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?
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).
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?"
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.