13

I have a paper submission that now is going through the second round of revisions.

Reviewer #1 suggested publishing after some minor changes, while reviewer #2 has been more critical of the piece. Anyway, I submitted the revised paper and reviewer #2 now requested some minor changes, which editors agree with and asked me to address.

The reviewer wrote:

If the author can addresses these comments then the paper would be suitable for publication. (sic)

Is such a tone normal/usual for reviewers to use? I mean it is the editor who decides whether a paper is suitable for publication or not; what reviewers are expected to share their comments on the paper.

I have sensed a kind of gatekeeper attitude with that tone. Am I being too sensitive or has the reviewer indeed gone a bit too far?

9
  • 2
    Only a comment because I think other answers address this, but to state explicitly: if the editor wants to assert their final authority, and doesn't want reviewers stating as fact "would be suitable if fixed" rather than "it is my advice/opinion that this would be suitable if fixed", then that's a fight for the editor. As far the author is concerned, the reviewer is there to help the editor make that decision, and the editor somewhat delegates. Rarely will an editor say, "no, I think the reviewer is wrong, don't address their comments", because why keep a dog and bark yourself? Apr 26 at 0:57
  • 17
    In journals for which I have reviewed, the reviewer instructions explicitly ask for a recommendation for whether the article should be published in the journal. Yes, ultimately, the editor decides, but it is the reviewers' job to help them do so. Apr 26 at 15:21
  • 3
    @markvs It isn't precise enough? OP didn't copy the entire list of comments, but I'm not sure how much more precise you could be. Apr 26 at 16:27
  • 8
    Is everyone involved a native English speaker? If not, then the perceived tone is probably not related to the actual intention of the reviewer. Apr 26 at 22:15
  • 17
    I'm not a native English speaker, so please forgive me if my question sounds dumb. Isn't a gatekeeper exactly what reviewers job actually is about?
    – Mołot
    Apr 27 at 9:36

8 Answers 8

138

Yep, this strikes me as perfectly normal. They delivered their opinion in a clear way that also suggests what their recommendation would be on the next revision. Frankly, I don't even see what you would take issue with. It is indeed a reviewer's job to gate-keep.

101

Yes, you are being too sensitive.

It's perfectly normal for a reviewer to give their recommendation; the editor may even ask them explicitly for this. It doesn't matter if the editor ultimately decides.

You can interpret:

If the author can addresses these comments then the paper would be suitable for publication.

as:

If the author can addresses these comments then I think the paper would be suitable for publication.

I cannot see how this is inappropriate at all, it is entirely in a reviewer's role to make this recommendation.

2
  • 11
    it is entirely in a reviewer's role to make this recommendation --- Indeed, many times the review requests I have gotten explicitly ask me whether I recommend publication in their journal, and I think I've always (or at least almost always) let the first sentence of my review be my recommendation, followed either by reasons I recommend not to (rare, but happens) or suggested changes/additions. Apr 25 at 19:02
  • 2
    and I think I've always (or at least almost always) --- In case anyone is wondering, this part is for all reviews I've written, and not just for those in which the review request explicitly asked me to say whether or not I recommend publication in their journal. Apr 27 at 17:24
57

They are not trying to be a gatekeeper. They are actually being helpful to you. They are saying that if you deal with these comments, they won't make any more comments - they will just tell the editor that they recommend the paper for publication.

4
  • 23
    Yes! @Daweise, I would recommend you celebrate receiving such a remark, since it typically means: "accepted, conditional on this TODO list" (as long as addressing the comments is reasonable)
    – jakebeal
    Apr 25 at 19:30
  • 1
    To add to this, I read that comment from the reviewer to be directed as much to the you @Daweise as it is to the editor. That is to say, please do not email me, I am happy for this to be dealt with at the editorial level.
    – stjep
    Apr 26 at 8:18
  • 5
    Although gatekeeping often has a negative connotation, it is the entire purpose of the peer-review process - for someone else to determine whether your work should or should not be published. Even though the editor ultimately makes the decision, a reviewer usually has a role as a gatekeeper by recommending acceptance, revisions, or rejection. I'd say the reviewer is trying to be a gatekeeper, but in a totally appropriate and expected manner which the OP should not be offended by. Peer review without gatekeeping would be to publish everything as submitted, and would be no review at all. Apr 26 at 16:44
  • @NuclearHoagie I know what you mean, but I know what OP meant too when he or she used "gatekeeper". I was using the word in OP's sense, to say the reviewer was acting as though it was up to them (not the editor) whether the paper gets published.
    – gib
    Apr 26 at 18:57
11

I have both had this language used by reviewers on my papers, and used this language myself on papers I've reviewed. It's completely acceptable. And it is the job of the reviewer to assess suitability of your paper for publication. While it is the editor's prerogative whether to accept that assessment, editors tend to go with their reviewer's judgements far more often than not.

7

You Are Accurately Sensitive: The Reviewer is Gatekeeping. But You Are Also Inaccurately Sensitive: The Gatekeeping is Legitimate.

The comments do reflect the reviewer's sense of gatekeeping. Meanwhile, your own tone suggests that you think that reviewers do not–or should not–act as gatekeepers. However, gatekeeping is, in essence, the singular purpose of the reviewer: gatekeeping, in the context of review, is quality-assurance. The entire point of a journal's peer-review is quality-assurance. So peer-review, itself, is precisely gatekeeping.

