20

The referee process is technically double blind but I managed to figure out the identity of the referee by writing style. I am 100% sure about this finding.

The referee rejected my paper and I cannot understand several points raised by the referee. May I send a very polite and humble email gently ask for a little bit further comments? To my understanding this action does not break any rules.

Will the referee hate me for this, or if the referee later complains to the editor about my email, will the editor punish me?

Re: This thread is not about referee identification. Besides writing style I have one other ethical source to confirm that identity. I almost never claim 100% but in this case I can claim this.

  • 6
    I agree that this would not break any rule, but there is standard way to proceed here (see answer by Anonymous Physicist). Regarding "Will the referee hate me for this?": Depends on the referee. (And that's about it…) I think that some referees will not like this because they wrote the review under the assumptions of anonymity. But then, other referees would be totally fine. – Dirk Sep 28 at 6:04
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    Recommending rejection is not fun. Being emailed about this decision by the authors would be even less fun. – Roland Sep 28 at 6:15
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    People overestimate their ability to identify referees. I'm almost 100 percent sure you're wrong. ;) – henning -- reinstate Monica Sep 28 at 18:08
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    @henning--reinstateMonica Hi Monica of course you could have different opinion but this thread is more about etiquette rather than how to identify referees. – High GPA Sep 28 at 21:54
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    In brief: don't do it. It sets tooooo many bad precedents, even if you don't feel there is danger at the moment... – paul garrett Sep 29 at 0:41
118

If the review is unclear, you should contact the editor for clarification, and not the referee. This would be true even if the peer review was not blinded. The editor is in charge of peer review.

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  • 3
    Expanding this answer, giving the editor succinct reasons why that referee's report is vague or incorrect and asking for an additional referee to be added sometimes works. Suggesting a list of experts with whom you have no conflicts-of-interest makes this easier, but can backfire. This may irritate people, and also may not be fast (how long would you take to respond to someone criticizing your free volunteer labor as a referee?). Fixing any technical or writing issues, reflecting additional peer feedback elsewhere, and submitting elsewhere may be faster and preferable. – Paul Sep 28 at 11:23
79

No you should not contact the suspected referee. You may think you're 100% sure but there is still a chance your wrong. Also anonymous reviewing is there to give the referee a chance to be honest and critical and thus not fear retaliation if they reject a paper. You emailing them (if you have the right person) breaks this. Would you be as critical a referee if you started getting emails from authors after rejecting their papers? Especially if the author is more senior than the referee?

If you want more information, ask the editor. You can also ask the editor to ask the referee if they wish to be de-anonymised to make communication easier. Also at the end of the day, the editor rejected your paper, while the referee only suggested rejection. This may seem a minor distinction but it means it is the editor's decision (who could if they want reject the referee's suggestion if they thought the referee was wrong).

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67

If you sent me the email, here is how I would reply:

Dear High GPA

I am not in the habit of telling people if I refereed their paper - that would be a most inappropriate thing for me to do, and it is similarly inappropriate for you to ask me to break the referee’s anonymity. So I cannot addresss any of your questions. If you need feedback about your paper, I suggest that you talk to your adviser or a colleague.

Sincerely etc

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  • Sorry to keep commenting on your answers, but the last sentence of your email confuses me. The OP does not understand comments made by the referee; why the general "if you need feedback about your paper"? – user129420 Sep 28 at 20:16
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    @mathworker21 no special reason, it’s just my writing style and I would assume anyone else who writes such an email would choose to say things in a slightly different way. – Dan Romik Sep 28 at 20:22
  • If I were to receive the OP's email, I don't think I'd even reply. I might block them on my email going forward. – Jon Custer Sep 29 at 18:09
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – cag51 Oct 1 at 17:01
51

Don’t. It is entirely inappropriate to contact a referee unless the editor has given you explicit permission to do so. (Conversely, as a referee it is inappropriate to contact an author unless you have the blessing of the editor.)

If you think the report is unclear on some points, answer them to best of your ability and highlight in the cover letter to the reply your interpretation of the objection.

If you have questions or objections, raise them through the editor. Remember that, when the identity of a referee becomes known, it exposes this referee to possible future retaliation; I would feel most annoyed if I were contacted directly by an author, and I would contact the editor to complain about the situation.

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23

There is no way you can be 100% sure based on writing style. Indeed, if such a writing style is so distinctive, another referee in your field could mimic it to deliberately mislead you. Several people have told me that they write their reviews to give the impression of being from a different country (US vs UK English, dropping articles to appear Russian, deliberate mistakes with common words to look French or German).

Regardless, it seems like a terrible idea to go outside the peer-review system. Contact the editor if you have questions regarding a referee report.

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    In addition to intentionally changing the style, the referee may be within one «school» of an impactful PI. By example, the referee adopts keywords and style of his/her advisor up to a degree that others identify this as «this perspective / wording is typical for a pupil around Lehn / Sauvage», etc. The mimicry even may be better than the original. – Buttonwood Sep 28 at 18:02
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As said by others, your contact point for the review process is the editor and, if your are not happy with him/her, the editor-in-chief.

Adding to that. Nobody prevents you to ask any trusted peer for opinions on your research progress. If you feel like doing this with the person in point, you ought to reframe such an initiative so as to clear any appearance of mingling in the peer-review process, including the emotional facets of it (you mention hate as a proxy for dislike, I suppose). A substantial time lag puts you on the safe side there. Then, the situation becomes one of sharing your research progress ahead of publication.

From your post it is not clear whether your paper has been rejected by the editor. Did you have one referee only? Then, this is a question to raise at the editor's.

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1

You must contact the editor. Write your reasons (if there are wrong comments by authors, state that have not carefully reviewed the manuscript by giving reasons) and wait for the decision of the editor. If he/she finds it as rebuttal arguments the latest decision (rejection) of your submission will be rescinded and . According to my experience, this is the best way.

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Yes you can contact the referee, and this is probably your only chance of getting useful feedback. The referee's reaction to such an unusual request very much depends on their personality. The worst that can happen is that your email gets ignored.

A similar situation happened to me once. I was the referee in that case. But the author raised the subject orally, a long time after the article was rejected, and was shy about asking direct questions or claiming explicitly that I was the referee. So I did not confess and dropped the issue. If I had been contacted in writing with specific questions, I would surely have answered.

Contacting the editor is hopeless. Most probably, the editor does not know your article in enough detail to say anything helpful. And editors tend to be very busy.

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  • +1 as you provided a first-hand testimony. – breversa Sep 28 at 13:51
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    The editor is not asked to answer the question, but to forward them to the referee or answer that no further answers will be given. The editor is the gatekeeper to any communication with the referees. – usr1234567 Sep 29 at 8:56
  • @usr1234567 Yes, and this makes communications slow and inefficient. Can you really clear misunderstandings by exchanging one message every few days? As time passes, the referee is likely to forget about the details. – Sylvain Ribault Sep 29 at 11:30
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    I would suggest a variant of what you suggest here: contacting the (assumed) referee as if it were any other peer who may have read the paper and may have opinions on certain points raised in the referee report. It may be difficult to start the conversation in a natural way, but it seems feasible. This way the referee does not need to disclose that they have in fact already read the paper. – Bruno Le Floch Sep 29 at 21:21

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