My coauthor and I submitted our article for publication to one of the best journals in our field. After a long time of review, we got a rejection decision by the editor based on the referee report which we received. After that we wrote to the editor and explained to him/her that the referee arguments to reject our paper are wrong and provided point by point evidence to support our conclusions.

However, the editor did not accept our arguments so we then sent our paper to another journal which is also among the best in our field. After waiting for considerable time, we got a rejection decision from the second journal and the same referee report as the first journal. I repeat the two reports which we received from two journals are completely identical! We have asked the editor of the second journal for explanations why we got the same report and so far we have not heard any reply.

Based on these facts, we believe that our paper is being rejected for some unknown personal reasons not clear to us rather than objective reasons connected with our work. In between the two submissions, we have revised our paper based on the first journal referee report.

Have your ever experienced such a situation?

How should we behave in this case?

UPDATE:

Based on some comments below about this post, I want to express my opinion in more details about this issue. I am an expert in my working field and have reviewed several papers too. However, if somebody is asked to review the same paper more than once from two different journals, it is ethical that the referee rejects to review the paper and gives the possibility to another referee to do it. The referee can have an option to explain to the second journal editor the reasons why he/she rejected the paper initially and also point out the comments which he/she received back from the authors through the first journal (as in our case) that his/her conclusions might be wrong.

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    If the reviewer misunderstood something about your paper, then other readers might as well. Is there a reason why you cannot edit the paper to clarify whatever part caused the misunderstanding? – Sean English Nov 13 at 4:37
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    Simpler situation: The same reviewer works on both journals and was tasked with paper twice. If the referee report is the same word-by-word, this is just human behavior of minimizing effort. His ethical conduct maybe should have been to decline reviewing the same paper a second time, but who knows? I doubt there is actually a policy against this (because is highly unlikely) and maybe he has some productivity reward from his review tasks. Try a third and fourth journal if need be. – Mefitico Nov 13 at 11:54
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    @Mefitico At least in my field, there's no concept of a reviewer "working on a journal". Editors send papers to whichever academics they think are most suitable to review it, and reviewers accept or decline whatever requests come their way. – David Richerby Nov 13 at 12:28
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    if somebody is asked to review the same paper more than once from two different journals, it is ethical that the referee rejects to review the paper and gives the possibility to another referee to do it Why? I don't find it out of line. – Federico Poloni Nov 13 at 19:09
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    It seems kind of symmetric: authors submit the same paper at different journals and reviewers submit the same review at different journals. If journals would exchange reviews directly that may shorten the whole process. – Trilarion Nov 15 at 18:50

As a reviewer, when I get asked to review a paper the second time I will see whether my comments from the initial review were addressed. If not, then I will submit the same review. Why should I update my review if the paper has not been updated?

Getting the same reviewer is a very common occurrence. Perhaps in your situation the reviewer is misguided. However, when re-submitting a paper you should make every effort to address previous reviews. And, in any case, legitimate issues raised by the reviewer should be addressed. Even if you think the reviewer is confused, you should seek to clarify the confusing points. They may be confusing to others too.

In your position there is probably not much you can do other than write to the editor explaining the situation. The best argument you can put forth is to explain that all of the points in the review have already been addressed in the submission. That makes it look like the reviewer didn't read it, which means the editor may side with you.

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    As I wrote in details above, we are sure that the referee arguments are wrong. So, in this case there is not a priori reason to comment on the referee doubts. However, even though there is not a priori reason, we decided to address all comments which we received from the first referee in our revised version of the paper which we submitted to the second journal. But at the end the report is still the same! – Felix Nov 12 at 20:23
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    @Felix even if you're sure the referee concerns are wrong, you should still try to see if you can address their concerns within the paper in some indirect way somewhere at the beginning of the paper, cutting corners here and there to get the necessary space for this discussion. This allows the reviewer to update their own review and, possibly, change judgement. – Patrick Trentin Nov 13 at 0:50
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    I think it’s far more useful and informative—for both author and editor—to write “This is the second time that I have been asked to referee this paper. The authors have not addressed any of the concerns raised in my previous report (attached). For that reason I cannot recommend acceptance.” Just submitting the previous review verbatim seems a bit passive-agressive. But of course, it has to be true that the authors didn’t adress any of my concerns, which doesn’t seem to be the case here. – JeffE Nov 13 at 12:46
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    @Thomas, I don't think it's ethical at all to resubmit the same or nearly the same report a second time, without informing the editors very clearly that you are doing so (whether you get paid for the report or not is still another matter). The ethical thing to do would be to write, "I have already refereed this paper and recommended rejection for the Journal of Pseudoscience (see the attached copy of my report). I do not believe I can referee this paper a second time and be objective. It goes against my scientific beliefs. I hope you understand. Yours scientifically. Thomas." – PatrickT Nov 13 at 15:22
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    @Thomas I’m aware that conventions vary, even among individuals in my field. But I find the idea of declining to review a paper merely because one has already recommended rejection extremely weird, if not unethical, especially if the manuscript is completely unchanged. Inform the editor, and let the editor (or the journal’s editorial policies) decide whether to seek another independent review. – JeffE Nov 14 at 14:29

Based on these facts, we believe that our paper is being rejected for some unknown personal reasons not clear to us rather than objective reasons connected with our work.

I see no justification at all for that conclusion.

In many cases, there is a fairly obvious person whom one would ask to review a particular paper – for example, if you write a paper extending my work, there's a good chance that I'll get asked to review that. As I recall, there's a paper that I was asked to review three times.

