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My manuscript, submitted to a high-rank and very respectable journal, has been rejected by a referee. From the referee's report one could make a conjecture that the referee is one of my competitors, whose results are far inferior to mine. A second referee also rejected my work by giving an absurd argument. It is not an emotional exaggeration, the absurdity of the second referee's argument should be obvious to anybody graduating a university. The editors agreed with such reports, despite the fact that all my arguments have been completely ignored by the referees. I appealed and my manuscript was considered by one of the associate editors. And now is the most interesting part.

The associate editor agreed with the referees and added his own argument against my work. But in this case his real name is known. He happened to be a very famous scientist. Knowing the name, it is very easy to find out his own works on the topic in question. Surprisingly, at the same time I submitted my manuscript, he (associate editor) published two papers in this and higher-rank journals where he stated exactly the opposite to what he wrote in his report to reject my work. Even after he had written his report, he continued to publish and give talks where he states the same point of view (which is the opposite to that of he wrote in his report). If my conjecture concerning the first referee's identity is correct, he is a coauthor of some of the associate editor's works and the associate editor just wants to help him to reject competing superior results.

I collected all these facts, presented them to the editors of the journal and accused that associate editor of scientific misconduct (because what he wrote in his report is a deliberate lie, supposedly in collusion with the referee, or even with both referees). After two months, I received a short message that the Editor in Chief will decide what to do in this case. Up to now there is no reply. It seems that the editors simply want to hush this incident up.

This journal is one of the oldest and most respectable journals in its field. Is there a way to change this situation and force the editors to report this incident and disclose the identities of the unfair referees?

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    How long ago did you hear that it would be handled by the EiC? – StrongBad Jan 3 at 13:30
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    Are you absolutely sure that you're right and they're wrong (in terms of results)? That doesn't jump out from your post and is something that you should be certain of. (Perhaps you are and you just didn't think to mention it. Or perhaps I missed it!) – user2768 Jan 3 at 14:09
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    Who do you want to “force the editors to report this incident” to? If you want to make it public, what’s to stop you from making it public yourself on a web page or blog, or letter to some professional mailing list or newsletter? – Dan Romik Jan 3 at 19:40
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    @user2768 To, me, it certainly jumps out that the OP is absolutely sure he is right. Whether he is correct in being absolutely sure is a different question, and IMO there isn't enough information to form an opinion about that. – alephzero Jan 4 at 0:49
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    I rolled back your question to what was actually answered. If you want too edit in a short update how everything went eventually, that’s fine, but please do not add a long rant about that journal. If you have a new question, please ask it separately, but please adhere to the code of conduct when doing so. Finally note that this site is not the right place for rants and public accusations, no matter how correct they are. – Wrzlprmft May 6 at 20:09
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I don't know the details, but from what you've written, I think your case is somewhat weaker than you think it is:

  • You can't be sure the first reviewer is your competitor. You can conjecture, but you can't prove it.
  • Even if we assume the second review is bogus, it doesn't mean the editor made a decision based on it. It's possible the editor is making the decision based on the strength of the first review, and simply included the second review because it's available.
  • You say that the associate editor published two papers at the same time you submitted your manuscript. I don't know what typical review times in your field are, but this implies the associate editor submitted his papers long before you submitted yours. In other words, he has precedence.
  • You imply that the associate editor wrote papers and gave talks that say X ("Snow is white") but rejected your manuscript because of ~X ("Snow is not white"). This sounds ridiculous and my feeling is that you're missing something subtle. For example, maybe the associate editor is saying "green snow is not white" which isn't contradictory with "snow is white".
  • It sounds like you are charging both the associate editor and the original handling editor with academic misconduct. This is clearly a more serious accusation than normal, because it implies both of them colluded. You're further accusing both editors of collusion with the reviewers. My gut feeling says at this point you're stretching belief. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it absolutely sounds unlikely and the burden of proof is heavily upon you.
  • Further to the above, you don't actually have strong proof. You only have suspicions (which is actually a good thing: it means the reviewer anonymity shield is working). What you've written is somewhat contradictory as well. You say that this journal is one of the oldest and most respectable in your field, and yet the associate editor has published two papers in even more prestigious journals.

If you're convinced your position is correct, I'd escalate the dispute, first to the EiC (which you've already done), and then to whatever is above (e.g. the publisher, the society that manages the journal, etc). Keep in mind however that these people cannot break reviewer anonymity, because that mechanism is in place precisely to prevent authors taking revenge on reviewers for rejecting their manuscript. In fact part of the reason the dispute is where it is is because the associate editor (naively? bravely? you decide) signed his name on the decision.

If nothing happens, my conclusion is: the more formerly-uninvolved people come to the same conclusion, the less likely it is they're all colluding against you, and I'd just submit elsewhere.

