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I submitted a short note to a math journal providing a counterexample to a result in literature that had first appeared in that very journal.

After eight months, I heard from the journal. It was a rejection. The associate editor based his rejection on one referee who had clearly misunderstood my counterexample.

I framed a polite email to the editor-in-chief (EIC) arguing why the referee was wrong in claiming that my counter example was not valid. I don't have high hopes of hearing back from the EIC. He never responded to my emails asking for status updates in months 4, 6 and 8.

For the sake of science (the algorithm to which I propose a counterexample is used by folks in my area of applied math), I intend to upload my paper, the referee report and the covering letter of the associate editor (all of whom are anonymous) on my website and on Research Gate. Alongside this, I plan to upload an explanation explaining why the journal was mathematically wrong to reject my work. I essentially plan to simply upload the letter that I have written to the EIC where I argue why the referee/AE are wrong.

Is there any legal reason why I should not upload the referee/AE reports?

How else can I handle this messy and depressing situation?

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    Calm down. I got all kinds of wrong or terrible referee reports. The solution: Go to another journal. – J. Fabian Meier Jun 25 at 12:52
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    For legal advice, consult a lawyer. Any advice you get here cannot be trusted in any legal proceeding. – Buffy Jun 25 at 13:14
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    @J.FabianMeier Even if everything after the first two words of your comment is good advice, why chuck in the personal insult at the start? Nothing in the OP's post suggests that they are not in fact perfectly "calm". – Mark Amery Jun 25 at 14:31
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    @MarkAmery "Calm down" is not an insult. I got the impression that the OP takes this issue very personal ("messy and depressing situation"), and I tried to tell him/her that is not necessary. – J. Fabian Meier Jun 25 at 14:45
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    Is there any reason why you can't submit this article to any other journal? – Parever Jun 26 at 3:15
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For the sake of science [...], I intend to upload my paper, the referee report and the covering letter of the associate editor (all of whom are anonymous, BTW) on my website and on researchgate. Alongside this, I plan to upload an explanation explaining why the journal was mathematically wrong to reject my work.

Besides possibly being a copyright infringement and coming across as immature, this isn't really going to contribute anything to science. Your paper is not going to attract a significant audience if it's only on your website and researchgate. arXiv would be slightly better, but not much.

Your contribution to science is the paper itself, so the best way to handle this situation is to revise your paper to make it more clear, particularly to a reader who may have the same misconceptions as the reviewer did. Then submit it to a different journal.

To be clear, I do not think it is a good idea to post an explicit rebuttal or criticism of the referee's report, with or without the report itself, on your website or in any other public forum,. It is unprofessional, and it will cause people to focus less on the content of your work and more on your negative reactions. You can rebut their concerns indirectly within your paper itself ("it may appear that X, but in fact this is not true because Y"), but do not "call out" the referee or the journal.

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    Yes! Revise for clarity and submit elsewhere. Many math journals won't consider a paper after rejection. – Buffy Jun 25 at 13:18
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    I disagree that arXiv would be slightly better. It would be actually much better. These days, I’d guess there are more people who read their daily arXiv fix than those who regularly browse through printed journals. – Emil Jeřábek Jun 25 at 15:21
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    @EmilJeřábek I agree that you're more likely to come across it when you're perusing, and likely many would see it through the arXiv. But when I'm digging through older literature, I don't really consider non-peer-reviewed work to be reliable enough to depend on, and I'd be concerned that after a few months (or etc.) the paper would disappear. – Richard Rast Jun 25 at 15:38
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    @RichardRast To clarify my comment, I absolutely agree that it is important to get the paper vetted and published in a proper way. I’m just saying that putting it on the arXiv (rather than just a personal web site) already makes it reach a large audience. – Emil Jeřábek Jun 25 at 15:44
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    I read elsewhere in this site "referees are always right, even when they are wrong", meaning that if they misunderstood your paper, there is a high chance that readers will have the same mistake, so clarification is in order. – Davidmh Jun 25 at 20:46
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I'm sorry about your bad experience. However, your proposed course of action makes you look petulant and childish. You're not going to make any friends or impress anyone. Trying to tell the world that the editor and referee were wrong is just a waste of your time. Everybody has misunderstood a paper at least once in their life and, sometimes, you get unlucky and misunderstand a paper that you're refereeing.

Wait a few days, then see if the referee doesn't actually have a point. Communication failures are rarely 100% the fault of either party and, even if it's mostly the referee's fault that they misunderstood, you can probably still make your paper clearer, so other people don't misunderstand it in the same way. Do that and resubmit the paper somewhere else.

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Is there any legal reason why I should not upload the referee/AE reports?

As mentioned by @Buffy, seek a lawyer for legal advice, not this website. But honestly, this would look really bad on your CV, as it is very unprofessional. Furthermore, what if every prospective employer/advisor/grant manager came across this piece of work and after a quick and careless reading, this person sided with the referee?

How else can I handle this messy and depressing situation?

Insist a bit more on the same journal, you might have been unlucky enough that the referee was the author whose mistake you were pointing out. If they chose another referee or if you clarify your work, you might get accepted. Or, as others said, publish somewhere else.

  • "this would look really bad on your CV" Nobody's proposing to put it on their CV. But I agree that it would damage the asker's reputation. – David Richerby Jun 26 at 12:43
  • @DavidRicherby : I considered saying "this would look back on your background check". I wanted to convey the ideia of things you are judged from, by a person whose judgement matters to you. – Mefitico Jun 26 at 13:17

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