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Academia (vs. Industry)

Industrial Manuscripts Not Welcome

Update: see the comments section. The editors of the journal are calling this “a highly unusual and unfortunate error” and are taking steps to correct it.

Now, this is a situation that I haven’t seen mentioned before. A reader (from one division of a large pharma company that I won’t name) had prepared a manuscript along with several academic co-authors – it’s not directed toward any proprietary drug, nor indeed to any clinical trial the company was conducting. Rather, it’s a look at the cell biology of a range of reported compounds for their target of interest, a perfectly reasonable topic.

This was submitted to Leukemia, a SpringerNature journal, which from what I can see is an appropriate venue. After two weeks, the team got a rejection, but not quite the one that they expected. According to my correspondent, this was the complete text of the response:

Thank you for your email.  I sincerely apologise for the delay replying.  After confirming with the editorial team, the journal discourages submissions from industry and we are sorry not to be able to assist further.

Well now. If you look at the Leukemia site itself, specifically the “Guide to Authors” page, you will find no mention of any such policy. At least, I couldn’t find one. The “Aims and Scope” of the journal read as follows:

Leukemia covers all aspects of the research and treatment of leukemia and allied diseases. Studies of normal hemopoiesis are covered because of their comparative relevance. Topics of interest include oncogenes, growth factors, stem cells, leukemia genomics, cell cycle, signal transduction, molecular targets for therapy and more.

No mention of telling industrial researchers to buzz off. Perhaps they should update things so as not to waste the time of anyone who might actually be developing therapies to treat leukemia? If my correspondent has characterized things accurately – and I have no reason to believe that he hasn’t – even having academic collaborators will not be enough to remove the stain. Publish with Purity or Perish, folks.

Any comment from the other side of this issue? Editorial staff at Leukemia? Home office at Nature? I’ll gladly add to this post with whatever you might have to say – but let’s hear it.

42 comments on “Industrial Manuscripts Not Welcome”

  1. Astonished says:

    This can’t be serious. How many Nobel Prizes have been awarded to industrial scientists? Too many to mention.

  2. Isidore says:

    Rather incongruous for a for-profit organization to stipulate that nothing good can come from any other for-profit organization.

  3. Samuel C. Blackman says:

    I didn’t realize that we in industry got our PhDs or MDs, or our MSs, PharmDs, and BSs from Science, Inc. or University, Inc.

    All of us trained in academia, and we’re inculcated with the same core values and same spirit of inquiry and the same scientific method. There is no basis for descriminating based on employer. What next? No non-university groups? No private non-affiliated research institutes?

    This is appalling, if their true policy.

  4. John Wayne says:

    There has to be an interesting and longer version of this story. We should all demand answers, because they will be interesting.

  5. TR says:

    Something isn’t right with this story. Opening Leukemia and clicking on a few random in press articles I found articles with industrial authors fairly quickly.

    1. johnnyboy says:

      True, there is one dated october 12th which is 100% from industry, but otherwise leafing through the author information of about 20 other titles I’m not seeing other industry authors. Plenty of clinical authors who no doubt work at for-profit US hospitals though, I guess that’s ok.

      1. loupgarous says:

        …work at for-profit hospitals and clinics, and some of them quietly accept gratuities from industry while they prescribe medications made by industry.

        By contrast, industrial researchers work transparently for industry.

  6. Igor Radun says:

    hmm… Interesting. We’ve recently published a paper “Company employees as experimental participants in traffic safety research: Prevalence and implications”
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1369847818304200

    but this is very strange attitude.

  7. FatiguedAcademic says:

    Revised guidelines (https://www.nature.com/documents/leu-gta.pdf) of the journal state: “Medical writers and industry employees can be contributors”.

    However, also “Authorship Requirements for all categories of articles should conform to the “Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals,” developed by the ICMJE (www.icmje.org).”

    Seems like quite a stringent set of rules and conflict of interest declarations.

    1. Thoryke says:

      The ICMJE (www.icmje.org) guidance isn’t that onerous — it just means that the medical writers must be cited in the acknowledgements, rather than listed as authors. [Whether someone who wrote most of the actual text should be an “author” rather than a “contributor” is a separate argument.]

      1. loupgarous says:

        The required involvement of an “author” by ICMJE rules has increased since the original Vancouver guidelines – from two phases of research to four. That places staff who design research forms, analyze results for statistical signficance, prepare text for submission to journals and handle correspondence for investigators in the “acknowledgement” section. Used to be, the worker doing the stats work could be named as an author if he or she were involved in another phase of the research. The more recent guidelines are probably better..

        1. Design Monkey says:

          Haven’t checked that type of guidelines recently, but at least some time ago it was quite possible by colabration make a paper, none of contibutors to which would qualify as author. Therefore, a paper without any author.

