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Some time ago, I submitted my paper to a reputable journal (but far from being one of the best in my field) and have recently received two reviews. One review was positive overall and the reviewer recommened to accept my paper. On the other hand, the second reviewer was very critical of my work. The reviewer explained, in great details, why everything was wrong with my paper (even including the notation I use) and why such research is absolutely pointless and irrelevant. Moreover, the reviewer also criticized my other publications, implied that my research is way below the international level, and recommened to reject the paper. Despite such a bad review, the editor did not reject my paper and asked me to provide a revision without any additional comments.

To be entirely honest, I would've preferred my paper to be rejected after such a review, because I think that no revision can change the second reviewer's opinion about it. In addition, I do not really know how to revise my paper. I can change the notation and rewrite some parts of it in response to some of the comments, but I cannot change the topic of my research to make it relevant in the eyes of the second reviewer.

What would you do in my situation? I'm thinking about writing an e-mail to the editor in order to ask their opinion about the situation and what they would consider as a proper revision of my paper.

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    Did the reviewer who wrote the positive report suggest any changes they wanted you to make? – Dan Romik May 4 at 13:58
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    The first reviewer just asked to correct some typos. That's it. – Leon Shutikoff May 4 at 14:00
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    "Moreover, the reviewer also criticized my other publications" At that point, the reviewer crossed a line -- that's clearly unprofessional. If it's a good editor, they would view the reviewer's recommendation with a grain of salt. They would check carefully whether the reviewer's claims are justified and you have addressed them properly. Maybe they will invite a third reviewer for the revised version, and ignore the negative reviewer if the others are positive. – lighthouse keeper May 4 at 14:15
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    "because I think that no revision can change the second reviewer's opinion about it." Your job is to concince the editor, not the reviewer. Often this is best achieved by addressing the reviewer in view of the editor. But sometimes the only way is to address the editor directly and convince them (not the reviewer) that you are right and the reviewer wrong. – Ian Sudbery May 4 at 16:01
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    I recently had an article in a top journal returned with such reviews. One reviewer was positive, and the other seem to want to get rid of the paper by any means. So he/she made up some rubbish. I re-submitted my article and provided concrete evidences that counter all the rubbish comments made by the negative reviewer. It is up to the editor to decide whether we are telling the truth. Different to your situation, the editor knows I am a reputable author -- no, I don't use the name Santa Claus in my papers. – Prof. Santa Claus May 4 at 21:25
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Since

the editor did not reject my paper and asked me to provide a revision

you can revise the paper and resubmit with a fair chance that it will be accepted. Respond to all the comments in the favorable review, either by changing something or explaining in your cover letter why you didn't.

Try to put the tone of the unfavorable review aside so that you can decide whether addressing any of the comments there will in fact improve your paper.

You could write the editor in advance to ask if this is a reasonable strategy. You don't have to withdraw just because one reviewer was unprofessionally nasty.

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    "Try to put the tone of the unfavorable review aside so that you can decide whether addressing any of the comments there will in fact improve your paper." I find not uncommon that, in such case, when you take a step back and breath calmly, you realize that said reviewer has a point indeed. One that is, perhaps, poorly expressed, excessive, etc., but a valid point nonetheless. – jfmoyen May 5 at 12:04
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Email the editor first. The editor clearly did not auto-reject after the bad review, but you got a revise-and-resubmit. These are common, and sometimes a revised paper is accepted and sometimes it isn't. You are under no obligation to revise or resubmit, but it's best to seek out more clarity on the editor's decision. It is also possible that the editor made an error, and you want to avoid wasting the effort of a resubmission if it will be rejected anyway.

You mention that reviewer 2 attacked your research quality and your previous contributions. This is not acceptable behaviour of a reviewer. The reviewer's job is to assess the work that is submitted, not to critique the scientific qualifications of an author. Truthfully, if I were to be judged for my more recent papers based on past performance in conferences I'd never get anything accepted, and that simply doesn't make sense. People learn and grow.

