Inspired by this incident.

The story is a long one, and it’s a bit complicated. The peer reviewer, based at the Max-Planck-Institute for Chemistry, had served as a peer-reviewer for a poorly-handled review process earlier in 2015. He peer reviewed a manuscript and recommended that the paper be resubmitted after it was improved.

The paper went through two rounds of review and re-submit, but each time the paper’s scientific flaws were not addressed.

Next, the peer reviewer recommended that the paper be rejected. Following this, he received no communication from the journal or editor. Later, he discovered that [journal] had published the paper, in its original form, with the flaws unaddressed.

The peer reviewer asked to communicate with the other peer reviewers and the associate editor who accepted the paper for the journal, but [publisher] has so far refused to let him read the other reviews or provide contact information for the others.

(I obscured the name of the journal/publisher since it's irrelevant to the question)

In situations such as this one, should the journal:

  • Show the reviewer the other reviewers' reviews?
  • Reveal the identity of the other reviewers and/or associate editor to the reviewer and let them talk? (problem is the other people might not be very interested, since it is drama)
  • Serve as an intermediary between the reviewer and the other reviewers and/or associate editor while keeping the other people anonymous? (same problem as above)
  • Do nothing and suck up the reputational damage?

In this specific case, the reviewer has written (same source as above):

I regret that the authors of [paper] (some of who I do know not superficially) lost their reputation in (not only) my eyes subsequently. As to the lead author of [paper], Mr. [name], I cannot call him a scientist, as he betrays fundamental principles of Science.

Which makes me instinctively wary of dragging more people into the argument, but I don't see any other way to satisfy the reviewer.

Related: Why do editors sometimes accept a paper even if a reviewer recommends rejection?

  • 3
    I think if you review for MDPI you don't get to complain when they ignore your review and publish anyway. (Also what reputation damage could MDPI even take? It's like trying to sink a sunk ship)
    – user133933
    Mar 10, 2021 at 3:03
  • @Libor They did reject-and-resubmit twice in this case (although I would again prefer to keep the name of the publisher out of the question).
    – Allure
    Mar 10, 2021 at 3:05
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    You can't keep the name of the publisher out cause it's MDPI doing MDPI things. This question just doesn't apply to a lot of other journals which will always give all reviews to the reviewers or will publish them with the paper.
    – user133933
    Mar 10, 2021 at 3:07
  • 1
    @Libor I have known MDPI journals to reject after I recommended rejection. But not always. Mar 10, 2021 at 3:15
  • @Libor well if we are going to focus on this publisher and this paper, then we could say that the contested paper has as of time of writing 11 citations per Google Scholar, most of which are not self-citations. This should be a respectable number. One of the citing articles has 147 citations itself, as well. From there, one could argue that this reviewer was wrong - but again I don't consider it very relevant to the question.
    – Allure
    Mar 11, 2021 at 0:37

1 Answer 1


In general, any self-respecting journal would not allow a paper to get published if one of the reviewers has significant concerns about its scientific validity, assuming that reviewer’s competence is not in question.

In the situation you are describing, the journal would have to completely re-examine the decision to accept the paper. This would likely mean appointing a new editor to oversee it and sending it out to additional reviewers, and maybe holding an investigation into the earlier decision-making that led to the decision to accept the paper. If the decision turned out to be erroneous, the journal would issue a retraction.

Of course, if the journal really had those kinds of high standards and leve of integrity that I’m imagining would lead it to act in such a way, this unusual situation would almost certainly not have arisen in the first place. So I think asking “what should the journal do” is a bit moot, since a good journal would not need this sort of advice to begin with, and a bad/predatory journal would not be likely to heed it even if it were offered.

  • 5
    I don't agree. Reviewers often disagree with each other, and it is the editors job to look at the different judgements and come to their own conclusions based on this. I recently reviewed for a Nature family journal where I recommended some fairly minor revisions and the other two reviewers recommended rejection. The paper was sent for revisions. Mar 10, 2021 at 10:45
  • 1
    @IanSudbery there are different types of disagreements, and for some of them I’d agree with you. To clarify, in the answer I’m assuming that the reviewer has a major disagreement to the point where they doubt the scientific validity of the paper’s findings. And as I said, I’m assuming the competence of the reviewer and consequently the reasonableness of their assessment is not in question. (I can’t say for sure if both assumptions are satisfied in the specific story being discussed.) In those circumstances, it’s hard for me to imagine the editor simply ignoring the reviewer’s concerns.
    – Dan Romik
    Mar 10, 2021 at 17:00
  • 1
    People often disagree even on matters of fundamental scientific validity. Even more frequent might be a disagreement not whether some point is valid or not, but whether the validity of that point is central to the argument of the paper or not. I often have long involved debates with colleagues about the validity of this or that work. That doesn't mean that one of us is incompetent - these things are generally subjective judgements. I'm not saying its impossible that there has been a poor review process here, and not seeing the other reviews is troubling. But it is no smoking gun. Mar 10, 2021 at 20:46
  • @IanSudbery if there is no agreement by the reviewers on the paper’s basic scientific validity, I don’t see how a responsible journal could allow the paper to be published, at least not without appending an editorial note pointing out the disagreement so that readers are aware of the controversy. So yes, disagreements are common, and as an example, I disagree with your interpretation of the current situation.
    – Dan Romik
    Mar 10, 2021 at 23:56
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    I think this is what people mean when they say that peer review can't guarantee the quality of a paper. At a certain point everyone must read it for themselves and make there own judgements. In general I often find my self on the "this has serious flaws" side of the argument, but I'm well used to not always getting my way. Still, as you say, perhaps better to agree to disagree. Mar 11, 2021 at 10:10

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