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I was asked to review for an MDPI journal and realized while requesting to extend the deadline for my review that the editor at MDPI intended to send review requests to several reviewers, to gather enough reviews to make a decision on the basis of the first 2-3 he received. This means that the journal might have requested a review that they would not have needed. I am wondering if this is how MDPI normally conducts reviews as it would be disrespectful of the work of reviewers.

It appears that others might have had similar experiences (see here and here).

Can you tell me if you had similar experiences so that we can better understand how MDPI normally conducts its reviews, and if it is respectful of the work of reviewers?

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    It may be better to separate the issue of "Is it common at MDPI (but not really elsewhere) to request more reports than needed" and "is this practise unethical".
    – Arno
    Sep 2 at 14:54
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    Journals may well proceed without receiving all requested reviews - how long are they supposed to wait if somebody does not reply?
    – Jon Custer
    Sep 2 at 14:55
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    If it's the latter question per @Arno, then it's answered here: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/79495/… The description in that question also sounds very much like MDPI. Still, it would imply they are cancelling because the deadline has passed, not because they have received enough reviews to make a decision.
    – Allure
    Sep 2 at 14:59
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    There seems to be a trend confusing the word unethical with annoying, aggravating, unfortunate, could-be-better, etc. Sep 2 at 15:22
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    @A rural reader I've taken to edit out the word "ethical" in such questions, replacing it by "(im)proper", "(in)appropriate", "(un)fair, "(dis)respectful" etc.
    – henning
    Sep 2 at 17:14
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I had my own experiences with MDPI both as a reviewer an as a special issue editor. I'd say they don't do anything I'd call "unethical", but they definitely follow a kind of business-like approach to the whole process, trying to observe the rulebook and the deadlines.

As a reviewer, you get an invitation along with other reviewers. If you respond too late, the link simply expires. I am not sure what happens if several people respond quickly, but probably it rarely happens in practice: it often takes longer than planned to get enough reviewers, and if there is no response within a reasonable time, another candidate will be invited.

As an editor, you can leave the work to inviting reviwers to the MDPI staff or do it yourself. In either case, they notify you when all the promised reviews are received (or the deadline has passed), and you can see them all in the editor interface. So I really doubt that any review that was actually written won't be shown there.

I'd say that MDPI has an extensive ever-growing list of "special issues", which are edited by guest editors (like me). It's an editor's job to decide what to do upon receiving reviews, so the authors' experience depend a lot on editor's attitude. For example, seeing a poorly written review, an editor might ask for another review or simply look at the final verdict (accept / reject) without much attention to review content.

From a purely user interface perspective, the editor doesn't really have any incentive to prefer some reviews and ignore others. There is a box with a short summary of all reviews (like "Reviewer 1: acccept; Reviewer 2: major revision; Reviewer 3: reject"), so I doubt any reviews are lost at this stage.

Naturally, if the deadline has passed and we only have two reviews out of three requested, the editor might decide to make a decision without waiting the for the third review (especially if two people have already proposed rejection, there is little merit in delaying the decision), or to invite another reviewer rather than waiting for a reply.

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I don't find anything unethical in the practice as long as no deception occurs. If it is a policy of the journal or otherwise communicated to reviewers then they have no obligation to opt-in to the review, or even to working with the journal in question.

I doubt that any reviewer has a guarantee that their view of a paper will have any particular influence on an editor. An editor needs evidence about the quality of a paper and reviewers supply their views. But those views can be ignored, and often are when reviewers differ.

You might be upset if an editor seems to waste your time and effort by not taking your view into account, but there is no contract to do so.

Long term, it might not be in a journal's best interest to send out more requests than needed, especially when it angers reviewers, but that isn't an ethical issue. They are trying to avoid the problem of late reviews delaying publication of good papers.

But if you feel your time and effort is being wasted, don't participate.


I've answered only the topline question as applied to ignoring reviews and make no statement about whether the publisher is ethical in general or not.

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    Have you ever published with or reviewed for MDPI? Sep 2 at 18:40
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    by ignoring the content of my question, you missed the point. My question is not about editors ignoring the opinion of some reviewers (I'm happy they do this!) but about editors letting you start a review and then telling you they won't need it. Do scholars in your discipline normally submit manuscripts to multiple journal at the same time? It would be unethical to do it in mine, and for good reasons (more requests for reviews). We will get (or already have) similar problems if editors start to ask 10+ reviewers for every manuscript.
    – outis
    Sep 2 at 18:55
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    I don't understand how multiple submissions is relevant here. And no, I know of no discipline in which that is acceptable. Would you rather they let you continue and then ignore what you send them? Or would you rather be told early that you can drop it? I'll assume that when they asked you at the start that they weren't planning to ask you to drop it later. No deception was specifically mentioned. Are you looking for answers here or trying to get confirmation of a hoped-for result?
    – Buffy
    Sep 2 at 19:23
  • Maybe a better way to phrase it would be: would you rather they make a decision without your input and don't tell you leaving you still working on the review, or let you know that the decision has been made already (or that they have sufficient feedback on the paper)?
    – Buffy
    Sep 2 at 19:31
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    No, sorry, you are interpreting your own irritation as an ethical lapse on the part of someone else. It may not be optimal for the journal, but it does you no harm. You are a player here, not a victim. You have agency. I'm starting to think your "question" is a disused rant. That isn't the purpose of this site. And yes, for the record, I've studied ethics.
    – Buffy
    Sep 2 at 20:07
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In the comments, you give an important clarification: You asked for a deadline extension before agreeing to review the paper. Hence, in this case, there are no fairness- or ethics-related implications, because you did not spend any actual work on reviewing the paper.

It's fair for a journal to invite more reviewers than they need, because rejections to such invitations are very common. If they get more positive responses than expected, they can just dis-invite the unneeded reviewers without doing any damage (unnecessary work done). The same happened to me recently upon a review invitation from a top journal in my area.

A related, but different case would be if they actually had more reviewers review the paper than needed, and moved on to a decision before all reviews are in and before the agreed deadline has passed. This would indeed be disrespectful of the reviewers' work and could be seen as somewhat unethical. But I don't see any evidence that MDPI does this.

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  • The situation I described is the one you mention in your third paragraph.
    – outis
    Sep 16 at 0:00
  • @outis Now I'm confused. In the comments, you said that you asked for the deadline extension before accepting the review request. Does this mean that you started the review before you accepted the review request? Sep 16 at 7:07
  • Here's the sequence of events. I went to the review form, filled it and added a note saying I would need a 1 month extension (there was no way of asking this extension on the form). I received an email thanking me for accepting to review the paper that made no mention of my note. I then immediately emailed the assistant editor telling him about my request. Responded that it was ok but that if enough review reports were collected before I sent mine, they would let me know."
    – outis
    Sep 17 at 3:47
  • @outis Thanks for clarifying! Now I understand how the process looked liked from your side. The situation is still not fully clear to me, because I don't understand if the response from MDPI is a special response to your request for a later deadline, or describes a general practice of soliciting more reviews than required. If it's the former, one could argue that it's still fair, because they communicated it to you, and you are free to withdraw from the review. In any case, the fact that they initially ignored your request leaves a sour aftertaste. Sep 17 at 9:46
  • Thanks for asking. Yes, unfair might not be the right word after all. I would rather say that the question the editor asked (in essence: “may I ask you to work for me for free and perhaps also in vain?”) is indicative of low ethical standards, to put it mildly. I would expect other to have had similar experiences, hence my question.
    – outis
    Sep 18 at 10:37

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