What you need to do is carefully review everything reviewer 2 said. Sort the comments into groups: "I agree with this comment", "I do not agree with the comment, but that is because the reviewer misunderstood the paper", and "I do not agree with the comment, the reviewer is wrong". For each of the three categories, figure out the next step:

"I agree with the comment" - Here the reviewer makes a valid point. Addressing this with further work will definitely strengthen the paper.

"The reviewer misunderstood" - this is sometimes your fault, not theirs. Assuming that the reviewer was acting in good faith, then a misunderstanding on their part implies that your paper wasn't clear enough. Clarify it, since it will strengthen the paper.

"The reviewer is wrong" - Be careful but confident here. Don't just assume that the reviewer is always wrong and that's that, but also make sure that you don't just agree because the reviewer said. For these comments, you need to write a professional rebuttal in your resubmission letter: "We respectfully disagree with the reviewer. Their claim X is in fact not a claim that we have made. We have not modified the paper for this reason".

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    There is a fourth category "The comment is irrelevant" - which is where comments about previous work should go. If I was feeling bullish and confident, I'd say as much in the rebuttal, but probably here I'd just ignore the comments, or highlight them in the cover letter to the editor, rather than in the response to reviewers. – Ian Sudbery May 4 at 15:59
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    If you're feeling tricksy, there is another possible response to "the reviewer is wrong": reinterpret the reviewer's comment as a suggestion that's not wrong (maybe an improvement you wanted to make anyway), even if that slightly strains the natural and ordinary meaning of the words the reviewer used. – Daniel Hatton May 4 at 16:56
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    Meanwhile, I'm actually a bit uncomfortable with the interpretation of "'The reviewer misunderstood' - this is your fault, not theirs". This particular reviewer has pretty well proven engagement in bad faith. So they may be throwing chaff like this at the author just to make life difficult for them. Possibly expanding those points might make the paper actually bloated and worse. – Daniel R. Collins May 5 at 1:35
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    It's not always your fault when a reviewer misunderstands something about the article. It has happened to me to receive a negative review in the lines of "no explanation about X was given", whereas there was a whole paragraph on the Methodology section dedicated to explaining exactly X. The same reviewer did this two or three times on the same review, which led me to conclude that he had not properly read the article. Of course this is not the case for the OP, but you can't say 100% of times it is the fault of the writer. – Pseg May 5 at 10:52
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    These are fair comments, I'll edit the answer – Michael Stachowsky May 5 at 18:26
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There's a good chance the editor is implicitly asking "what do you think of this review?". When the reviewer said everything is wrong with your paper, they want to know why you think the reviewer is wrong; when they criticize your notation, they want to know why you use the notation you do; when they say such research is pointless, they want to know why such research isn't pointless from your point of view.

So it's the same as with every revise decision: make the changes you think are justified, and rebut the comments you think are not justified (or provide reasons for why you are not making the changes). Remember that you are not trying to convince the second reviewer that your work is good - you are trying to convince the editor, who is able to overrule the reviewer if it comes to it. Your paper is not rejected, so there's still a chance it will be accepted, but you will need to provide a strong "response to reviewers" document.

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Follow the advice and submit. The editor feels your paper is worth including so just revise and submit taking into account the specific and constructive comments of the negative reviewer. Not the general ones like - this stuff is worthless because the other reviewers and editor did not agree, and think what you have is important.

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To receive such conflicting input from the reviewers could indicate that either reviewer 1 (with the positive response) did not do a good job in reviewing and overlooked all of your submission's shortcomings, or that reviewer 2 is biased against you — or a combination of both. If reviewer 2 will also do the second round of reviewing (which is quite likely), I would assume that they would not be much more favorable if you did not change the whole article to a large extent. This could lead to more rounds of revisions, and a very long and time-consuming journey until your article might finally be published. So if I were in the same situation, I would consider resubmitting the whole thing to a different journal (preferably with a double blind review process, thus preventing reviewers to judge your current submission based on former work (which is bad practice)). It might make the whole process less complicated and time consuming in the end, even though it may feel like admitting defeat towards reviewer 2.

