Few years ago, I have published an article on a peer-reviewed internationally recognized journal. My study went through an extremely sound (blind) peer-review, which allowed me to improve many aspects of the final manuscript. The article has been cited a sizable number of times since then.


I came across an article by a colleague, published in an edited book, in which the author express criticism about some aspects of my study. I am always open to criticism and suggestions when they are constructive, sound, and polite. What I have found particularly upsetting is that, in an attempt to bring to the forefront what s(he) thinks are flaws in my published study, the colleague has actually shown his/her plain misunderstanding of many of the theoretical and methodological underpinnings of my work.


I am wondering what could be a viable option in front of the above-described situation.

Shall I do nothing, leaving the scholarly community to judge who is right, or should I try to publish somewhere a polite but firm reply to what I consider an unfair criticism?

If the latter is the case, should I write to the Editor of the journal on which I published my article to ask him/her if the journal would accept a sort of reply "in defence" of my earlier publication?

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    I'm pretty sure you should just ignore it altogether, in public and in private. Your work stands on its own and you can't control other's reaction. You don't put yourself in a good light by complaining. Actually, the best response of all is to build upon your earlier work. – Buffy Jun 30 '18 at 12:21
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    I'd write an e-mail directly to the author explaining the misunderstandings so that (s)he is aware of the mistakes and might not attribute incorrect statements to your work in the future. – user68958 Jun 30 '18 at 12:44
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    If it were in the same journal you could suggest to the editors to publish your response. Debates of this sort are liked in some fields, provided the topic is of general interest. But since the critical remarks were in an edited book, I would just chalk it off. Few people are going to read it. Moreover: even harsh criticism is better than being ignored. – henning Jun 30 '18 at 12:52
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    @henning Few people are going to read it. — I'm curious why you think this. If Google can find it, people will read it. – JeffE Jun 30 '18 at 13:19
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    @henning I know what you mean. I just don't know why you think so. – JeffE Jul 1 '18 at 12:00

I have two reasons for not ignoring something like this:

(1) Research does not progress in isolation. Results are reinforced when others reproduce them and validate findings. Similarly, if someone has taken the effort to point out shortcomings/flaws (irrespective of how correct they are in their judgement), the original author(s) should take the time to examine and respond. Its your responsibility to defend something that you stand for, or else accept that you were wrong. To not to do smacks either of arrogance (the 'I don't need to explain myself to everyone'/'Its not worth my time' arguments) or lack of confidence in the work ('let's not muddy the waters further, let things settle down quietly by themself').

(2) All readers in the future will potentially see two conflicting opinions on the same topic, and will be forced to examine both opinions and make their own judgements. Verification is indeed essential but one shouldn't be forced to reinvent the wheel. If you are certain that you have been misunderstood, you can save readers' time and effort by providing your clarification. You would be doing the community a service. A more harsh way of looking at this is, if you don't care enough about justifying your work to the community, probably you shouldn't have published it in the first place.

Having said this, you must ensure that:

(1) You are 100% sure of your position.

(2) You provide a justification, not a counter, especially one directed to individuals. 'John [xx] has evidently misunderstood the foundations of XYZ and proceeds to draw incorrect conclusions' - is the latter. 'The conclusions of John [xx] are based on assumption xyz, which we here demonstrate to be untenable' - is an example of the former.

Since it's an edited chapter, redressal in form of an 'authors note' may be difficult. Nevertheless, if the editor is convinced of your position and attests to it, you can communicate the same to the objecting authors and prevent them from misinterpreting further.

EDIT: There appears to be a belief that contesting criticism can cause some sort of damage to the original author. This is most likely a pervasive myth without basis, as this article in Scientific Reports suggests. Papers with these criticisms and rebuttals do, in fact, get more citations than the uncontested papers in the same journal.

To clarify, I am not an author or in any way affiliated to the linked article.

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    Usually such arguments hurt yourself much more than the benefits you could gain. If your work is good and some people think it's bad because they don't understand it, then you shouldn't start arguing with those people. Others will know that they are wrong... – user64845 Jun 30 '18 at 20:05
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    @DSVA - I'm afraid I disagree with you. If the second article passed peer-review, it is reasonable to assume that some readers will also accept its arguments in their present form. So others may not know for sure what is right and wrong. Several readers will focus on particular parts of the work and may gloss over this controversial area because it is not of central importance to them. – AppliedAcademic Jun 30 '18 at 20:16
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    Book articles are often not peer-reviewed but even then, peer reviewing often fails too. You should never assume a statement is correct just because it went through peer review. But starting a feud over one article will usually only hurt your reputation. – user64845 Jun 30 '18 at 23:07
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    @DSVA - I do agree. Starting a feud is a bad idea. Nevertheless, the point can be put forward in a polite, dispassionate way, in the tone that scientific articles are generally meant to have. – AppliedAcademic Jul 1 '18 at 2:22

I agree with some comments: do nothing.

If that one reader misunderstood the theorethical and methodological underpinnings of the work, maybe other readers did, too. So in future publications, take care to better explain the theorethical and methodological underpinnings.

  • I agree with you about doing nothing. However, as I happened to say in a comment above, what bothers me the most is the subversion of the theorethical underpinnings. Even assuming that I wasn't all that clear in explaining them (which I do not think), this does not mean that the colleague can allow him/herself to ignore or even misunderstand them. I think that if one wants to criticize another one's work, cannot do that grounding his/her criticism on a flawed basis. That's all. – NewAtGis Jun 30 '18 at 15:19

Wait until you have more feedback and then write a Replies To Critics article.

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