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I'm new to peer-review and my experience in this domain was receiving a reviewer report rather than providing one.

A while ago, I have requested a major revision to a manuscript that I have been asked to review by a journal. The major revisions I requested included some modifications in the figures as well as rewriting the whole introduction among other modifications. Since the comments were a lot, I have requested a major revision rather than a minor one.

I have received the revised manuscript and have been asked to review it again.

Would it be unethical to just go through the point-by-point response and check that the modifications I have asked for were included in the paper, without going through the paper in detail, as if it was the first time I'm reviewing it?

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  • Is there an author summary of the changes?
    – Kimball
    Aug 8 at 22:47
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    check that the modifications I have asked for were included in the paper – Not your question, but I just want to emphasise how important this is: I have done several reviews were the authors simply didn’t do what they claimed they did, sometimes including straightforward but important things such as fixing an axis label in a figure.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Aug 9 at 6:46
  • @Wrzlprmft I wonder why - non-existent figure changes could be failure to use the re-upload process properly after all, and that's an easy fix, but maybe they really hope you wouldn't notice
    – Chris H
    Aug 9 at 12:48
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    @ChrisH: In the specific case in question, it was definitely not a technical problem such as failing to upload the new figures. They did change the figures, just in a completely different manner. I never learnt why this happened; at some point I just gave up and the editor followed. But anyway, we digress.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Aug 9 at 14:55

3 Answers 3

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I think it's perfectly reasonable to primarily review changes in a new version of a manuscript that you have already reviewed. I would assume that most reviewers do this rather than pretending to start from scratch, though it is likely necessary to go a bit beyond "just by reading the point-by-point response" to accomplish this.

Consider all changes

I would say a reviewer should consider all changes, not only changes made in response to their own comments. It's possible you will find fault with the way the authors have responded to some other reviewer's comments, or the authors may have made other unrequested changes as part of their own iteration, as indirect response to a reviewer comment, or in response to other new information in the field.

Use a complete "diff"/tracked changes, not just author responses

If the authors/journal have not provided a "tracked changes" or "diff" version of the manuscript, I'd recommend making your own using software to verify that the authors didn't make any sneaky other changes.

Cross-reference changes throughout the manuscript

For a thorough review it may be necessary to cross-reference changes listed with other sections of the paper. For example, if you suggested a change in methodology and the authors made changes to their results section, you should be checking that this methodology is properly described in their methods section as well as elsewhere in the paper.

One example I've often found in published papers are cases where I suspect a reviewer had the authors correct some statistical mistake like concluding two groups are "the same" or "not different" because a p-value was larger than 0.05. The paper may show the correction in interpretation in the results section, but their abstract, discussion, etc still use the faulty interpretation - a careful review should be able to identify inconsistencies like this.

Not every "major revision" has the same scope

It's not clear simply by the designation "major revision" just how much of a paper is impacted: it's both possible for a major revision to involve practically the entire manuscript as it is to involve a narrow but crucial aspect. A reviewer will have to judge on a case-by-case basis how much of the manuscript they need to check; it's not possible to answer the title question here in a yes/no way that applies equally to every possible circumstance.

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    I'd recommend making your own using software to verify that the authors didn't make any sneaky other changes - This sounds like a lot of work, no? Is there a simple way do to this for pdfs with lots of symbols and equations?
    – Kimball
    Aug 8 at 22:45
  • @Kimball In my area it's pretty standard that reviewers are provided with a version with changes already identified. There are certainly a variety of tools for PDF, LaTeX, and .doc format files; whether they'll all handle math symbols and equations I'm less certain about, in my area it would be unusual to have more than a handful of equations. Possibly others would have a better suggestion for very math-y papers.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 9 at 0:39
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    If it's not simple to identify the diffs with automated tools, then I would say it's fine just to skim or spot-check for changes. If you start finding a lot, then consider either rereading the entire paper, or asking the editor to ask the authors for a detailed list of changes. Aug 9 at 2:18
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    diffchecker.com is great for that. No need to reinvent new software Aug 9 at 15:33
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    @BryanKrause Sorry about that, I misread "making your own using software" as "making your own software". Sounds like we are on the same page. I will leave my comment up because the link can be useful. Aug 10 at 12:20
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If you would consider doing an inadequate review, after agreeing to do a review, unethical, then consider this unethical as well. You can't assume that the authors did the absolute minimum necessary to cover your points as this would seem to imply.

If the authors have done their job well, they have, indeed, done a major revision, implying that, while your points may be addressed, other things may be affected as well.

I suggest that you either decline the review, which is perfectly ok, or plunge in and do a complete reanalysis of the paper. I suspect it will be easier than the first read, but new things may require comment.

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No, but do check the author's responses to other reviews, if any.

Starting from scratch is a lot of work. I doubt the authors do a full rewrite of their manuscript every time they receive a reviewer report, so neither do you need to do a full check.

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