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I have received a referee request for a paper that I refereed and rejected a few months ago. I would like to decline the request because although the recent journal's rank is lower than the previous one, I will reject the paper again for the same reasons I gave last time. Hence it would be better to decline the request to referee. What should I write to the editor in this situation?

A friend suggested I write to the editor.

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    Do take a look at this and this. The general conclusion of both threads appears to be, don't decline. – user153812 May 28 '18 at 6:23
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    Please take time to read the paper carefully and note if there are any improvements made to the paper without bias. If you think the paper has improved, you may decide not to reject. – Abdulhameed May 28 '18 at 7:00
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    @manuel because that's how the peer review system works... – astronat May 28 '18 at 11:32
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    I will reject the paper again for the same reasons I gave last time. Hence it would be better to decline the request to referee. If everyone behaved like that, there would be no rejections, just extended time to find referees until a positive one agrees to do the job. I think that would introduce an unnecessary bias in the review process towards not rejecting. – Richard Hardy May 28 '18 at 14:20
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    @RichardHardy : Why would it mean no rejections? If the reason why a paper is rejected is that it ought to be rejected, wouldn't getting another referee normally also result in rejection? – Michael Hardy May 29 '18 at 2:03
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I recommend against declining. You've already refereed the paper once, which means you can referee the paper again much quicker than a fresh set of eyes can.

Instead, send your original comments back. If the authors have updated the paper, send an explanation of why it's still not publishable as well. Then write in the "confidential comments to editor" box that you've reviewed the paper before, you still recommend rejection, and your original comments are attached. The editors will know what to do.

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    Well, only send the original comments back if they haven't been addressed in the newly submitted version... – Vincent May 28 '18 at 7:59
  • @Vincent 's comment could be inserted between paragraphs 1 and 2 of this answer. Verify if there is no change to the paper. – Mindwin May 28 '18 at 18:41
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    The OP said "I will reject the paper again for the same reasons I gave last time" so I assumed the issues haven't been addressed. I'll edit the answer. – Allure May 28 '18 at 19:52
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    It seems likely that the questioner rejected the paper for fundamental reasons which cannot conceivably be addressed (and least, not and the result be anything like the original paper). After all, the recommendation was to reject, not to revise and resubmit. – Steve Jessop May 30 '18 at 9:23
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Your friend is right. You should email the editor (or whoever asked you to review the paper) and explain the situation. The editor can then decide what to do.

Here's an example of what you can write (assuming it is accurate):

I thought I should let you know that I already reviewed this manuscript in a different context. I recommended against publication. My concerns appear not to have been addressed in the current manuscript. Would you still like for me to review this paper (in which case I would repeat my prior comments) or would you like to find a fresh reviewer?

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    I think I like this option the best of what's been posted. It doesn't go so far as to say you've immediately judged the paper as unworthy for the current journal (as Paul says in his answer: unless the problems with the paper are fundamental/severe, it may fail muster on importance/content in one journal but not other), but makes it clear you've previously done so for some other journal and want to know if that would be considered acceptable or unacceptable to the editor. And this can change depending on if the topic/field has many potential reviewers or very few. – zibadawa timmy May 29 '18 at 2:28
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    I’ve done this a few times, and each time, the editors said they were very happy with it. I’d note though that if you’re offering to re-review at all, you shouldn’t just resubmit your earlier review — make sure to update it to reflect any revisions they’ve made. If e.g. they’ve fixed some minor errors, then make sure to remove mention of those, so that you don’t detract from more serious criticisms that are still valid. If you don’t want to give the submission so much of your time, then that (not the fact it’s a re-review) is a good reason to decline. – PLL May 29 '18 at 7:47
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    +1 because you provided draft text for a note to the editor. The OP requested this, and extra effort likee this improves the utility of answered for the OP and those of us that wander searching for wisdom. – ElderDelp May 30 '18 at 3:31
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You are not obliged to explain to the editors why you decline (as they are not obliged to explain why they chose you out of all people to send the request for refereeing to). So, if you have decided that you prefer to decline the job, you always have an option of just saying "Sorry, I cannot accept this request at this time", signing "Sincerely, /your name/", clicking the "send" button in your e-mail tool, and forgetting about it.

This is, of course, called "washing your hands" and there are some moral reservations about this choice in this particular situation, but if you really want to be over with it, that would be one of the quickest routes.

  • Time is money and limited, I hardy would call managing it smartly "washing your hands". – Rui F Ribeiro May 30 '18 at 12:49
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I'd think it would be fair to give the authors a chance to "get a second opinion". Thus, decline, and do not tell the editor that you'd recommended rejection for any other journal.

For that matter, I hope you do realize that the "tiers" of journals are significantly about "status", so that an otherwise-correct write-up that is insufficiently high-status for one venue might be fine for a lesser-status venue.

You didn't say your reasons for recommending rejection. If they were anything other than blatant falsity or nonsense, it would be reasonable to give them a chance to meet the status-threshhold of a lesser journal, etc.

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    Why should reviewers have to worry about 'tiers' and 'status'? Leave this to editors. Reviewers need not do the editor's job, and need only give journal-independent comments. – Sylvain Ribault May 29 '18 at 7:36
  • I do not see why reviews should be considered as a geometric process where, if a sufficient large number of reviewers is contacted, the paper ends up being accepted. Imho, reviews should be made public whether or not the paper is accepted in order to avoid this possibility and a waste of time. – Xi'an May 29 '18 at 11:57
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    @SylvainRibault, many times the editor's request has been exactly about my opinion on the suitability of a paper for the specific journal. Also, comments surely must depend on context. To say that the context is "absolute" is hard for me to understand... – paul garrett May 29 '18 at 21:30
  • @paulgarrett An "editor" who delegates such questions to reviewers should rather be called a secretary. Whether an article is clear, technically correct, or interesting to you, are journal-independent statements. – Sylvain Ribault May 30 '18 at 7:26
  • @SylvainRibault: an editor can strike a balance though, seeking the opinion of peers (or for that matter reviewers who are not peers) without delegating the decision. Blinkered autocracy is not an explicit requirement of the job. – Steve Jessop May 30 '18 at 9:28

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