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I recently reviewed an experimental molecular biology paper for a mid-tier journal. I found the work valuable but missing some important controls, and recommended a list of major and minor revisions. A few weeks after submitting my review, I received an e-mail from the journal notifying me that the manuscript has been accepted for publication without any details or explanation.

Given the very short time between submitting my revision and the acceptance, the manuscript was either accepted without any change or accepted with very minor changes. So essentially most or all of my review was ignored, and I did not get any information from the editor or authors.

I find this to be very annoying and will probably not review for this journal again. My feeling is that if I invest my time in reviewing for a journal, the editor can of course decide as they wish but if they decide to ignore my review they should offer some explanation. Otherwise I am just a "rubber stamp" used to say the manuscript was peer reviewed.

My question is whether this kind of behavior by the editor is reasonable in your view, and whether you would ask the editor for clarifications (I probably won't, as it seems a waste of time)?

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    1. This might be field-dependent. Maybe add the field as a tag? 2. Do you know if the paper was accepted as is, or accepted but the authors were encouraged to revise it according to referee suggestions? – Tommi Feb 27 at 8:39
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    It never happened to me but there is space for such an occurrence. Perhaps there were two extremely positive reports. Sometimes we can miss the point of a paper by focusing on what we are doing (not that it must be the case). I would surely consider no to be referee for that journal, this is also true. – Alchimista Feb 27 at 9:32
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    @TommiBrander thanks, I added mention of the field (experimental molecular biology) in the body of the question. I do not know whether it was accepted as is, but if any change was made it was very minor given the timeline (in my experience with such papers). But I will have to wait and see the published version. – Bitwise Feb 27 at 12:35
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Remember, your view of the process is incomplete. Don't jump to conclusions. For example, this could've happened: the editor sent the manuscript for revision, which the authors took a few weeks to perform. The editor was able to check the revision without needing your help, so they made a decision without inviting you to review the revision. You mention that given the "very short time" between you submitting the review and the decision, the paper must've been accepted without revisions, but "a few weeks" is not a short time.

Another, more drastic possibility is, during the review period the lead author died, and the none of the remaining authors were sufficiently motivated to perform the necessary controls. The paper then became a "either you publish this or it'll go unpublished" paper and the editor made the judgment call to publish it (you did say the work is valuable!).

I suggest saving your anger until after the paper is published. You can read it then and compare against the version you have. If you indeed find that the editor ignored your review, you can write to the editor then asking why they ignored your review.

  • Thanks. In my experience (given the field, the nature of my suggestions and my past experience with the process), this is a short time. But I agree that I will have to wait and see. What annoys me is that something like this happened to me in the past in a different journal, and there the paper was published without making a single change. I hope this will not be the case again. – Bitwise Feb 27 at 12:41
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While it is possible for reviewers to simply be ignored, I doubt that would be the case for a reputable journal. But, as you suggest, there may be a problem. But let me suggest that there are other explanations.

First, you don't know, really, that the "editor" is the actor here. And you don't know that your comments were ignored "without explanation". You might want to ask the editor about that, of course. But it may be that things just happened very fast - a few weeks. You don't mention that you have seen the paper, for example.

On the other hand my advice to authors is that (a) they should consider every reviewer comment for revision and (b) they maintain ownership of the work and all judgement about how to modify it. For those that take the advice, the implication is clear: you don't need to modify the paper based on any specific comment. But it is risky for that author to ignore too much that reviewers suggest and editors may not be amused by such behavior.

This can be a delicate dance, of course. A reviewer doesn't become a co-author. A reviewer just points out flaws and improvements from their own standpoint. An editor can, validly, choose to not include some reviewer comments to the author, though I suspect this is pretty rare.

But in addition to the author maintaining ownership of the paper, the editor maintains ownership (of a sort) over the journal contents. The editor can choose to accept (or reject) a paper at any stage to meet their own criteria.

So, a reviewer has ownership only over their own comments, not the paper, and not the journal.

Of course, you can choose not to work for them again, as there is little reward for it, but I'd suggest, at least, that you read the final version before deciding that you have a complaint.

  • Thanks. It is ok of course for the editor and authors to decide that any or all of my comments are not valid for some reason, but in that case I think it is reasonable to expect to receive some kind of feedback or explanation. – Bitwise Feb 27 at 12:46

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