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    Anonymity of reviewers is the norm in many fields; anonymity of editors is not as far as I am aware (and certainly not in my field). Adding their own comments beyond simply summarizing the reviewers comments and the editor's decision, however, does seem unusual to me. – Bryan Krause Jan 4 at 0:10
  • One simply needs to go to the journal's website to see who's on the editorial board, and the identity of the one assigned to your paper is not secret (they're the ones who harass you for not filling forms correctly!) – Spark Jan 4 at 0:36
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    +1 Good response. The whole range of possibilities exists: from honest reviewing and OP misreading reviews, up to reviewer/editor incompetence to outright malicious intent. Proof is king indeed. – Captain Emacs Jan 4 at 5:15
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This is a tough situation to be in. I’m so sorry!

I’d say sending another polite but firm letter to the editors stating that you have facts to back you up. If still no response, get someone involved. Do you know anyone senior who’ll back you up? Do you have colleagues who will be able to reach out to such people? If the journal is affiliated with a society (like the ACM), you could possibly get them involved too.

This is all predicated on your story being as you tell it, and that you have factual evidence to back you up. The truth is that it is often very difficult to prove such allegations and the reviewer/editor could just say that you misunderstood and the paper was rejected because of some other reason. I’d be mentally prepared to lose this battle if I were you, and if you don’t have strong factual backing then it may hurt you more than it does them.

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    Spark, thank you for your quick reply! I fully understand that it is a tough situation, so I do not mention the journal and the associate editor. It is really difficult to prove bad intentions of the referees if you don't know who they are. If you know their names, as it is the case when you appeal, you can easily check their works. In my case the situation is crystal-clear - the associate editor follows the line of research which he said is inefficient and that is why he rejected my manuscript. Moreover, his research (his papers appeared online the same month I submitted my manuscript!) w – Kevin Hayes Jan 3 at 14:09
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    Your response was cut off, try and condense it. My point (and that of others here) is that you need proof, or it’s your word against theirs. If you go there leveling accusations you’re going to just tarnish your reputation and nothing more. – Spark Jan 3 at 23:37
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I am going to start in the middle of the story and work to the end and then jump back to the beginning.

Some time ago you reported to the editorial board of a journal that you believed an associate editor had engaged in scientific misconduct. After 2 months you received notification that the EiC would be handling the situation. It has been an unknown amount of time since the report has been forwarded to the EiC. Charges of academic misconduct are serious and I would expect most journals to follow up on them. Two months seems a reasonable time for the editorial board to come to the conclusion that the EiC needs to get involved. From there, it would not surprise me if it took 6-12 months to resolve the issue.

To the resolve the issue a number of things need to happen. The EiC probably needs to review the policies regarding charges of academic misconduct. They probably need to run the policies by the legal department to make sure everything is legit. Then they probably need to send all the manuscript correspondence to a trusted independent expert to review and provide insight. Then they need to pass everything by legal again. They are likely under no legal obligation to follow though at all and may not even tell you the outcome.

You can continue to follow up with the EiC to let them know you have not dropped the issue. I would not follow up more frequently than every 3-6 months. How quickly things will get resolved depends to an extent on how seriously the EiC takes your claim. This brings us back to the first part of the story ...

Scientific misconduct is a serious charge and something that ruins careers. If the AE plagiarized your manuscript, that would be academic misconduct. Writing an overly negative review to sabotage the publication of a paper is not nice, but probably does not constitute scientific or academic misconduct. Journals allow editors and reviewers with pretty extensive conflicts of interest to be involved in the publication process. Before pursuing this even further, you should get some colleagues who understand the work to give you some frank advice regarding any potential misconduct regarding the process.

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    Writing an overly negative review to sabotage the publication of a paper [...] probably does not constitute scientific or academic misconduct. Are you serious??? It may not be as serious as plagiarism, and is certainly harder to prove, but I can’t see how anyone could take seriously a claim that it is not unethical behavior, a breach of the editor’s duty of impartiality, and a form of misconduct. At the very least this person (if guilty) should not be an editor of any self-respecting journal. – Dan Romik Jan 3 at 19:31
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    Writing an unprofessional review, especially for one’s personal gain, falls under academic misconduct. – Spark Jan 3 at 23:28
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    I guess it depends on what StrongBad meant. If "writing an overly negative review..." means writing a review which is excessively picky, uses unpleasant or accusatory language, or so on, to advocate against publishing a paper which the reviewer legitimately believes does not deserve publication, then I wouldn't consider it quite as bad as academic misconduct. But if we're talking about writing a negative review because of a conflict of interest or some other illegitimate reason, then I agree, that's definitely misconduct. – David Z Jan 4 at 1:50
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    "Writing an overly negative review to sabotage the publication of a paper is not nice, but probably does not constitute scientific or academic misconduct" - the fact that antagonistic motives may be hard to prove does not mean this is not misconduct. It is just much harder to prove than plagiarism and its cousins. – Captain Emacs Jan 4 at 5:17
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    This is a good answer, especially getting colleagues involved. That should have been done from the get go. You don't want to make an accusation like this without checking yourself. But on the issue of academic misconduct, I have to agree with @DanRomik. At a bare minimum, the associate editor probably should have recused themselves from the situation after it was escalated the first time, given that their own work being undermined seems like a significant conflict of interest. – jpmc26 Jan 4 at 8:36

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