          1. loupgarous says:

            Which is why ICMJE rules are advisory in nature – just as the “Vancouver Style” for biomedical publications is. It’s what the “cool kids” in medical and scientific publishing do, not an actual law.

          2. Anonymous says:

            The editors of the ACS journal CHEMTECH, on at least one occasion, made the decision to publish an article anonymously to protect the author from possible retaliation.

            (CHEMTECH was substantially about industry with industry contributors. After the founding editors retired, CHEMTECH was renamed Chemical Innovation which ceased publication a few years later. CHEMTECH had some well known and popular features such as “Heart Cut” and “Patent Watch” which continued in other venues for a while.)

  8. Anonymous says:

    Did the rejection come from the Editor-in-Cheif, a Senior Editor or an Associate or lower level Editor (who might not know the policies and make them up — er, interpret them — on the fly? I can’t find their masthead page: are there any industrial folks on their editorial board? Lastly, not that I think it could be a real possibility (cough, cough), are there any reasons to think that the corresponding editor might have a conflict of interest and want to divert or slow down publication of a “competing” paper?

    1. Anonymous says:

      Oops. Found the editorial board in the link in my name. Other than the 2 senior editors, it has their names and cities ONLY without their affiliations or titles (“Prof.” vs “Dr.”).

      (Typo in previous post: left out a closing parenthesis “)” .)

  9. Peter Kenny says:

    What a load of bollocks! Maybe an intern did it for a dare?

  10. MALLAM says:

    Arrogance and ignorance.

  11. Marc Piquette says:

    Such a shame. Plenty of great research occurs in industrial labs and if they’re willing to share their discoveries, that should be encouraged.

  12. Uncle Al says:

    Research is modern Management’s working fluid. It is fungible and, in itself, of no intrinsic value. Failure is acceptable; “more studies are needed” is optimal. Success is the venue of unquantifiable risk, and therefore insubordinate.

    When Bill Hewlett demanded the HP-35, his bean counters showed that total projected sales would not cover costs of development and production. “By 1972, the company held its breath, hoping to sell 10,000 units at $395 to break even. GE alone wanted a quote for 20,000 units! Demand outstripped supply by 18 months even after adding a night shift.”

    Can you imagine how many guys wearing ties got down-thumbs?

    1. Matthew K says:

      I have read this four times and it makes absolutely no sense to me, both in itself and its relationship to the topic of the blog post.

      1. Tim Bergel says:

        I believe that Uncle AI is some sort of software entity

  13. Wavefunction says:

    We explicitly reject submissions from six-toed sloths residing on any planet in the outer Vogon system.

  14. Paul says:

    While it is alarming that the reviewer is so explicit about the bias against journal submissions from industry, the bias itself should come as no surprise. I am aware of two papers that were of high quality and importance that were rejected/held up in review, only to have an almost identical paper from academia published (bearing a later submission date). I think this is an open secret that is both shameful and harmful.

    1. Druid says:

      I like this explanation. Technically anyone can write a review, and once you have 100 references (max allowed by this journal) the rest writes itself, and you can hardly be accused of plagiarizing references. Of course, academics can only progress through their publication record, whereas industrial scientists could always invent something, so if you are an academic, it is sensible to reserve journals for your academic friends and they will do the same for you. Industrial scientists are only useful for subsidizing the academics’ fees at conferences. Why DO I have to pay more?

  15. loupgarous says:

    The idea that industrial research is inferior to academic research ought to come as a surprise to FDA, EMEA, and other regulatory bodies who base their decisions on studies sponsored by drug manufacturers. The physicians/investigators in these studies are paid for their time by industry. Research fraud in these studies is probably less notable than in studies with no industry involvement. “Baltimore cases” (in which deliberate fraud or very poor practices compromised the research) are preponderantly from academia, with government funding.

  16. Chairman Mao says:

    With attitudes like this no wonder cancer hasn’t been cured.
    Sounds like a class-action lawsuit is in store.

  17. JIA says:

    Well, as an alternative explanation — has anyone considered email spoofing? Perhaps the rejection is not from the journal, but rather from someone with a different agenda? See link in my handle to a real world example in the field of music: a vengeful romantic partner spoofed a rejection email from a university conservatory to a musician.

  18. hn says:

    It’s probably an inexperienced editor. I cannot believe this is journal policy.

    1. Robert F Bruns says:

      It probably came from an overworked junior editor who didn’t want to go through the bother of getting the manuscript reviewed. Even if the editors didn’t want submissions from industry, a senior editor would be smart enough to never say so explicitly.

  19. Barry says:

    If industrial researchers can’t publish, they can never get management’s approval to declassify data. And without that, they cannot write a job-talk, or get another job.
    This policy–if it is policy–would break the industry as we know it.

  20. In our field, there is a similar discussion triggered by examples of wrongdoing of industry (https://paasp.net/cutting-the-gordian-knots-of-industry-academia-relationships/).

