I'm reviewing a paper on a theoretical topic in the physical sciences. My opinion is that one part of the paper is valuable and deserves to be published, but another part needs attention from a reviewer with expertise that I don't have. (It wasn't obvious when accepting the review that this would be the case, otherwise I would have declined to review it.) I feel that that part of the paper should be reviewed by someone with the relevant expertise before publication.

I said as much in my initial review. However, the paper has now come back to me along with the other reviewers' reports, and none of them commented on the part that I wasn't able to review.

This puts me in a funny position, because if I recommend acceptance there is a possibility that it will be published without anyone checking the relevant section, but if I recommend reject then I'm recommending rejection purely on the basis that I personally didn't have the expertise to review part of the paper, which doesn't seem fair. I could explicitly state that it shouldn't be published without another review, but that seems like I would be overstepping my responsibility as a reviewer.

What is the right thing to do here? Should I contact the editor, or am I just over-thinking this?

  • Why do you feel like you can't just tell the editor what you said in the first paragraph? Your input as a referee is not limited to either recommending acceptance or recommending rejection. Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 12:53
  • @AdamPřenosil I did tell the editor that, in my initial review. However, it has now come back to me along with comments from other reviewers, which don't address the section in question. So the question now is whether I should insist that another reviewer be found, since the editor seems to have felt it wasn't needed.
    – Phenomenom
    Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 12:59
  • "... there is a possibility that it will be published without anyone checking the relevant section" - this is none of your concern, it is the editor's job. You may (and should) reiterate your point to the editor, but you can not assume responsibility for what is an editorial decision. Your job here is to review what you can and clearly communicate the limitations you have faced to the editor.
    – Lodinn
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 12:22
  • Do you take into account, at least as a possibility, that the other reviewers read and understood the part in question but didn't comment because they thought it's OK? How sure are you that that part wasn't in fact competently checked? Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 18:22

1 Answer 1


Recommend to the editor that the paper needs further review of the parts you can't grok and that it needs to be someone with expertise.

An ultimate resolution, though not up to you, is that the paper be separated into several if any of it is to be published.

Just be honest with the editor about the state of the paper and the review process as you see it. It isn't your sole responsibility.

  • 1
    Should this sort of thing be written in the confidential comments to the editor, or in the main review?
    – Phenomenom
    Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 13:01
  • 1
    It is for the editor who has additional work to do on this paper. Warn them. It isn't information for the author. If you know of someone with the required expertise you could recommend them to the editor.
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 13:05

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