The reviewer rejected your paper the first time and you feel they were mistaken, but you couldn't convince the editor of this. You revised the paper and submitted to a new journal which, by chance, chose the same reviewer. In my opinion, the most likely thing is that the reviewer didn't notice you'd changed the paper to address their comments and they thought, “This hasn't changed, so my old review still applies.” They would not have seen the rebuttal that you sent to the first editor; all they have seen is what they mistakenly believed to be the same paper, twice.

You should email the editor and explain that you received this exact review the first time you submitted the paper and that you have already revised the paper to address the comments made. Ask them to ask the reviewer to re-read the paper.


Your edit to the question claims that there is an ethical requirement to decline to review a paper for the second time. As far as I'm aware, no such ethical obligation exists. Science is not a democracy. If a reviewer finds a genuine problem with a paper, it doesn't matter how many other reviewers vote "accept" because they missed that problem: the paper should not be accepted until the problem is fixed.

Your claimed ethical obligation would mean that the authors of a paper with a hard to spot error could just resubmit to another journal, knowing that the reviewer who saw the mistake can never review the paper again.

Your claimed ethical obligation also would give a perverse incentive to accept bad papers. A referee who recommends rejection knows they're disqualified from reviewing the paper again, and other reviewers might recommend acceptance. But a referee who recommends accepting with revisions will get to review those revisions and, hopefully, ensure that the problematic content is fixed.

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    I wonder, how can one really justify and prove that their work is assessed unfairly due to on non-academic reasons? There is never enough peer-reviewers for a statistically significant analysis. – Dmitry Savostyanov Nov 13 at 12:26
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    @DmitrySavostyanov You'd never be able to prove it. But, in this case, I see no justification for even suspecting it. – David Richerby Nov 13 at 12:29
  • I guess, a lot can be perceived from the tone of the reviewer's report. Some are harsh but constructive, and some are blatantly wrong, and literally blame authors for their existence. It's good if you never received such reports, though. – Dmitry Savostyanov Nov 13 at 12:42
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    @DmitrySavostyanov But then hopefully the editor can tell apart a harsh but fair review from one that "blames authors for their existence", and weigh them appropriately. – Federico Poloni Nov 13 at 19:12
  • @FedericoPoloni Well, it somewhat depends on the editor. – Dmitry Savostyanov Nov 13 at 20:01

Yes, I have experienced the same situation. You can revise your paper explicitly explaining why the criticism of the reviewer is wrong. Then write a cover letter explaining all previous history of submissions and rejections and emphasise which changes have been made. Then submit the paper and the cover letter to another journal.

Based on your statement

In between the two submissions, we have revised our paper based on the first journal referee report.

It seems like there are only three possibilities

  1. Your revisions did not address the reviewer's concerns adequately, and so the reviewer submitted the same referee report

  2. The reviewer saw the same title, and perhaps skimmed the paper quickly and didn't realize you revised the manuscript.

  3. The reviewer accidentally sent in an old review because the file names of their two reviews were similar on their computer

Many authors don't address reviewer concerns when switching to a new journal, so unless your paper clearly addresses the concerns in the exact place they'd expect to find the revisions, the reviewer might send the editor back the same review, even if you did revise the manuscript.

Solution: If you truly believe you substantially revised the manuscript to address the reviewers initial concerns, then write to the editor. Say something like the following.

We believe Reviewer 2 accidentally sent you a referee report for a completely different version of this manuscript submitted to another journal on XX/XX/XXXX. We believe this to be true because the review is an exact, verbatim duplicate of a review we received for the old version of this manuscript. In response to that review, we heavily revised that manuscript incorporating the vast majority of the reviewer's suggestions. As evidence of this point, note ________ and _________ in the review. These places in the review suggest that either the reviewer did not read the new version of the manuscript that already incorporated their suggestions or that they accidentally sent in the same referee report for our old version of the manuscript due to a file naming mixup on their computer.

We do hope that it is Journal _____'s policy that all referee reports are made by reviewers who actually read the paper, and gave it a fair evaluation. Can you please contact the reviewer to inquire why their review is identical to a review they made for a substantially different manuscript.

Surely if you did substantially modify your manuscript, there will be aspects of the reviewer's comments that make no sense. So it will be easy to fill in the above blanks. For example, it might be the case that the review indicates issues with phrases that don't match the new line numbering, or even phrases that no longer exist. Any reasonable journal would follow up on your request if you brought this type of evidence to the editor's attention.

However, if you only made minor changes that didn't address the reviewers comments, they are well within their ethical rights to send in the exact same review.

Just ask editor for another reviewer, saying this is second journal you have had same individual block the paper. If a new reviewer blocks it again (and you really think the review would weaken the paper), just drop to a lower prestige outlet or even Arxive.

It's a little strange that you don't mention how the other reviews went at first and second journal (how many were there and did they recommend publishing)?

While I think the reviewer should have notified editor that he had rejected paper before with identical review (for one thing editor might want a new opinion), I don't see any point in getting into this. Just ask for a new review (is a reasonable request, especially if other reviews have been positive.)

  • This isn't a great suggestion, they are unlikely to grant your request asking for another reviewer unless you provide a reason beyond they've reviewed the manuscript before (see my answer for a potential reason), and they should address the reviewers concerns before going to another journal or arxiv – WetlabStudent Nov 22 at 14:14

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