    It is important to avoid disproportionate actions such as in the case of this Leukemia journal.

    One example: From the top 50 best cited papers published in NEJM (Jan 1, 2014 to Sep 20, 2018), only 12 had no industry funding or co-authorship. 33 papers were associated with pharma and 5 with medical device companies.

  21. tangent says:

    Yo, can we see this as a confirmed statement from the journal before declaring it a War On Industry?

    I’m not saying your correspondent is lying, but… rogue interns, mistyped email addresses, stuff happens. This “no industry” policy strikes me as having a low prior probability and I’d like to see it more definitive. On the other hand I don’t know Leukemia from Adam and I’m sure all the kinds of cranks edit journals…

    I can’t resist noting that “After confirming with the editorial team” is surely a malapropism for “conferring”. Bad editor. (Besides which the statement makes little actual sense, why would you need to confer if there’s a policy?)

    1. T says:

      This. I’d really like to see the journal’s official reply. I’d guess that there has been some misunderstanding somewhere, since an editor, this strikes me as bizarre. We certainly don’t have this policy. We have industry chemists on our board and among our top reviewers and authors. I can’t imagine why you’d want to exclude them. They often have good results that would be of interest to the broader community, but more than that, they contribute a different point of view, which is very much needed. I can’t count the number of submissions I get from pure academic groups who seem to think that developing a compound that binds to the (purified) target protein with high affinity is sufficient to give you a promising drug lead (nevermind specificity/promiscuity, pharmacological properties, etc).

  22. Mike Tarselli says:

    Seems like a perfect thread in which to mention that SLAS welcomes, in fact strongly encourages, submissions from industrial labs, whether technology developers, data scientists, bench scientists, or project managers. I’d be glad to speak to any of the above-mentioned authors about potentially appearing in our shop. mtarselli_AT_slas_DOT_org

    SLAS Discovery: https://journals.sagepub.com/home/JBX
    SLAS Technology: https://journals.sagepub.com/home/JLA

  23. Professor Electron says:

    Does sound odd. The wording isn’t quite right – shouldn’t it be ‘conferring’ not ‘confirming’? The journal uses an electronic submission system, so that reply should be in it. If it’s not, then it could be spoofed E-mail. If it is, a screenshot to share…

    1. Anonymous says:

      “I conferred with my colleagues and came to a decision.” makes sense.
      “After evaluating the situation myself, I confirmed with my colleagues that we were in agreement, and I am informing you of the decision.” makes sense. Either “con” word works for me.

      Regarding spoofed email, there was a story about a Canadian clarinet prodigy whose girl friend spoofed an email causing him to lose a chance at further study with a famous virtuoso, Yehuda Gilad. He sued her and won. The court imposed penalty was for $375,000 but the girlfriend has disappeared. Link in my name.

  24. Springer Nature press office says:

    The following response is posted on behalf of Pooja Aggarwal, Editorial Director, Medicine and Biomedicine, at Springer Nature, which publishes the journal Leukemia:

    “The editors of Leukemia consider for publication all research manuscripts submitted to the journal on the basis of the quality of the science contained therein. We welcome submissions from all authors, irrespective of their affiliation. The editorial policies and processes for the journal are outlined in our guide to authors: https://www.nature.com/documents/leu-gta.pdf

    We regret that, due to a highly unusual and unfortunate error, our journal’s editorial policies were not communicated accurately in this case. We are taking steps to prevent this from happening in the future, and are following up directly with the author.”

  25. Dr CNS says:

    Interesting development…
    S**t happens, and correcting an error is good.

    But I wonder what would have happened if the author hadn’t reach out to Derek… and how many such errors go unnoticed?

  26. loupgarous says:

    “We regret that, due to a highly unusual and unfortunate error, our journal’s editorial policies were not communicated accurately in this case. We are taking steps to prevent this from happening in the future, and are following up directly with the author.”

    That sounds as though Ediitorial Director Aggarwal is cushioning the blow of continued rejection to the author who shared Leukemia‘s troubling message with Derek. Were that journal’s editorial policies “not communicated accurately in this case”, or were we seeing an unusual degree of candor about their editorial process (as opposed to their policy)?

    I’m sure the steps the editorial staff at Springer Nature are taking to prevent this from happening in the future include instructions to their staff never to tell would-be authors about “confirming with the editorial team”, and never, ever to discuss how their journals discourage submissions from industry.

    I’ll reflect here that an organization’s policy can state their aspirations, and not what really happens there.

    1. eub says:

      In this situation we probably all should take the energy we’re putting into comments and run a scan over past articles in the journal for % of industry authors…

      1. Robert F Bruns says:

        It’s rare to see an article from industry in Science or Nature, even though there seems to be a “pharmacological tool” article from academia in just about every issue, usually describing a mw-700 compound with micromolar affinity and a Michael acceptor group, but nevertheless touted as the answer for some previously incurable disease.

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