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This may be a sensitive question that may cause theoretical scientists to feel injured.

Today my paper was rejected after assigning it to the editor. Here is what the editor said about the reason:

"With your manuscript, in absence of experimental data supporting the theoretical predictions, I am sadly unable to conclude that the work represents a clear conceptual and methodological advance that would likely generate interest among our readership. The paper is better suited for a broad-topic journal focused on hypothesis-driven research, without any evaluation of immediate impact."

My question is whether the theoretical data are just something that must follow the experimental data. Are predicted data meaningless without experimental data?

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    $\begingroup$ I already had the same justification to reject a manuscript I submitted. The funny thing was that came from the editor of a pure theoretical journal. $\endgroup$ – Camps Dec 10 '20 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ @AnoopANair do you have experience on Academia.SE? It is totally not the place to ask a question like this, which is specific to experimental/theoretical matter modeling. It's a site for academia in general meaning there's history majors and music majors there. $\endgroup$ – Nike Dattani Dec 10 '20 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ @NikeDattani Yes I do understand that! But then the users question is on "whether the theoretical data are just something that must follow the experimental data. Are predicted data meaningless without experimental data?" how can such a question be answered with appropriate citations to articles. It seems too broad for the Matter Modelling SE. Apart from that, the presence of History and Music major won't hinder the theoreticians there from answering such a question ;) $\endgroup$ – Anoop A Nair Dec 10 '20 at 17:50
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    $\begingroup$ Here is a highly influential purely theoretical paper that may be used as an example for an answer to the actual question asked: doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevB.63.054416 It is the prediction of the TMR effect in Fe | MgO | Fe sandwiches. One could say that this paper guided experiments. $\endgroup$ – Gregor Michalicek Dec 10 '20 at 23:56
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    $\begingroup$ For the record: The question as it stands (“Are predicted data meaningless without experimental data?”) would certainly not be suitable for Academia SE, because it is about the contents of a specific field. The answer is different for different fields and depends on the epistemology of those fields (not the academic culture). The right audience for such a question are experts in the field you are asking about (which you hopefully find here), not any broader selection of academics. (CC@AnoopANair) $\endgroup$ – Wrzlprmft Dec 11 '20 at 6:24
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This all depends very much on the journal. It is not necessarily something that should make you "feel injured", since there's many journals that allow for the publication of theoretical calculations that are completely devoid of experimental support.

This specific wording that the editor used:

"The paper is better suited for a broad-topic journal focused on hypothesis-driven research, without any evaluation of immediate impact"

makes it appear that the journal to which you submitted, prefers to publish papers that will have "immediate impact" rather than papers that generate a hypothesis to be tested later by experimentalists. Furthermore the beginning of the editor's message:

"With your manuscript, in absence of experimental data supporting the theoretical predictions..."

indicates to me that this journal prefers to publish work that is experimentally supported.

Examples of journals in our field that are like this include JACS and Angewandte Chemie, the former being notorious for not publishing work in theoretical chemistry without experimental support. However "International Journal of Quantum Chemistry" and THEOCHEM do publish a lot of papers that are purely theoretical (however you have not told us which journal you're discussing, so it's hard to tell whether or not you're a molecular matter modeler or a materials matter modeler: based on your other questions it looks like you work more in the solid-state side of things, meaning that you'd be looking more at physics journals than chemistry journals, so "Physica Status Solidi B" might be a journal for you to consider).

"My question is whether the theoretical data are just something that must follow the experimental data. Are predicted data meaningless without experimental data?"

It absolutely does not have to follow experimental data, and it is absolutely not "meaningless" without experimental data, however a trap that a lot of middle-scale academics fall into is that they think that because they solved a challenging problem that involved a lot of work, it should be publishable in a good journal. Unfortunately there's millions of challenging problems that we can get students to solve, which will be of very little interest to other people, so if a journal wants to maintain its reputation as one of the "most cited" or "most viewed" journals in the field, it often has to choose only the most "impactful" or "widely interesting" papers to publish. Now especially in our field of matter modeling, a lot of theoretical results are in fact meaningless from an experimental standpoint (not meaningless altogether, because by telling the reader what a certain method predicted under the conditions of the calculations, it still says something meaningful about the method) because you can get numbers with DFT (for example) that are just completely wrong. Many journals will not be interested in publishing such results, which is why journals catering specifically to theoretical work (e.g. International Journal of Quantum Chemistry or THEOCHEM) were created to let theoreticians have a place to put their results.

Finally I'll say that many editors get a large volume of papers each day, and it's not uncommon for them to give generic rejection letters that are made to look polite and personal but really are copied and pasted. If you see your question's edit history, you might notice that you made a lot of grammatical errors just in writing this question alone, and if your paper looked anything like that, the editor might (based on the writing quality alone) not have wanted to waste the time of the referees, since it's not always easy to find senior academics that are willing to volunteer their time towards reviewing a (poorly written) paper for free. So if you see lots of theoretical papers in that journal, without experimental support, consider that your paper just didn't meet the journal's quality standards.

I will also end with what are I wrote at the end of this answer:

"It usually does no harm to look at some of the papers in the most recent issue of a journal, and even write to the editor an informal inquiry about the suitability of the journal for your paper, before formally submitting the paper, since this can save you the loss of time (and energy and enthusiasm!) associated with having a paper rejected."

By doing this you can see in advance whether or not the journal accepts papers without experimental support.

I would recommend next time also to tell us which journal you're discussing, and if you don't mind even showing us the paper we can help you a lot more than you might have originally thought.

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    $\begingroup$ This nice answer discusses several points that surely are of relevance here. I think another point may be finding the right words in the letter to the editor, the abstract, the introduction and/or the conclusion of the work. In the end the editor has to see the potential value of the work and if he doesn't see it it may be because you were not explicit enough, not finding the best context, or not thinking big enough. $\endgroup$ – Gregor Michalicek Dec 10 '20 at 23:21
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that the editor prefers high impactful manuscripts. Before choosing any journal, I checked if the journal has published any paper using DFT related to the field I am concentrating on. My results are new and haven't published in any literature. I knew my English isn't good. Before submitting, the grammar, spell, notations, etc were checked more than 20 times before my co-authors made double-checks. So it is not a 'poor written' paper. I also think the experimental editor just read the cover letter and abstract only. That's why I believe it's likely unfair. $\endgroup$ – Binh Thien Dec 11 '20 at 2:50

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