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Let's consider the following situation:

Author A submits a paper to a journal. Referee B writes a critical referee report and recommends rejection. Author A then resubmits the same paper to another journal managed by Editor C with no edits made. As luck has it, Editor C asks Referee B to referee the paper again.

Let's assume here that Referee B's criticisms are valid. My questions are:

  1. At what point do Author A's actions become unethical? Can they count as research misconduct?

  2. Assuming Author A's actions are misconduct, what actions should be taken by Referee B? By Editor C once the issue is exposed?

My understanding is that it would be unfortunate to attempt to republish someone else’s work without being aware of it, but would be considered misconduct to do so intentionally. So I guess Questiin 1 is partially asking if Referee B’s report should be construed as prior knowledge.

I'm also aware that the critiques Referee B give influence the outcome of Question 1. Some, like omitting critical details of a proof in a math paper, are field specific. Others are more universal, like refusing to cite prior work that contains some of the claimed results.

Edit: question 1 has been edited to use less strong language.

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    The paragraph in the question that begins "My understanding ..." presupposes that Referee B's criticism of the paper is (or at least includes) that the work was already published elsewhere. That presupposition wasn't mentioned in your original description of the situation. You should clarify whether you're asking about the very general situation at the beginning of the question or the much more special situation involving prior publication. Jul 18 at 22:09
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    @AndreasBlass I understand there’s a broad spectrum. With respect to question 1, I’m most interested in extreme cases. I understand that there are many reasonable cases where folks agree to disagree and that those are just a part of the process. Perhaps I should clarify further in the question.
    – Zach H
    Jul 19 at 1:34
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    -1 Question is too unclear. Jul 19 at 4:05
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    Why use A, B, and C to describe this? There is exactly one author, referee, and editor mentioned each, so they cannot be confused. This just makes everything unnecessarily difficult to read. Same goes for describing everything in third person: Even if you are not the referee, you can still write the question from their perspective (and maybe add a note that you are not them).
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jul 19 at 6:42
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    Does this answer your question? How to deal with rote "publication shopping"?
    – Psychonaut
    Jul 19 at 12:03
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There is no misconduct. There may be disagreement, but not misconduct. Journals accept or reject for a variety of reasons, some of which are fairly philosophical.

It may even be that Referee B will recommend acceptance at a second journal if there is a better fit with the paper there.

Whether the author is wise to ignore referee suggestions is another matter. In most cases the suggestions lead to improvements and increase the likelihood of acceptance somewhere, but not always.

But if the referee targets misconduct (say, failure to cite) in a paper, others will likely catch it also and recommend (require) changes.

A fair number of papers actually are in the scenario you mention, though fewer with the same referee at a different journal. But in some sub-fields, the number of appropriate reviewers is limited.


At worst, the "misconduct" would be the discourteous wasting of people's time. But the referee would surely minimize that waste in any case in which that is the issue.


Note that many people first submit to a journal that they know is not likely to accept the paper. Then, after rejection, submit to one that is a better fit. That, too, can waste people's time, though, in this case, the editor may do a quick reject, saving everyone else's effort.

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    Yes, and, further, authors are allowed to disagree with referees' (and editors') opinions, and seek other venues. It's not unethical to disagree with referees! :) (... even without supposed facts of who's right or wrong, etc.) Jul 18 at 20:06
  • I understand authors will disagree with referees and editors. In this scenario, we are assuming the issues Referee B finds are valid. Some issues (e.g. results are not significant) are up for debate, but some (the main result appears in uncited paper X or this result contradicts well-known theorem Y) are fundamental issues.
    – Zach H
    Jul 18 at 21:03
  • @ZachH, yes, I do understand your point, as well. Still, "in principle", it is possible to more-or-less sensibly disagree... even though most people might not. It's not "unethical" to be irrational, etc. Maybe irritating, and, yes, possibly consuming other peoples' time, but, still, ... Jul 18 at 22:45
  • "Paper X got the same resulat at the same time" is something that happens. It's not midconduct to draw the same conclusions from the same data. If the referee finds a major fault with the paper I think it's unethical to publish results which are known to be wrong. At least include a "This is all wrong because" at the beginning.
    – Christian
    Jul 19 at 10:46
  • When the authors don't bother fixing obvious typos pointed out by the reviewer, it isn't a scientific disagreement... As for "minimizing that waste", if a paper with known errors is sent to a different reviewer, then it wastes the time of that other reviewer. Resubmitting is normal, disagreeing with some review comments is normal, but I find this answer too lenient for people who entirely ignore all feedback, even very sensible comments repeated in multiple reviews, even about things that would take them less than a minute to handle. Jul 19 at 11:39
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In my view, there is no scientific ethical question in play: once your paper has been rejected, it is up to you what you want to do with it, and that can include sending it somewhere else as is. Indeed, some rejections will come with an explicit offer to transfer your paper to another (usually lower ranked) venue that is expected to want to publish it!

There is still, however, a question of professionalism and reputation. If your paper has significant errors in it and you decline to correct them, then those errors will still be there, and that's going to look sloppy and unprofessional to anybody who becomes aware of it. I have been referee B for such a situation, and I recommended rejection because the problems hadn't changed. And then people will think you're disrespectful for wasting people's time, and that will definitely not help your career.

Here is how I'd think of dividing the general cases of when to revise or not with a rejection:

  • Rejected due to scientific errors or lack of clarity: these issues absolutely must be fixed before submitting anywhere else.
  • Rejected due to scope mismatch or "not significant enough": you can submit elsewhere without revision, but it's always good to use critical feedback to strengthen your work.
  • Rejected because the reviewers wanted more material: depends on the circumstance. Sometimes, reviewers identify a significant gap, and you need to correct it; other times it's more "I wish this research were further along already" and it's reasonable to go without revision to a venue that welcomes early results or preliminary work.
  • Rejected with offer for transfer: pretty much always take the offer (assuming it's reasonable), and no need to revise unless requested to as part of the process.
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    "there is no scientific ethical question in play" How so? Peer review is a filter that is intended to pass good publications and block bad ones (by some definition of "bad" and "good"). To a certain extent this filter is stochastic. That makes this practice equivalent to the multiple testing issue (inflation of p-values). Thus, this practice could undermine the quality checks in the scientific publication system. And that seems like a (scientific) ethical question to me.
    – Roland
    Jul 19 at 6:49
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    @Roland: yes, we want to have few false-positive publications of bad papers. But we also want to have few false-negative final rejections of valid papers. Being allowed to submit to another journal is a safeguard against the latter. Having received reviews ranging from very enthusiastic "recommend immediate publication, would like to see more such high-quality studies" to outright "recommend rejection, don't see any merit" on the same manuscript I see this as a pragmatic heuristic that starts with as few reviews as possible and increases the number if needed (by editor or authors)... Jul 19 at 9:46
  • @cbeleitesunhappywithSX The peer review system is a very complex issue. I don't think I'm qualified to really analyze this. I was merely making the point that there is an ethical question.
    – Roland
    Jul 19 at 10:17

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