ECONOMIC INQUIRY | Editor's Statement

Tim Salmon, Southern Methodist University

As the incoming Editor for Economic Inquiry, it is useful for me to explain my views on general editorial policy. Some of these views coincide with the official editorial policies of Economic Inquiry while other elements are simply my own views. My views about being an editor have been informed by many years serving in the role of co-editor of journals as well as many more years of experience trying to publish in journals. My two most recent predecessors in this job at Economic Inquiry, Preston McAfee and Wes Wilson, have both taught me a great deal about the job and I recommend everyone reads Preston’s take on some of these issues in Edifying Editing (The American Economist, Spring, 2010).  My goal with accepting this position was to continue the mission that Preston and Wes have begun of trying to improve upon the standard model of publishing in economics journals. That process often involves overly lengthy decision lags and overly intrusive editorial interference. There are also other problems in our field with bias against underrepresented groups making it more difficult for members of those groups to publish and be recognized for their work. As authors and members of the economics community, we can all see these problems but as journal editors it is our job to try to improve them. My goal for my tenure at Economic Inquiry is that the journal will work to improve the publication process and the quality of the science we publish, just as it was the goal for my predecessors as well.

My primary view about the job of an editor is that editors should realize that they are the editor of a paper, not a co-author on that paper. As such, it is our job to evaluate whether a paper poses a worthwhile research question and whether it provides a convincing answer to that question. It is not our job to micro-manage authors and dictate to them what must and must not be in their paper. For example, for most research projects there are many ways one might go about addressing an issue and multiple different approaches to constructing a model or econometric test. The question for an editor should never be whether the authors made the exact same choice on issues as they would have were it the editor’s paper but rather is the approach the authors take capable to achieve what the authors need it to. If so, then there is no reason to ask them to adjust the paper to using the method the editor happens to prefer. This is a hard lesson for many editors (and referees) to learn but it is an important one. Authors of a paper should control the content and shape the direction of the paper. An editor (and referee as well) should simply be providing an evaluation of whether or not the authors achieve their goals and whether those goals are worth achieving. Editors can certainly make suggestions but I find it best to highlight any weaknesses in a paper pointing out areas that are unconvincing and let the authors determine how best to deal with those concerns to improve their paper as they see fit. Sometimes the legitimate response from an author is to simply explain to the editor that the editor overlooked or misunderstood an important point as that certainly occurs. Other times, suggestions like this will be useful to authors in editing the paper to improve its quality.

The slow pace of publishing in Economics is a well-known problem. Many journals take far too long to make decisions and publication lags can stretch into years. Many editors will blame referees for this, and of course slow referees do not help the process, but it is ultimately the job of the editors to make decisions and try to keep the publication process moving. Economic Inquiry has long had policies directed at decreasing decision times and publication lags. I seek to continue those practices. We do this first with an aggressive desk rejection policy. No one benefits from an editor sending a paper out for a months long review process when that editor knows upon first reading the paper that it will not be published. A different problem along these lines is authors of eventually published papers being asked to do too many rounds of revisions. At EI we seek to limit revision rounds to only 1-2 if possible as revision requests past that are typically time consuming for everyone involved yet yield little additional value. This concern leads to a general policy at EI where we suggest that editors only request revisions when they see that a straightforward revision will be capable of addressing the reviewers’ concerns. It is the speculative revisions where the results of new tests are uncertain or new data would be required to separate out explanations and it isn’t clear whether such additions would be fruitful or not that will often lead to many rounds of revisions. My view is that papers expected to need such substantial revisions are best rejected at first submission. Authors can then decide if they wish to pursue such a substantial revision as they seek to publish the paper elsewhere or (in cases I would very rarely recommend) resubmit to EI as a new submission.

Decreasing the number of submission rounds places requirements on both editors and authors. It requires the editors to be very clear in their reports regarding what an author must do to satisfy the concerns but it also requires that authors pay close attention to those suggestions. On balance though, this practice seems to benefit the publication process by speeding up the process of getting good papers published. I will also point out that Economic Inquiry will continue its No Revisions submission option in which authors can submit their papers and we commit to replying either accepting the paper as is or rejecting it. We will not request any revisions. This is an option which I will not suggest many authors avail themselves of as many papers which might be accepted after a revision get rejected this way, but this submission option represents EI’s commitment to shortening review and publication times and can be very useful to authors in the right circumstances. 

A final core value that I find important to the job of an editor is a commitment to diversity and inclusion in the publishing process. To me, this has many different meanings. It certainly means trying to fairly evaluate papers based on the work alone and not the nature of the authors. It also means being aware of implicit biases that might impact judgement about a paper leading to members of some groups being treated worse than others. For example, a common bias editors and referees might possess is being willing to give established authors at top universities more benefit of the doubt regarding judgment calls than less established authors. One can even make convincing arguments for how such a bias is reasonable as such authors may well have more experience in research and be entitled to additional trust. On the other hand, given that we know that those positions tend to be occupied by people who are mostly white and male, such a bias leads to entrenching their existing advantages and perpetuating the disadvantaged status of other groups. Thus it is very important in my view that editors treat submissions the same regardless of the nature of the authors. EI is one of a dwindling number of journals which still requires blinded submissions and as I take on this role, this is one aspect of the journal that I have considered changing. We all know the actual limitations of this practice because well-connected referees in a field (i.e. the referees one wants handling a paper) will often already have seen the paper. If they have not, referees with even middling google skills can almost always identify the authors if they wish. I have decided to retain this practice of blinded submissions not because I expect that all referees remain ignorant about the identity of the authors but as a symbol of the commitment of the journal to trying to work against the biases that make it harder for people from under represented groups to publish in our discipline. Papers should be evaluated on their content, not on who wrote them. I will also continue trying to educate myself on the nature of these biases, sharing what I can with members of the board and continue seeking to expand diversity among the co-editors who handle papers for the journal. Correcting the problems in the profession on these issues will not be done immediately and will be difficult but I would like for Economic Inquiry to be a journal that helps to make progress on these issues and will seek to do my part to facilitate that progress.