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You might think the title is a bit of an exaggeration, however this is exactly what has happened.

Note: No, I can't find my answer on How to React to Incorrect Claims by Reviewers? as it addresses the rebuttals/revisions but my question is about what to do after the final decision. (no rebuttal chance)

The reviewer can not differentiate X from Y, is technically wrong and obviously have no in-depth expertise, no let me put it this way even an undergrad knows X from Y, they suggested this is not the first paper using Y in A, when my paper is using X in B (totally different methodology and scope and even the problem addressed).

Moreover, they told me they think the format of my abstract is "extremely odd" because it is divided in 4 sections and they haven't seen it anywhere when it is the author's guidelines, and I sent them the link to the author guidelines and the template file, also copy/pasted that part and included in rebuttal - and they wrote they "still think it is extremely odd and they haven't seen it elsewhere".

After receiving my first reviews and submitted a complete rebuttal making changes to answer ALL questions, revised writing, added supplementary materials, I was still waiting to hear from the journal after almost 3 months (one week short) for revision - I am a reviewer for the same journal and I am asked to submit reviews in 3 weeks!! so I asked them why it was taking so long, and in a few days I get the reviews and the reject.

The other reviewer's first review was "the technical writing is weak" - this was ALL, no details, no directions - I made substantial changes and wrote very much in detail, the math, the narrative and they wrote "I should reorganize and submit as new" with no details, no directions.

I feel so frustrated, I had an experience like this with the same journal before and got an even worse one who said "the paper was clearly written by a native speaker and that native speaker should help the other revise" - I wrote the whole paper! They also wrote some technical claims about my methodology which was plain wrong.

AND! again, it was also the same - I asked them why it was taking so long (over 4 months after my revision), and in a few days I get the reviews and the reject. Moreover, someone had snatched my exact methodology and used for the same problem and submitted to that journal later. As a reviewer I see papers being accepted all the time with much less novelty and technical writing.

I really don't understand how the editor even lets this happen, the part about the abstract's format made its way to the both reviews! Even after my correction. The reviewer clearly thinks my paper is on something else entirely and lacks expertise.

How can I refute this? Can I refute this? are they doing this on purpose to gatekeep me?

there are not many journals in my field, because this one took so long I couldn't make it to other major conferences, and now I wanted to submit to another journal which is a bit different in scope and is much harder to get into -but- I am not even sure I can because my journal submission here is also accepted as a paper (first version) -but- is not published yet (so I can't submit to another journal because I would need to make a reference to the paper version). Also these are all supposedly Q1 journals.

Should I submit to the same journal and hope there will be reviewers with some common sense? Would I be rejected right away? Considering how slow they have been (7.5 months for these kind of reviews! I doubt they will be kind to answer my emails)

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    The reads like a rant, not a real question. There is probably nothing you can do to refute it other than write a paper that meets their standards and requirements.
    – Buffy
    Jul 29, 2020 at 20:11
  • 8
    No, on the contrary, we didn't think it is an exaggeration; because most of us faced with a similar situation
    – Our
    Jul 29, 2020 at 20:11
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    @Buffy I did write my rebuttal addressing ALL points made, and I didn't just answered the questions, I made the changes too. Am I to follow the author guidelines or keep guessing what the incompetent reviewer makes up in their mind the format to be?
    – dusa
    Jul 29, 2020 at 20:13
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    While I would bet this might be the rant of an average student receiving a regular quality review, I would not be surprised to see this rant as a result of a very lazy reviewer. Maybe the person asked a student of his to perform the review on his behalf. If you are willing to bet your reputation on the case being the alter rather than the former, write a letter to the editor of a journal. Be very polite and suggest that he sends your work to someone that can dedicate more effort into the review.
    – Mefitico
    Jul 29, 2020 at 20:16
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    I would ask others who have published with this journal what their experience was. Perhaps this is an issue with a weak editor picking low-quality reviewers. Perhaps the journal as a whole needs to be crossed off your list. If you are truly in a small field, you and your peers are likely to know most of the editors.
    – Dawn
    Jul 29, 2020 at 20:43

3 Answers 3

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I agree with "move on". Most of the problems here are with the editor and/or editorial staff, not with the reviewers. That is, the reviews may indeed be bad or slow, but since this is common (as @Bryan Krause says, or following Sturgeon's law, "90% of everything is crap"), it is the editor's sole purpose to (1) pick reviewers who are likely to be timely and give good reviews, (2) nag them if they are slow, if necessary seeking out new reviewers (this responsibility may be shared with editorial staff), (3) adjudicate bad reviews. If the reviews are bad it is the editor's responsibility to recognize it - either (hopefully) up front, or (if necessary) when the author complains. If the reviewers give a mixture of useful and useless (incorrect, irrelevant, etc.) advice, the editor is supposed to let the author know which reviewer comments to respond to and which they can ignore.

