Computer science and economics obviously have different publication cultures. However, the journal system is generally similar: You submit your paper to a journal, it runs the peer review gauntlet, and you get the results after a year or so. If the paper is headed towards acceptance, the reviews inevitably ask for revisions, which take another year. That’s just the way journals work, right?
Not necessarily. The physicist and science fiction writer Robert L. Forward envisioned life on the surface of a neutron star that is based on strong nuclear forces instead of electromagnetic interactions. Such lifeforms would function millions of times faster than carbon-based lifeforms — civilizations could rise and fall in days. If these lifeforms had journals, they would be like medicine/biology journals.
The über competitive journals — Cell, Nature, Science, etc. — typically reject a paper a week after submission (without reviews) if it is not awesome enough, and provide thorough reviews a month or so after submission if it is. Then, they ask you for additional experiments that take hundreds or thousands of man-hours and give you only two months to do the revision! I’ve learned this the hard way from my wife, who is a Ph.D. Student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and is now feverishly working on a journal revision.
But things get much weirder in the nether reaches of the humanities. Although I am descended from a proud family of law professors, I only recently heard how crazy law journals are from a friend (well, she thinks of them as normal). First, the most prestigious law journals, such as the Harvard Law Review and the Yale Law Journal, are run by students! And I’m not even talking about doctoral students (in the S.J.D. sense), just ordinary law students like Barack Obama! Classic case of the inmates running the asylum.
Second, they allow multiple simultaneous submissions in a single publication “cycle”. This gives rise to intricate dynamics. A paper is submitted to dozens of journals. Once it is accepted to a lower-tier journal, the offer is leveraged to “expedite” review in higher tier journals, which may otherwise fill the entire issue before looking at the submitted paper. In fact, some papers are submitted to fourth, third, second, and first-tier journals, and make their way up the food chain by iteratively using offers in tier i to expedite reviews in tier i-1. Journal editors push back by making “explosive offers”: If you want to expedite your review, you will have to respond within an hour once an offer is made. This system is the opposite of the “normal” journal system, where papers make their way down the food chain.
Then again, maybe the law journal system is not so alien — in some (more polite) sense, this is how the faculty job market works.