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The most common reason we reject papers without review is that they are describe very local populations and don’t take readers into any original areas that have obvious implications for others. A typical such paper might be a smoking prevalence or knowledge/attitudes/correlates of smoking study undertaken on the staff of a hospital, a group of medical students from one university or a population sample. We reject such papers all the time no matter where they come from, but unfortunately they mostly come from LDCs.
Often these papers are well done, but they rarely say anything different other than reporting on another population in another place. Dr Maziak suggests that such papers “are likely to have implications on a wide sphere of health and economic research, usually transcending the country in focus.” I’m sorry to say that they rarely do. If we were to run such papers, we would clog up the journal with them very quickly which would mean we would be able to publish less of the papers that our judgement is increasingly showing to be of relevance to others, give our upwardly spiraling impact factor.
We do not send them out for review because we do not want to waste reviewers’ valuable time if we have no interest in publishing such papers.
Journals are not the only place that such data can be published. Websites and WHO collections allow people who are interested in such studies to gain access to such data.
The table below shows the distribution of all submissions to the journal since January 1992. The data has been adjusted to take into account papers which have been submitted as part of specially commissioned supplements, and so the third column shows the acceptance rate by country of origin of corresponding author for all papers submitted for routine consideration by the journal. These data do not of course reflect papers which are still under review and they do not take account of papers written by authors registered in countries whose papers concern another country. This often happens in cases where an author from (say) Nigeria, is working in the USA or where there are multiple authors from different countries.
The great majority of our submissions come from researchers in wealthy nations, particularly the USA, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Scandanavian nations, and New Zealand. This undoubtedly reflects the extent of research support available in those nations and so the “health” of the research enterprise on tobacco control in those nations.
Interestingly, we have received 25 submissions from Turkey. Nearly all of these have been rejected as they were either very small, parochial studies (typically smoking prevalence in special, local populations) or had other problems.
All authors submit their paper with the hope that it will be published. The unavoidable fact of life about all (good) journals is that they receive far more papers than they can ever publish. So culling must occur. Rejection does not occur only on the basis of study quality. Competent but dull papers fare worse than competent but interesting papers. Papers that cause the editorial group to say "we already know this" do worse that those where we say "this is something new and interesting."
I reiterate that we would love to publish more papers from LDCs, but as Dr Maziak agrees, we should not do this at the expense of quality.
* includes 46 papers accepted for commissioned supplements
** includes 40 papers accepted for commissioned supplements
*** includes 11 papers accepted for commissioned supplements
***** includes 5 papers accepted for commissioned supplements
Simon Chapman Editor
I start by expressing my earnest pride of Tobacco Control and the
status it acquired in a record time. I am certainly grateful for making it
access-free for developing countries. However, I have some reservation
regarding TC editorial policy that I have mentioned before, and for which
I want to provide my motivations, speaking only about research articles.
Obviously the quest for quality cannot be debated and...
Obviously the quest for quality cannot be debated and editors should
aim to include only high quality articles in their journals. Other
criteria for paper consideration however, such as interest, relevance, and
impact can be subjective and indeed debatable. We have to remember that
the biggest share of the smoking burden falls on developing countries and
that this situation is projected to worsen considerably in the coming
years. A quick look at published research articles in TC gives the
opposite impression, as they mostly pertain to developed countries. Of
course simple epidemiological studies are not interesting to the editors
as well as readers outside the relevant country, but the impact of such
research should be equally considered. For example, reliable simple
epidemiologic figures on health risks from a certain country are likely to
have implications on a wide sphere of health and economic research,
usually transcending the country in focus. Lessons from studying the
global burden of disease and risk factors, as well as understanding the
impact of certain risk factors (ETS) globally have stated time after time
that a major limitation of our today's knowledge lies in the lack of
reliable information from most of the world, the developing world. How
about the other side of the coin? I claim that a significant proportion of
high profile research currently published in TC concerns tobacco control
issues relevant only to functioning law-abiding democracies (policy,
advocacy, advertisement, litigation), while probably the most defining
feature of developing countries is being dysfunctional dictatorships. Do
the editors of TC consider how such high profile research is perceived by
those bearing most of the burden of the tobacco epidemic?
Understandably many published research from developed countries
provide a model for other countries, but one can equally argue that the
path of evolution of tobacco control may not be similar in different
societies. The tobacco epidemic currently exists at variable stages in
different parts of the world, and when most editors of TC are from
countries that have gone a long way in their tobacco control campaigns, it
is natural that their own perspective will influence what they judge as
relevant or interesting in research.
I don't think that TC should sacrifice quality, or be more relaxed in
accepting studies from developing countries, or stop considering papers'
interest for the readers, but I urge the editors to consider a broader
perspective and long term impact of research, when deciding what is
interesting or relevant. After all, for high quality papers that fill an
information gap, external peer review can balance the review process for
studies from developing countries. This is a time tested mechanism that
should not be much weakened by strong editorial preferences. I reiterate
my support to TC and would be happy to learn that my concerns are
exaggerated. Otherwise, the main scientific publication of the tobacco
control community should at least aim to reflect the global tobacco
Wasim Maziak, PhD
Editor Chapman's report gives us great courage that the written word
is in the end the most powerful tool for change, truth and enlightenment.
We know too from tobacco industry documents that some of the closest
readers of TC are the executives of those companies.
Kudos and congratulations to the editorial team at TC.
Norbert Hirschhorn MD