Saturday, November 20, 2010

Trials and tribulations of a manuscript

First review:
Who cares? A piddling paper on a piddling family. The authors have this one unusual family, and from there are suggesting the whole world change the way people with mutations in this particular gene are treated. One family is an anecdote. Just because they escaped getting stomach cancer* doesn’t mean that the next family that comes around shouldn’t be recommended to have prophylactic gastrectomy. Get outta here!

Alright, that’s a pretty crude paraphrase, but you get the idea. Our paper was very forcefully struck down. While naturally depressed at the failure, I was secretly satisfied that the complaints were exactly the points I thought my coauthors insisted too heavily on. But such are the squabbles between coauthors. I have something of a reputation with my boss for setting my sights too low in submitting papers. I don’t set them too low: I really try to send a manuscript where it has a decent chance of getting in.
Admittedly, if you don’t shoot for the stars, you’ll never bag one. But I hate the multiple rounds of rejection this entails, plus the precious time lost at it. If my performance review says my goal is to publish 3 papers this year, should I really mess around with fanciful submissions that will never succeed? And I play a certain counterweight role against my boss, who is thinking Nature or Science every time we have the least result.
So we (I) revised, and added a second, smaller family with the same story that we’d found in the meantime, and submitted to a very good, though not quite so lofty journal.

Second review:
Nice paper, but not big enough news for us. Get a dozen such families and we'll consider it.

Finally the senior author was convinced that the top journals weren’t interested in our story. They have bigger fish to fry. So we resubmitted to a good, middle-level journal.

Third review:
Nice paper, very important for the medical community. Will be one of the milestone papers in the changing evaluation of the effects of mutations in this gene. A few minor modifications, and we’ll be happy to publish it.

Certainly, this wasn’t exactly the same manuscript as the first submission; we rewrote in view of the first batch of criticism. But it’s essentially the same message, based on the same family. And it's the level of journal I wanted to target in the first place. I'm just very pleased to get to the end of the story!

*this is usually fatal, and terribly hard to catch early. Prophylactic gastrectomy (removing the stomach from healthy people at risk) in young adults is the only reliable way to avoid it. But just imagine living the rest of your life with the dietary restrictions that involves!


shabby girl said...

You're doing important work. And You're Published!

Argent said...

Trials and tribulations indeed! Thanks for this insight into your world. I'm happy to say I don't have to jump through these kinds of hoops in my (much less worthwhile) job.

jabblog said...

It sounds as though your boss should be thankful to have you as a contributor - surely he realises you are being realistic?

Titus said...

Intersting insight into process, and huzzah to the third time, not lucky, but intelligent.

Totalfeckineejit said...

It's a bit disconcerting the wide spectrum of feedback considering it was (essentially) the same paper! But well done on publication and they certainly appreciated your work!

Love that new header! King of the cats!

Ps WV is otsycat

Rachel Fox said...

Interesting to read about a different type of rejection letter (poets are always moaning about theirs and yours is a world apart... and yet some similarities...).