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I recently had a paper rejected: both referees pointed to a unique issue with our work. One referee's criticism was fair, hence I feel the rejection decision was fair.

The other referee however, seemed to appreciate the paper and know the area extremely well (and thus, I expect to have them as a referee for any future submission). Their entire objection was based on an incorrect assumption -- if their assumption were true, I too would have suggested rejection. However, our results clearly showed this assumption is not true. Thus, their entire basis for rejection could be 1) very easily refuted in a response letter/revision and 2) may lead to future rejections if the referee is not corrected. I am wondering:

Would it be appropriate to write a "response to reviewers" document to one referee to point out this issue? Is this at all common? I would not be appealing the rejection per se, but rather hoping that the referee better understood our work (with respectful tone and appreciation for the thought they put into their review). If not, should I simply move on?

I should also mention, any future submission would explicitly state that this assumption is incorrect, but I would rather address point this directly with the referee, if it can be done so respectfully.

  • "I should also mention, any future submission would explicitly state that this assumption is incorrect (even though all authors agree its clearly untrue)"—what is 'it' in "its [sic] clearly untrue"? Is it untrue that the assumption is incorrect (which is what you seem to be saying), or is the assumption itself incorrect (in which case "even though" does not seem to belong)? – LSpice Oct 15 '19 at 19:28
  • I removed that part on my question since it was confusing and did not add anything useful information. I meant that my coauthors agree that it should not be necessary to explicitly state this referee's assumption is incorrect: we feel it is apparent from our main results. – user23658 Oct 15 '19 at 21:21
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    Without addressing the main question, I think one of the best, though also most galling, pieces of advice I ever received from a reviewer was: no matter how obvious you think it should be, if someone has to ask about it, it's not as obvious as you think it is. (More pithily: better to say more than is necessary to ensure clarity rather than less.) – LSpice Oct 16 '19 at 0:55
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This is a waste of your time, and, more importantly, a waste of the time of people who already selflessly gave away their time working to give you feedback that helps you improve your paper, and to help the peer-review system function.

The best thing you can do is not ask the editor and referees to spend any more time on your paper, unless you are contesting the rejection decision in good faith. And use their feedback to improve your paper so that other referees and readers don’t reach the same erroneous conclusion that this referee did.

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    +1. If the referee reached an erroneous conclusion, then it is the fault of the paper--not explaining it clearly enough -- and other readers would likely do the same thing. – GEdgar Oct 13 '19 at 21:45
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    I appreciate this answer and agree this is probably the most reasonable course of action. That said, when I review a paper and raise questions or objections, I often lament that my questions are not resolved or explained when the paper is rejected. As a referee, I am constantly learning/thinking about new problems from new perspective: I think there is some (potential) value for a referee in having their questions address (and thus, helping their understanding of a new development they express genuine interested in). – user23658 Oct 13 '19 at 21:50
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    @user23658 although I expressed an opinion and stand by it, I don’t feel too strongly about this issue. Nothing especially bad will happen if you send your response, and yes, there is a certain chance that the referee will appreciate it. But generally speaking, I feel it would be a small and unnecessary imposition on the editor and referee’s time. – Dan Romik Oct 14 '19 at 9:10
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    @GEdgar While I agree your comment is often true, I think it is also common that referees begin with their own misconceptions and don't read the paper carefully, and then give incorrect feedback. – Kimball Oct 14 '19 at 10:10
  • @DanRomik Agreed completely. I don't foresee any issue if I were to do this, but the time it would take to craft a response carefully is simply not worth it given the high probability that editor/referee is annoyed by me and/or disregards the response entirely. – user23658 Oct 15 '19 at 21:24
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I'll disagree with Dan Romik about this: I'd think it's totally fair to send the referee an rebuttal through the editor in charge of the manuscript. (And I say that as the Editor-in-Chief of a journal.) I also agree with the OP's comment on the other answer: "when I review a paper and raise questions or objections, I often lament that my questions are not resolved or explained when the paper is rejected. As a referee, I am constantly learning/thinking about new problems from new perspective: I think there is some (potential) value for a referee in having their questions address (and thus, helping their understanding of a new development they express genuine interested in)."

I do think, however, that the better approach is to actually think about why the reviewer might have gotten the wrong idea about the underlying assumption. What was it that didn't explain the issue clearly and allowed the reviewer to go in the wrong direction with their review? Presumably, if a reviewer who is experienced in this field didn't get this important point, then others might as well. So the productive approach is to critically revisit your writing and , in any future manuscript on the topic, add sufficient discussion to ensure that this critical point is actually addressed and unambiguous. This way, you're not just correcting the opinion of that single reviewer, but of potentially any number of other readers who might have also wondered why you are writing a paper on an unfounded assumption.

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