Unfortunately, the editor is the final arbiter unless they have done something truly egregious — in the category of misconduct, not just incompetence and/or irresponsibility — in which case you can appeal up the chain of command at the journal (editor in chief, editorial board, etc.). But it sounds, if everything you've said is correct, as though this is run-of-the-mill incompetence. You should probably move on.


By the way,

my journal submission here is also accepted as a paper (first version) -but- is not published yet (so I can't submit to another journal because I would need to make a reference to the paper version)

this isn't entirely clear to me, but nothing prevents you from referencing "Doe et al, Journal of Whatever (in press)" in your submission — this is not the same as referencing unpublished material. (You may want to include the final preprint of the ms. as supplementary material for review purposes, so the reviewers and editors can have access to it.)

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  • Thanks, this was useful. Updates: I did point by point stated why the review I have received was quite low-quality (to be specific I said the quality of reviews are low, the reviewers are not competent in topics X, Y, I was surprised that the off-tangent comments passed the editor's desk (the reviewer said they thought the format was extremely odd although it is the format mandated by the author's guide - not once but twice, even after I sent them this info in rebuttals, and the fact that they got the problem I am solving wrong - so I also said I doubt they read my paper/rebuttal)
    – dusa
    Aug 3, 2020 at 19:47
  • and the editor said I was being offensive and libellous. Obviously, it is okay for the review to trash me just because they think something is "extremely odd" when it is the journal's format, saying this was done before cite this paper when my methodology and problem is irrelevant etc. and also more off tangent remarks and false claims, and accusations in an earlier instance
    – dusa
    Aug 3, 2020 at 19:50
  • The editor said his decision was based on the editor's note he received, which were not shared with me. Well, considering these false remarks, how can the editor's note be accountable? and how can this justify anything?
    – dusa
    Aug 3, 2020 at 19:54
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    It's really hard to judge this fairly without seeing the whole exchange. "offensive and libellous" certainly sounds over the top, but perhaps you wrote your responses in intemperate language when you were (perhaps justifiably!) pissed off. There's a reason that everyone here is saying "move on": it does suck, but there's nothing you can do about it. If there are journals with better editors and reviewers, find them. If the whole field is terrible, then you either have to live with it or find a less terrible field. There are no referees (in the broader sense) here ...
    – Ben Bolker
    Aug 3, 2020 at 20:24
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    I completely agree and sympathize. My point is just that there's not much you can change about this, and that stewing over it will make you crazy. Find the people in the field who aren't jerks (if any) and move on.
    – Ben Bolker
    Aug 3, 2020 at 21:34
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Moving on is the best approach, as @lighthouse suggests.

If you don't like the best approach and prefer to combat it, you can ask the editor for another reviewer. Politely, on a day you feel great about everything else in your life and after being absolutely showered by compliments by all of your friends has put you in the very most positive mindset, write a rebuttal identifying the review's shortcomings and suggest to the editor that some bias seems to be preventing a good review and that you ask for another independent review.

If they send it to another reviewer, your fate is then in their hands. If they refuse, well, you're back where you started: move on, submit to another journal. You express concerns about an overlapping conference submission but if your field accepts conference papers as papers then the journal article doesn't matter, and if your field does not accept conference papers as papers then the conference doesn't matter.

"Bad reviews" like you describe - not bad in terms of negativity but intrinsically poor - are common.

2

I would move on. Everyone makes experiences like that, and some other time, everyone gets lucky with the reviewers as well. So in the large scheme of things, such experiences cancel out each other.

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  • I can't move on and send to another journal because of my tied paper which is not published yet. I am sorry but this is not a mediocre or mean review, it is just wrong technically and on so many other levels (please go over the details). For one thing, the reviewer can't just say he thinks the way abstract is divided in 4 sections is weird, it is the guidelines! it is the journal! Not once but twice this came up in reviews which supposedly passes the editor's desk.They also didn't bother to read my paper to understand what problem I am even solving? Why keep me waiting for 7.5 months for this?
    – dusa
    Jul 29, 2020 at 20:43
  • This is the second time this is happening by the way, even if I have to change my field you can be sure I will go out of my way to be heard at least.
    – dusa
    Jul 29, 2020 at 20:44
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    I agree with this answer. The review process is not perfect and it has lots of 'noise' and you will encounter many 'idiots' or ill-informed reviewers. This is particularly true for open access journals such as IEEE Access (in my area). Too many wannabes editors with no international research record -- what can you do? IEEE is making tonnes of $ per month, and >10K papers are submitted per month. Consequently, every man and his dogs are on the editorial board to handle the volume of papers; as a result, many dogs are also reviewers. Jul 29, 2020 at 21:21
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    @dusa Yes, you can move on. It's a decision you can make. You can also decide to do something else (like appeal to the editors), but it's not likely to succeed, and might then only add to your annoyance. I don't understand the issue with the other submission - it's fairly common to have multiple, related works submitted in parallel, and there are solutions for dealing with that (for example, putting the drafts on arXiv). Jul 30, 2020 at 8:20

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