Toxic rejection

We had a paper rejected on the 2nd review this past week. Some of the comments were ok and fixable. But the main logic the editor used to reject the paper was that our paper dealt with Toxicology, not necessarily Anatomy, which thus removed itself from the umbrella subject matter of the journal (the paper was on tox effects on bone in an particular taxon). I have 2 beefs (which I’m considering sending to the editor):

1) They could have rejected us on this criteria upon our 1st submission and not wasted 2 reviewers’ time (both reviewers found the paper acceptable with slight revisions; it was the editor that chimed in as the dissenting opinion) as well as ours. The paper had been been turned down for review by other journals for its Tox subject matter. So to reject the improved paper-we did what  the editor asked (which cost some $$)- on a criterion that should have occurred early during the submission project grinds my gears.

2) Said journal publishes numerous papers on the effects of drugs, hormones, and other chemicals/enzymes etc on bone and other connective tissues. So what’s the difference between a common pollutant, and any other chemical you stick in your animal? I’d like to know. Fluorescing Bone labeling dyes, could be considered toxic to reptiles given they chelate calcium and can thus be detrimental to your low metabolic rate animal. I’m not a Tox person, but it all seems the same to me.

This scarlet letter of toxicology is worrisome to me (again, i’m not a toxicologist)  because, apparently you can’t get Tox papers into  normal organismal biology  journals–they all go to a handful of Tox journals. But results like the ones our paper discusses are important to organismal researchers that study (or collect) natural populations of animals…those populations are exposed to various pollutants, oil spills, Ag runoff and the like, and these exposures may be manifested in their phenotypes and skeletal tissues. This in turn may actually impact your results and observations depending on if your animal is stressed out, under physiological duress, or already manifesting problems you might not see from the outside.

Recently in journal club we discussed a paper from the last 5 years that was studying bone phenotypes from “natural populations” of our beloved North American crocodilian. However, one group of animals  (the individuals were pooled in the paper) came from a string of lakes in North Central Florida renowned for agricultural runoff and pollution; papers have been published on the obvious and deleterious effects of these pollutants on the physiology and skeletal phenotypes of the animals (males suffer some “shrinkage” among other effects). Organopollutants (from oil spills, Ag runoff etc) have an established literature that indicates they have effects on the endocrine system and skeletal tissue regulation.  So I wonder if these animals are good, representative individuals to use in not only understanding the biology of this taxon, but then to use these data to comment on the biology of their extinct relatives. We should be careful.

Regardless of our paper’s fate, it is important for biologists to know where their animals come from. Given our current issues with the environment, its likely going to be a growing concern.


About Casey

I am an Associate Professor of Anatomy at University of Missouri-Columbia. I teach Anatomy for the Medical School. I conduct research on the evolutionary morphology of vertebrates, particularly the structure, function, and evolution of the feeding apparatus. Much of this involves studying the biology of bone, cartilage and muscle. of dinosaurs and fossil crocs. I have a great job.
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5 Responses to Toxic rejection

  1. Mike Taylor says:

    Casey, that really sucks. Having had my fair share of manuscripts rejected, I know the difference between a rejection where, deep down, you can see the reasons, and know you can make the paper better; and an arbitrary one like this, based not on the work’s merits but the side of bed that an editor got out of that morning. If I were in your position, I’d go straight to the journal’s Senior Editor and ask him/her to intervene. Let us know how this works out, either way.

  2. Bricky says:

    Hey, if you really meant Apopka, that’s solidly Central FL , not North Central FL. We have enough problems of our own without that mess being included in with them. However, I’m with you, anyone considering a gator population from there as being “natural” is on crack.

    I know we did some GPR in the “Apopka fields” south of the lake, I wasn’t involved though. I’ll have to go back and see what we were looking for, I’m sure it wasn’t anything good.

  3. Sarah says:

    Casey, I’ll be interested in reading that paper. I wonder if you could target it to Bone or something like that? I’d be interested to hear how you proceeded.

    Also interested in the journal club reference.

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