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Herbert, R. Accept me, accept me not: what do journal acceptance rates really mean? ICSR Perspectives (2019)




Journal acceptance rates should not be used as evaluative metrics for journals: we find no evidence that acceptance rates are a reliable signal of quality or impact. Journal acceptance rates are useful for submitting authors and ICSR recommends that they be made publicly available where possible. Gold open access journals do tend to have lower acceptance rates than other open access types, but these also tend to be younger journals: as these journals age, will those acceptance rates increase, or will the open access model influence the acceptance rate? ...

We identified the fact that low acceptance rates are demonstrated typically by very large, very old and very high impact journals, as well as those that are not ‘gold open access.’ That’s a mixed bag of attributes. The relationship to impact is nuanced and not strong enough for us to state firmly that acceptance rates are a signal of quality or impact. Importantly, we found that even where relationships between journal attributes and acceptance rates could be identified, the variance in the acceptance rate is still so high that the findings are unlikely to be useful in the real world. So where does that leave authors considering which journals they should submit their manuscript to? We believe that journal acceptance rates do hold meaning: they indicate to prospective authors the probability of acceptance of their manuscript, based on historical success rates at the same journal. As such, we believe that journal acceptance rates have a place in the array of journal metrics and that they should be made publicly available wherever possible. However, acceptance rate is not a signal of other attributes and so it should be made available alongside other metrics and indicators, but not conflated with them. Fortunately, that’s often already the case. Journal homepages that display acceptance rates often also offer the latest annual journal citation impact metrics, plus information about speed of publication, scope of articles and peer review process. This combination of information is important and useful. The only recommendation we make is for publishers and journals to consider how they present their acceptance rate and to be wary of suggesting this is a signal of impact, quality or stringency. Instead we suggest stating the acceptance rate for what it is: quite simply, the count of manuscripts that were accepted as a share of those submitted in a given period.