6
  • Not only as a quality assurance - we also want editors and reviewers to consider the desired topic scope of the publication and (gate)keep out good papers that are not aligned with the topics this venue intends to prioritize.
    – Peteris
    Apr 27 at 13:48
  • True. But the necessity–and even utility–of that clarification proceeds only from the most narrow reading of "quality" as good versus bad. Meanwhile, if a paper qualitatively differs from the venue's intended scope, then preventing that paper's publication, in that journal, would be the fundamental purview of quality-assurance. An extreme and obvious example could be a well-written cookbook submitted to a journal about architecture. There, a key goal would be to publish good articles about architecture–but a more fundamental goal would be to publish articles about architecture.
    – Floyd
    Apr 28 at 14:36
  • s/Gatekeeping/legitimately gatekeeping/ in your title, I think.
    – einpoklum
    Apr 28 at 19:25
  • Hi @einpoklum, I'm not familiar with the syntax of your comment.
    – Floyd
    May 2 at 20:24
  • 1
    @Floyd: This is sed syntax. It means: "substitute the regular expression between the first slashes with the expression between the second and third slashes".
    – einpoklum
    May 2 at 21:38
3

The goal of the referee is to decide whether the paper is suitable for publication in a specific journal. So the phrase of the referee is normal except the name of the journal is missing. It could be Editor's error of not explaining the requirements of the specific journal.

4
  • 3
    So the phrase of the referee is normal except the name of the journal is missing. Please clarify what you mean here.
    – Trunk
    Apr 26 at 8:54
  • @Trunk: The standard phrase in a referee report: "the paper is (un-)suitable for publication in X where X is the name of the journal. " The standard question by an editor: "Our journal X has the following standards (say, the best journal in the field). Could you please check if the paper is suitable for publication in X?"
    – markvs
    Apr 26 at 11:29
  • 16
    Presumably everybody involved in the process already knows which journal it is for, so adding the name seems not really necessary.
    – silvado
    Apr 26 at 11:42
  • 1
    Also one can interpret the reviewer's comments as suitable for publication in general, irrespective of the journal. That may be the case due to technical issues that the reviewer thinks need to be addressed before the paper should be published irrespective of the scope / requirements of the specific journal.
    – silvado
    Apr 26 at 11:45
0

Many journals specifically instruct referees to not communicate any opinions regarding suitability for publication in anything the authors can see. The decision about publication, of course, is not the referees' to make -- that responsibility lies with (usually) the section editor, and it can get awkward if the messages from the editor and the referees do not match.

Because some journals specifically instruct this way, my personal policy is to not mention suitability for publication in anything the authors can see. There's always a way to clearly say what I mean without using such language.

However, barring instructions to the contrary, it's not that big a deal to use such language (though if you tick off an editor, you may get dumped from the potential referee list). Even if the instructions are to not use such language, I believe it's less important for a revision, where the editor has already made a determination that it's possible the paper can become publishable.

2
  • Interesting. I've never heard of such an instruction. What field is that common in? May 1 at 20:04
  • Neurosciences, Neurology .... May 1 at 23:00
-19

If the changes don't castrate the substance of your paper or unduly break up its natural reading flow then make them - and then wait to see if #2 hatches up a fresh batch of "edits".

If he does, call the paper ashore and send it elsewhere.

7
  • 15
    Is "castrate" really the best word to use here? Why do you think the reviewer is up to anything suspicious rather than this being a completely ordinary review? Why the hostility? It is extremely unlikely if this were the only review report that the editor would even consider sending the paper back to the reviewer: their work is complete.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 25 at 18:59
  • "Castrating" papers, i.e. removing a part of a paper that the author thinks important, is not unheard of by journal reviewers, especially by researchers time-invested in the same field. More common is the rearranging of paper intro or experimental narrative to make it look like a misguided topic. I am not saying that this is the cause of changes proposed to the OP here. But #2 should have covered all changes in the first feedback - though this may be due to focussing initially on more serious ones. My suggestion covers both bases: 1) Correctly judged changes; 2) Nit-picking by the reviewer #2.
    – Trunk
    Apr 25 at 21:14
  • 8
    "But #2 should have covered all changes in the first feedback" - Two counterpoints... 1) If the paper has changed, those changes may result in feedback, and 2) There is absolutely no requirement that a reviewer's first comments are comprehensive. No one should be expected to thoroughly copy edit an entirely sloppy paper, for example, and there's no use giving specific feedback on a paper that needs a major rework.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 25 at 21:23
  • 12
    As far as "castrate", in my understanding castration is to remove the testicles, chiefly used in agriculture. Possibly if you speak a language other than English a translation of that term is used, but I have never seen it used in English and it does not appear elsewhere on this site. While I think the meaning is clear, it seems a) unnecessarily vulgar, and b) a bit sexist, as it implies that the "important bits" of a paper consist of specifically male genitalia.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 25 at 21:28
  • 10
    According to OP this reviewer only requests "some minor changes". 'Castration' evokes more drastic changes, IMO. In any case, if the reviewer suggests changes that make the paper worse the author(s) can certainly decline to implement them.
    – Anyon
    Apr 25 at 22:11

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .