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I am an associate editor for a journal. I have asked an academician to perform a review for the journal, to which they agreed. The reviewer is already 6 weeks late (6 weeks after the deadline), not replying to our reminders (2 already), and recently I noticed on my social media feed a number of their posts (shared by people I follow) about how they are using the lockdown to do a lot of non-academic stuff, which is fine but I feel it no longer justifies using the lockdown as an excuse for being late.

In this case, should I consider un-inviting the reviewer?

  • Sorry if this may sound like a rant, I just felt that it is inappropriate to use such a difficult situation to justify being late, while actually doing something else.
  • Extensions are automatically granted in this journal. Reviewers just need to reply to our reminder to get an automatic extension. However, if we do not receive a reply, we cannot grant the extension.
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    Is their social media activity relevant to you? If not, then I suggest omitting. – user2768 Apr 8 at 13:45
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    The reviewer might not have replied because they haven't received your emails. Try: emailing from your email account, rather than via the journal's system; reaching out by phone, if you have, or can get, their personal number; or contact them on social media (apologising for the usual communication channel). – user2768 Apr 8 at 14:59
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    People don't always present an accurate picture of their lives on social media. In particular, people often emphasise the 'good' stuff and ignore the 'bad'. I would be cautious to infer too much about what is really happening in someone's life based solely on their social media posts. – avid Apr 9 at 1:31
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    Appeal to the editor to not pay them. – Ian Turton Apr 9 at 17:24
  • You should also be aware of the unique world situation at the moment with COVID-19. The reviewer could very likely have their workplace shut down and be on leave or could be self-isolating or could just be on an Easter vacation and may not be checking their work e-mail (or may not have a work computer with which to check their e-mails if their workplace was shut rapidly). They may be posting lots of non-work related things to social media because they can't/aren't working. – MT0 Apr 10 at 13:27
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You have to separate two things.

First, it seems your journal has certain procedures regarding late reviews. You say that "if [you] do not receive a reply, [you] cannot grant the extension". You have not received the reply, so simply do not grant the extension. Do whatever you do whenever you do not grant an extension; I assume that this means telling the reviewer that they are relieved of their commitment to review the paper due to being 40 days late and not replying to reminders, as well as finding a new reviewer and probably notifying the author(s). What you saw on Twitter is not involved in that.

Second, you have to think about your relationship with this reviewer. Unless you have a very compelling reason to continue asking for the services of this reviewer, then I would consider not asking anymore. Being very late – I assume that 40 days is a long time for a review in your field – is one thing, not answering emails is another, both combined with public posts about spending all their time on non-work related stuff is not great. Unless the tweets are about helping the authorities deal with the outbreak or taking care of vulnerable persons close to them, I understand your frustration. Referees provide a very valuable service for free, but committing to do something, not doing it, and not communicating about it (while being clearly able to) is not okay.


Perhaps this is worth pointing out. I would guess that the tone of the tweets also matters. If it's something like "great, I'm stuck at home so I have an excuse to stop working", I think being annoyed is fair. If it's rather "wow, dealing with confinement is hard, thankfully I have these activities to take my mind off it", I would be a bit more wary. Dealing with the current situations is difficult, and for some even more so. I don't know what country the reviewer is from, but in some places, it has been forbidden by law to go outside your home (except for essential reasons) for weeks/months. This takes a toll on the mind. It can cause emotional trauma, even PTSD or depression, according to experts. Keep that in mind before cutting off the reviewer.

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  • Agreed. Being annoyed, or experiencing whatever emotion the situation conjures up, is totally fine. Fortunately, choosing what to do as editor doesn't depend on forming a judgment about whether this potential referee is or isn't doing their best to handle their professional obligations; you simply decide whether it's better to try sticking with this referee, or you move on to plan B. I think it's worth emphasizing this point, since we do tend to be judgmental about other people, and it's good practice recognizing (a) that we're doing so and (b) that our job doesn't require such judgments. – Greg Martin Apr 8 at 21:35
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    I disagree. The reviewer's lack of reply is indeed totally unprofessional, and the first paragraph is good advice, but the Twitter account has nothing to do with it any more than a log of when the reviewer was walking their dog. – 6005 Apr 9 at 12:38
  • Too short for me to be able to suggest an edit, but there's a missing letter: in some placein some places (please flag as no longer needed when corrected) – Jenayah Apr 9 at 13:41
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    I would advise not to mention the reviewer's social media presence. While his behavior is really unprofessional, so is stalking their social media account and holding it against them. – user3819867 Apr 10 at 11:37
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    Good answer, but on a minor point I disagree with the comment about the tone of their twitter posts. Someone could well be engaging in activities to take their mind off a difficult situation while still presenting it as "great, I'm stuck at home so I have an excuse to stop working" on social media. – Nathaniel Apr 10 at 19:01
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recently I noticed on my Twitter feed a number of their posts (retweeted by people I follow) about how they are using the lockdown to do a lot of non-academic stuff, which is fine but I feel it no longer justifies using the lockdown as an excuse for being late.

You can't control the reviewer's personal life, nor should you be prying into the details of what they do with their time. Mentioning this at all would be extremely unprofessional. And if you don't mention it, you are going to need to come up with a different reason when you email them. So just follow the normal process and ask for an update on the review, or say we need it by X time.

it is inappropriate to use such a difficult situation to justify being late, while actually doing something else.

This is completely an assumption on your part, there is no proof that this is they are doing. No one spends 100% of their free time on work. So you are saying if I'm having a hard time due to the pandemic, then I'm not allowed to write non-work related posts on Twitter?

Your reaction to their posting on Twitter is inappropriate; you don't know their situation. In the worst case, perhaps despite whatever they are posting on twitter, their parents are dying of coronavirus and they are taking a break. You don't own their time.

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    I wasn't planning on mentioning this. What I indeed assumed is that making long posts about their activities requires more time than a quick reply to our reminders asking for additional 15-30 days, which is an option. My point is more about the combination of being so late (which authors often complain a lot about) with the evidence I found on Twitter by chance. Moreover, there is a moral obligation to provide a timely review, as no one forces a reviewer to accept the invitation. – user122407 Apr 8 at 12:57
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    @user122407 Thanks for clarifying. I agree with the moral obligation to provide a timely review, but I don't agree that any amount of Twitter posts is incriminating evidence. If you got word that the reviewer was having sex, or walking their dog in the morning, or cooking food for themselves, would you also consider that incriminating? I just don't see how taking Twitter into account is useful unless it really is a 24-7 log of how they spend their time. – 6005 Apr 8 at 13:17
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    The reviewer's lack of reply is indeed totally unprofessional, but the Twitter account has nothing to do with it any more than a log of when the reviewer was walking their dog. – 6005 Apr 8 at 13:19
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    I see. OK, I will only take the extremely long time taken to reply and delayed report as factors in my decision. – user122407 Apr 8 at 13:20
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I'm not sure that you need any "grounds" for un-inviting a reviewer at all.

But I would, myself, take another tack first. Ask them when you can expect the review, reminding them of its importance to the journal and the author.

Ask if there are any specific reasons why the review is over a month late.

If the response you get is unsatisfactory, ask them if they are really still interested in reviewing for this journal in the future or not.

Perhaps you will learn something important and perhaps your decision will be clearer/easier after hearing any response.

But, in the meanwhile, I'd prepare to send the review to someone else.

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  • The problem is that the reviewer does not reply to our personalized reminders. I would be happy to give them an extension, specially in this difficult time. – user122407 Apr 8 at 12:31
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    Not replying is another strike against this reviewer, I'd suppose. Time to review your "stable". – Buffy Apr 8 at 12:32
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    What they do on twitter is their problem. Your problem is that you do not get your review. Do you absolutely need this reviewer? If not, get another one. To be honest, there are too many papers going around and too few good reviewers, though. – Captain Emacs Apr 8 at 12:54
  • @CaptainEmacs Good points. – user122407 Apr 8 at 13:03
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You should consider uninviting the reviewer - 6 weeks late is not fair to the authors. I'm surprised some of the other answers are ready to sacrifice the authors in favor of this reviewer.

However, I would make sure you've got all the facts before doing so. There's an obvious alternative explanation which is that the reviewer has simply lost access to their institutional email (or is not checking it), which would also explain why he didn't answer your reminders.

I suggest tweeting something like "I sent you an email a while ago but you haven't responded, can you please check?" at them. You know they are reading Twitter, so they have to see your message - if they don't, you can uninvite in good conscience.

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Dеar Dr. X,

Your review is now forty days overdue. Can you commit to deliver within nine days? If not, please do let me know, so I can notify those concerned of the unexpected delay.

Thanks in advance,

user122407

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    I can assure you that a rude reminder like this would do absolutely nothing to accelerate my review. It might achieve the opposite. – Thomas Apr 8 at 17:37
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    @Thomas What aspect do you find rude? Quite frankly, I think the behaviour of many reviewers is shocking. – user2768 Apr 8 at 17:53
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    @user122407 How is this message rude? The reviewer is six weeks late and not responding to the reminders. – Aventinus Apr 9 at 22:35
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    @user111388 There's no salutation because StackExchange won't let me include one. I used kind regards rather than thanks, because there's nothing to thank yet, but I'll switch in thanks in advance, that's better. I'll also try to trick SE into allowing Dear – user2768 Apr 10 at 7:43
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    @user2768: Maybe a cyrillic "e" in "dear" could work? – user111388 Apr 10 at 8:48

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