Letter from an Editor

The following emails are real correspondence between myself and an Associate Editor at a prestigious scientific journal, which I have called “Journal X” here, after I published an article in a journal with a very similar title, which I am calling “Journal Y”. I have removed the journal and editor names for privacy.

letter from an editor
Photo by Scott Kidder

Dear Dr. Adamson,

Congratulations on your recent excellent paper. May I ask if you specifically targeted your paper for the “Journal Y” (a relatively new “look-alike” entry to the field in 2013)?  I’m an Associate Editor for the more established “Journal X.” I was curious to what extent authors may be submitting to other “look-alike” journals to intentionally vs. not.


Dr. Editor

Associate Editor

“Journal X”


Dear Dr. Editor,

Thank you for contacting me about this recently published paper. I am grateful for the opportunity to explain why I chose to submit to the open access “Journal Y” instead of the well-respected “Journal X” and I would like to hear your thoughts. I am cautious about predatory journals, and I consciously wrestled with the pros and cons in journal selection.

I originally prepared this manuscript for submission for “Journal X,” where I thought it would fit nicely in one of the online-only sections. When the manuscript was finalized, I received an invitation to contribute to a special issue of “Journal Y” that included a publication fee waiver.

Having never heard of this look-alike journal before, I read and considered these elements: credibility, cost, ethics, and time to the wide-spread dissemination of the findings.

First, I checked the credibility of “Journal Y” by reading past issues. The quality was good, and they had published a review paper in 2014 by my research heroes Drs. A and B. I thought, “if this journal is good enough for A and B, it is certainly good enough for me.”

I noticed the “Journal Y” had very low or no publication fees for being Open Access, and this signaled a difference from predatory journals with low standards and high profits. Since my current trainee funding does not cover publication fees, the paid Open Access option through your journal was not an option unless I used personal savings.

The University of Washington Biomedical Research Integrity Series lectures on the ethics of responsible publishing changed my opinions about Open Access vs subscription journals. I take seriously my moral responsibility as an HIV researcher to communicate findings in a format accessible to scientists and patients in communities disproportionately affected by this disease. Many of my brilliant economist and mathematician colleagues are based at small institutions and companies with limited funding to purchase articles.

At the end, I am pleased to have chosen “Journal Y” over “Journal X” for several reasons:

  • Less than 8 weeks passed from my submission to publication (including two rounds of revisions)
  • I received rigorous and helpful peer-review comments
  • No cost for Open Access (with invitation to the special issue, or low cost otherwise)
  • Within the first month, the full text has been downloaded more than 200 times in six continents.
  • Last year I submitted a different and very good, in my opinion, paper to your journal. After more than two months, I received a rejection from with peer-review comments that were so mean and personal it was borderline unprofessional. While this look-alike journal does not have the prestige or impact factor of X, I see my younger generation progressively placing more value on the quality of content, free accessibility, dialogues, and citations of individual papers rather than on the sum of journal impact factors on a CV.

Because of these reasons, I am committed to Open Access publishing when I have the opportunity and sufficient funds to do so. I admit there is quite a lot for me to still learn about scientific publications, and so I would greatly appreciate your expert feedback on these considerations.

Thank you for taking the time to read my paper and reach out to me personally with questions.


Blythe Adamson


Dear Dr. Adamson,

Thank you very much for your thoughtful reply.  I’m glad to hear that this was an intentional (vs. accidental) decision. Please also accept my apologies for the “borderline unprofessional” peer review comments you received when submitting to “Journal X”; definitely discouraging to authors.

I will pass on your comments to the other Associate Editors of “Journal X” on our quarterly conference call for discussion on how we can improve and hopefully attract your future papers.

Best regards,

Dr. Editor

Associate Editor

“Journal X”

Published by

Blythe Adamson

Blythe Adamson uses health economics, epidemiology, and data science research to identify valuable medicines and improve patient lives. Dr. Adamson lives in New York City serving as a Senior Quantitative Scientist at the health-tech startup Flatiron Health. Join her conversations about Infectious Economics at www.blytheadamson.com and Twitter @InfectiousEcon.