Opinion 178: Think Twice Before You Submit Your Paper to Pretentious Journals, like the "Open-Access" (but Close-Minded) Electronic Journal "ALGEBRAIC COMBINATORICS" Since the Expected Gain is Negative

By Doron Zeilberger

Written: July 30, 2020

Life is full of surprises, some good some bad. On March 30, 2020, I got a request to contribute to a special issue of the on-line journal "Algebraic Combinatorics", in honor of my old good friends Ian Goulden and David Jackson, whom I know since (at least) 1982, and whose work I really admire. On June 21, 2020, together with my collaborator, Manuel Kauers, we submitted to that journal, via their web-server this gem. Naively I believed that the journal would love it. First, it was raving about Goulden and Jackson, calling them "legendary", and the two themes , Young tableaux and P-recursiveness, two pillars of algebraic combinatorics, were perfect both for the journal and for G&J. Our paper also put it in the perspective of their work, and concluded with, what we naively believed to be intriguing conjectures, with ample empirical confirmation.

Imagine my surprise when I opened my email three days ago and got the following terse "rejection slip"

[ALCO] Editor Decision

Akihiro Munemasa via 
Jul 26, 2020, 11:39 PM 
to Manuel, Doron

Dear Manuel Kauers, Doron Zeilberger:

An initial review of your submission "Counting Standard Young Tableaux With Restricted Runs" indicates that it is not likely 
to meet the standards of depth and originality that Algebraic Combinatorics is seeking.  Rather than introducing 
further delay through a refereeing process, I am returning it to you now.

Akihiro Munemasa

I was so upset that I decided to NEVER submit any papers to so-called "peer-reviewed journals", with the possible exception of papers coauthored with students, who still need to publish in "real" journals to get jobs. From now on all my papers will stay in my web-site and the arxiv. I can't take another surprise like that of Professor Munemasa.

But I understand that young, or younger, researchers still need to have a "list of publications" and can't afford to only publish in the arxiv. To them my advice is, stay away from "fancy wannabe", pretentious, journals like "Algebraic Combinatorics"

[Not to be confused with the Springer "Journal of Algebraic Combinatorics" (JACO). A few years ago the full editorial board of the latter journal, jumping on the bandwagon of "Open-Access" resigned en-masse and founded this electronic journal. Vic Reiner and other editors spammed people telling them to bycott JACO (that is now edited by Ilias Kotsireas)]

I agree that being "Open-Access" is a good thing, but the erroneous and narrow-minded (I still don't understand it) decision of Professor Munemasa and his editorial team shows that it suffers from a much worse sin than publisher's greed, I call it "fancy snobbism". They took a quick look and decided to put it in the "reject pile".

Some journals are (for whatever reasons) considered "prestigious" (e.g. Annals, JAMS, Inventionae) so if you are not yet tenured, it may be worth the risk of getting a rejection there, since while the prob. of acceptance is small, the "expected prestige-gain" may be positive, and it is not insulting to be rejected, since you knew all along that it was a "long shot". But the "prestige" of getting a paper accepted in Algebraic Combinatorics (and similar "fancy wannabe") journals is not that high, and the agony of being rejected is high, so it is a "poor investment" in the "prestige market", to submit it there (unless you are a student of one of the members of the large editorial board, who can pull strings).

As I said elsewhere (more than once) the original purpose of scientific journals of communicating information has been taken over by arxiv.org . No one reads journals, they only look at the arxiv. The only purpose they serve is the human need for "inclusion-exclusion" and to make some people feel superior to other people. In an ideal world, the "certification" part of a mathematics result should be done by open checkers, whose names should be listed along with the authors. As for "how deep and original it is", people can either put "likes", or wait for the future to decide.

But we don't live in an ideal world, and not-yet-fully-promoted people, for practical reasons, need to submit their papers to peer-reviewed journals. [whose reviews are as good as the "peers", many of them are unqualified and some of them are mean, and since it is "anonymous" they can get away with it].

So my advise to you is "invest wisely", and do NOT submit to "Algebraic Combinatorics", and other such pretentious journals who claim to strive for "high levels of depth and originality". Also as a courtesy to other people, don't be shy! If you feel that your submission was unfairly rejected, tell everyone. Like I did with the above mentioned gem. Then other people will know to stay away from them. In other words, let's start a MeToo movement of "authors rejected unfairly by journals". Do not be embarrassed, these pompous editors should be put to shame!

Addded Aug. 11, 2020: Read the appendix: Why co-EIC Akihiro MUNEMASA and Steering Committee Head Sara BILLEY of the Electronic Journal ALCO (Algebraic Combinatorics) Seriously Erred in Rejecting (w/o Refereeing) the Kauers-Zeilberger submission about Counting Young Tableaux

Added Oct. 22, 2020: Watch my lecture at the Manuel Kauers seminar, Oct. 22, 2020, How the Beautiful Duckling of Enumerative Combinatorics turned into the Ugly Swan of Algebraic Combinatorics

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