less laughed off the platform and my abstract was rejected from the conference proceedings.

Langley-Evans SC, Phillips GJ, Benediktsson R, Gardner DS, Edwards CRW, Jackson AA, Seckl JR (1996). Protein intake in pregnancy, placental glucocorticoid metabolism and the programming of hypertension in the rat. Placenta 17 169-172.

This paper has been cited close to 300 times and was rejected without review by at least 4 journals. Placenta was the 7th journal it was submitted to.

So you see, it happens to everybody and it happens to important work. As an author you have to look carefully at how you present the key sections of your work (the abstract and title are incredibly important) and to consider the target journal closely. Do you fit their remit? Have they published work that is similar to yours? If in doubt, ask the Editor first- check that your work is likely to be of interest. It could save you a lot of formatting time and frustration.

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More on rejection

More on rejection

Often I receive emails from authors about rejected papers, arguing that they could easily address referee comments if only they were given the chance. Remember though that, decisions are generally based on a number of factors, including the fit with the journal, how exciting the paper would be to the readership, and referee comments. It is perhaps also pertinent to point out that more time spent getting the manuscript right before submission is always a better strategy than chancing the comments of referees.

Still Not Significant

Prospective authors and students take note. Not significant means not significant, no matter how much you wish it otherwise.

Probable Error

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What to do if your p-value is just over the arbitrary threshold for ‘significance’ of p=0.05?

You don’t need to play the significance testing game – there are better methods, like quoting the effect size with a confidence interval – but if you do, the rules are simple: the result is either significant or it isn’t.

So if your p-value remains stubbornly higher than 0.05, you should call it ‘non-significant’ and write it up as such. The problem for many authors is that this just isn’t the answer they were looking for: publishing so-called ‘negative results’ is harder than ‘positive results’.

The solution is to apply the time-honoured tactic of circumlocution to disguise the non-significant result as something more interesting. The following list is culled from peer-reviewed journal articles in which (a) the authors set themselves the threshold of 0.05 for significance, (b) failed to achieve that threshold value for…

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Our Journal Needs You!

Our Journal Needs You!

Or rather, it needs your best manuscript submissions! The Journal of Human Nutrition publishes papers in the principal areas of:

Clinical Nutrition
Public Health Nutrition and Epidemiology
Nutritional Science
Dietetic Professional Practice

JHND publishes review articles and original research papers (including Short Reports) in these areas. We particularly welcome systematic reviews and meta-analyses in these areas. If you have any suggestions for suitable review topics, please contact the Reviews Editor, Professor Kevin Whelan (kevin.whelan@kcl.ac.uk).

The focus of the journal is upon quality and we especially welcome excellent submissions in the following areas:

Clinical nutrition and the practice of therapeutic dietetics
Clinical and professional guidelines (national and international)
Public health nutrition and nutritional epidemiology
Nutrition and health- global perspectives
Dietary surveys
Health promotion and intervention studies and their effectiveness
Obesity, weight control and body composition
Childhood obesity
Pregnancy and infant feeding
Food choice and the psychology of eating behaviour
Appetite, Food intake and nutritional status
Sociology of food intake

Why publish with JHND?
This journal is going through a period of rapid change. A new, enthusiastic editorial board has the bold aim of making JHND a top- 20 ranked nutrition journal, with a steadily increasing impact factor and a global audience for high quality research. Our new policy of rapid turnaround means that your work can be published online within 3 months of first submission, so your exciting findings can be in the public domain quickly.

Seven reasons why journals reject papers

Some interesting thoughts on why papers get rejected, from the University of Nottingham, School of Education

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I’ve written about rejections several times, and most of this is scattered throughout the blog, so I thought it might be helpful to amalgamate the most important points together. All in one place.

There are some very common reasons why journal papers get rejected:

(1) They are overcrowded with ideas. They lack focus. Most journal papers have one point to make, they work with one idea, one angle.

(2) They don’t reassure the reader that the research is trustworthy, in other words, that it has been thorough and that it fits within a recognizable tradition of work. Different disciplines require different levels of detail about how the research was conducted, with whom or what, where, how often, how many … The vast majority of journals require something that is methodological and/or about methods.

(3) They don’t fit the journal. It’s very important to check out the specific journal…

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Things that make me go mmm… #1

Things that make me go mmm… #1

The use of the internet in all areas of life is beginning to have a clear impact upon the way in which dietary assessment is carried out. JHND is currently publishing a number of validation studies for web-based tools. My personal interest in this is mounting as recent undergraduate projects in my own department have highlighted the utility of web-based survey tools to reach very large numbers of potential participants, in a short space of time and at negligible cost. The limitations of the web for recruitment require further consideration, particularly around selection bias and the veracity of participant responses and fit with eligibility criteria.

The paper by Hutchesson and colleagues reports the findings of a pilot study examining the use of a web based tool for assessing energy intake. The researchers recruited 12 obese and overweight women to complete the SP Health Weight Loss Platform tool for 9 days, alongside measurements of total energy expenditure using doubly labelled water. Overall the agreement between the two methods at the individual level was poor, but for the whole group of subjects was approx. 80% which compares quite favourably with paper-based methods. 

The study highlights that, although problems of underreporting by overweight participants clearly remain, the use of web based tools is at least as accurate as existing food record approaches. Web-based assessment allows for simple recording of food and beverage intake, with a low respondent burden and simplified analysis for researchers. When coupled to suitable platforms that support weight-loss programmes, the technique can give subjects feedback in real-time which can reinforce positive behaviours.