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I submitted a paper that has now been reviewed four times. In the first revision the two reviewers had comments, which I addressed. On the 2nd revision the reviewers had fewer comments, which I also addressed. On the 3rd revision only the one of the two reviewers had comments, which I again addressed.

On the 4th revision the same reviewer (and only him) made comments about issues that he did not comment on in the previous 3 previous revisions.

What is going on here?

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    What's your question? The post reads very much like a complaint, not a question! Dec 2, 2022 at 4:26
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    Do the reviewer's comments have merit? Dec 2, 2022 at 13:48
  • To give you an example, the reviewer tells me in the 4 revision to remove a figure that it is there from the 1st submission...does this make sense? The rest of the comments are on the same rationale... Dec 2, 2022 at 13:53
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    @user2705196: So, they do not have essential value to the review process, I mean they are there just to be there....who knows!! Dec 2, 2022 at 14:12
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    IMO the right question to ask would be how did the author(s) miss those problems after reading the paper soo many times (I would hope more than 3-4 times).
    – Nick S
    Dec 2, 2022 at 15:02

2 Answers 2

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The simplest explanation is that reviewers are humans like everyone else. How often have you re-watched a movie or TV show and recognized something new you didn't notice the first time? Yes, perfect reviewers would capture everything their first time through, but no one is perfect. It's very good that the reviewers looking at your paper are going through it carefully each time they see it - they're investing a lot of time in your paper!

It's also possible that other events throughout the review process revealed further issues. For example, if a step or statement is unclear, clarifying that statement might reveal that something comes after it is problematic.

The importance of resolving a potential issue with your manuscript doesn't really depend on when that issue is discovered - you're publishing a manuscript to be part of the academic record where it can be read by a broader audience (whether or not a broader audience does read it), not just passing your manuscript through a test or gate.

Generally (though it's up to the editor), papers are only sent back to reviewers when there are fairly major issues left to address where the editor feels they need expert review to evaluate the changes. Simpler changes are usually just seen by the editor who will also read your response to the reviewers. I definitely feel sympathy for your situation, I'm sure it's very frustrating to have a paper you think is almost through the publishing process get returned to you with more comments. However, it does seem that at least the editor feels that there were still sufficiently open issues with your paper to justify sending it back to the reviewers, even if some reviewers are satisfied.

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    I agree with the obvious ... reviewers are human. Additionally, it is often easier to comment on a very good paper than one that has many problems. Often, because of time pressure, it is often easier for a review to focus on just the big problems than on every single problem that a paper might have. Oftentimes, author(s) will not resubmit in the fact of multiple criticisms, so the reviewers have saved themselves time by not trying to write about every problem. Dec 3, 2022 at 10:27
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In addition to Bryan Krause's answer, I'll add that it's a good thing your reviewer noticed problems on the 4th revision. If your reviewer had noticed problems after your paper is accepted and published, it could be retracted. For example, the issues listed in this retraction notice are things a reviewer could have (should have?) noticed.

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