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    Unfortunately, there are no journals with double blind review process in my field. – Leon Shutikoff May 4 at 14:53
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"The reviewer explained, in great details, why everything was wrong with my paper (even including the notation I use)"

It is up to you. The editors clearly think you should have a chance to respond to the reviewers, then they will evaluate if your paper is wowrthwhile for publication. The review is not a democratic process, the editor may at any point overrule the suggestion of the reviewers. The editor may even have an idea about the topic you are discussing.

Please divide the personal from the professional aspects of the review (unfortunately, you should not need to do that, but thank to one of the reviewer you have to). If you think it is worthwhile, address the technical/scientific points the reviewer raised (yes, even briefly the notation, for what it matters as long as it is consistent you can note gravity b instead of g). About the ad-personam attack, better get used to them: unfortunately, in the academia there is a lot of personal pride at stake. Think about how a third impartial person would see the discussion, if done live on a stage: one guy making a huge preamble, with many details on a techincal level, to conclude with a personal attack. I see two possibilities:

  • If you respond with the same personal level, it will quickly go down the road "how boring, cockfight between expected-to-be-smart people discussing who has the bigger ego". It may be good for your ego, and even for your career, polarizing the line of thoughts;
  • Answering on the technical level only, the reviewer will have his ego satisfied, good for him, the general audience will think "interesting discussion, but that ego-driven professor seems an a***e".

Good luck, if someone spend so much time and emotion reviewing your paper it is somehow a good sign, formally it means your paper is questioning some scientific belief (held by someone) and the same someone had to spend time in proving them true.

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Occasionally in academia, one professor has a personal dislike of another researcher or a dislike of a research approach, and will tend to give negatively biased reviews to any such manuscripts. Such reviews are not an objective evaluation of manuscripts. It is the job of editors to consider the bias in such reviews when making decisions about individual manuscripts.

The reviewer explained, in great details, why everything was wrong with my paper (even including the notation I use) and why such research is absolutely pointless and irrelevant. Moreover, the reviewer also criticized my other publications, implied that my research is way below the international level, and recommened to reject the paper.

This criticism of other publications seems to indicate some sort of bias. It is entirely possible that the editor does not fully agree with this reviewer, and might choose to accept your paper if you provide an adequate response to the reviewer's criticisms.

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If I were you, I would first email the editor to ask what happened to me, why there are two different responses, which may not make your article acceptable but it will make you feel comforted, then the editors will acknowledge their mistakes and correct.

Next, I will revise my article to the wishes of the second reviewer (to the best of my ability). Then, I will submit my article to other reputable journals. I think the results will be better.

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  • which mistake are you talking about? – Mayou36 May 5 at 7:51
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On the other hand, the second reviewer was very critical of my work. The reviewer explained, in great details, why everything was wrong with my paper (even including the notation I use) and why such research is absolutely pointless and irrelevant. Moreover, the reviewer also criticized my other publications, implied that my research is way below the international level, and recommened to reject the paper. Despite such a bad review, the editor did not reject my paper and asked me to provide a revision without any additional comments.

If the paper is not rejected while one of the referee reports is negative then the journal is not really "reputable". You do not gain much by publishing there. So I suggest that you withdraw the paper, improve it as much as possible and submit elsewhere.

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  • Or it is differentiated and does not automatically reject but has a more nuanced opinion; e.g. seeing that the second review seem strongly biased – Mayou36 May 5 at 7:53
  • In that case the second review is not sent to the author. – MVS May 5 at 15:38
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    Why not? Hiding reviews from authors seems rather live a shady way of doing things, not what I would expect from a reputable journal – Mayou36 May 5 at 18:16
  • @Mayou36: Judging from what is written in the OP the report is clearly unprofessional and the choice of the reviewer was wrong. Such reports are not sent to the authors unless the editor wants to insult the author. – MVS May 5 at 18:40
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    On the contrary, I know about many examples where the most reputable journals in my field (physics) have sent out a pair of reviewers that are exactly like OP had described. – user116079 May 6 at 11:26

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