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I have submitted a paper to a Taylor & Francis journal. I received two constructive reviews and one negative, together with an editor’s request for major revision. My coauthors and I didn’t agree with the third reviewer and wrote a polite rebuttal. After major revision two referees accepted our work. However, a fourth review was provided and contained 3 pages of new issues, probably raised by reviewer 3 but it could also be a new first review. The editor now requested for a revision. Again we did not agree with the changes proposed by this reviewer and submitted a second polite rebuttal. This can go on and on. Can we actively ask the editor to take a decision if we are of the opinion that requested changes do not improve our work?

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    You can ask. However, if the editor is not satisfied with the situation, it means that they will ask for another opinion. Perhaps Reviewer #3 and #4 are just nuisances, but perhaps they have a point. We cannot guess the editor's view. – Captain Emacs Jun 15 '18 at 21:17
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    If Arxiv was used in your field, you could just post your preferred version there, and follow all referee requests in the journal version. – Sylvain Ribault Jun 16 '18 at 7:23
  • I agree with @SylvainRibault Taylor & Francis can be tedious for cooperation – SSimon Jun 16 '18 at 11:22
  • @SylvainRibault This is terrible advice! Please do not be one of these people who have different versions on arXiv and the journal! It is simply awful for people who want to actually read and cite your work. – user9646 Jun 16 '18 at 14:20
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    @SylvainRibault According to gossip, someone was passed over for receiving the Fields medal because he followed your philosophy (no "immutable version of record"). You are not writing for yourself, you are writing for your readers, and if your readers have to check every day whether you silently corrected mistakes since the last time they read your articles, well, they just will not read your articles. There is nothing artificial about telling readers "that's it, I'm done, if I have something more to say I will write a new article". – user9646 Jun 17 '18 at 12:57
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Yes, you can ask for a final decision after this rebuttal. However, I would suggest a slightly different approach: Communicate to the editor, that you will not undertake another revision for this paper.

In that way you don't ask the editor to do something, but say what you are about to do. The implication for the reviewer is the same, but it is their decision what to do. I think it would be good to explain why you think that another revision would not improve the paper anymore (or any other reason you have to not revise the paper another time). Keep in mind that multiple rounds of review-revise do happen. A colleague told me that he was up to seven rounds of review, and he was willing to go through the whole process as this was a good journal and the reviewer comments were always constructive (the paper was published in that journal in the end).

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You can, but there's no guarantee the editor will make a decision. It's her journal - until she's satisfied nothing gets published.

A few things to think about:

  • I personally find it pretty unusual to invite a fourth reviewer for a paper that already has three reviews. I might invite more reviewers if the reviews I received were poor or if I didn't have enough reviews to be confident the first time round, which doesn't seem like the case here. Hence I suspect the "fourth review" was written by the third reviewer.
  • It's true that this can go on and on, but it's more likely that you're already at least halfway to a final decision. My experience is that very few papers reach four rounds of revisions.
  • If the paper-to-editor ratio is high, then it's possible the editor is operating on autopilot. If you ask the editor to make a decision quickly, your paper could come under greater scrutiny. This could e.g. lead to the editor inserting some comments of her own or challenging some of your revisions that the 1st/2nd reviewer has already approved of. Conversely if the paper-to-editor ratio is low, then your request is much less likely to change anything.
  • People don't like to be told what to do, especially in this situation where the editor is the person in charge of the journal. If you decide to ask for a decision, write something non-accusatory, e.g. "we've been through two rounds of major revisions. When can we expect a decision?"
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If you truly think you are subject to unnecessary hardship due to the review process, you might consider appealing to the editor in chief.

This might be particularly applicable if your first round revisions were nearly there, then a new reviewer requests unreasonably extensive revisions (eg, a new experiment). Sometimes you simply need to call attention to the situation to get a more thorough assessment. You shouldn’t try to ‘force’ a decision but you can ask whether or not it might be better to pull the submission and go elsewhere. That will get the point across.

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It might be best to contact the editor and explain politely and concisely (a long letter won't help) why you disagree with the proposed changes. But asking the editor for a decision might be a bit too much.

  • Thank you @George. Actually I did write a (sorry, long) personal letter today. Me and my co-authors also submitted a strong response letter in which we oposed the reviewer’s views, expressed reaching the point of withdrawal and requested a final editorial decision. I got a kind and balanced response from the journal (not the editor) to my personal letter. The outcome is still uncertain. So you may be right. We will see. Implicitly we already consider this paper as rejected and we want to move on to more fertile soils. – user93911 Jul 17 '18 at 18:56
  • I wish you all the best @Alice! After all, there are many top tier journals where you can submit your work. – George Jul 17 '18 at 19:07

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