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I have heard lots of stories about rejection based on unfair reviews, etc. But this is a new one for me, and I wanted to seek the Academia SE's advice...

We recently submitted a paper (let's call it A). Paper A got reviewed (Major Comments) and we revised the manuscript and resubmitted (let's call it A.R1). Recently we got the review of the revision and it was "rejected". I can live with the rejection, but here is where things get messy and complicated... The attached review and rejection were based on a completely different paper with a completely different title and a completely different set of authors (let's call it paper B). So basically the rejection was based on the rejection of paper B that a reviewer had rejected.

Now comes the even weirder part, the review attached to A.R1 states that paper B is rejected. But Paper B was actually published in the same journal around the same time frame! So, it seems like B got an acceptance based on A.R1's reviews.

I am really mind-boggled by this incident. I did reach out politely to seek more information, but the associate editor was not any help and denied everything. How to proceed?

Field: Civil, Energy, Petroleum

EDIT - July 08, 2023: Emailed the editor and the principal editors twice in the past 4 months without a response. Was finally able to get the Elsevier chat to contact the "Journal Manager". side note: Its weird how Springer has an ethics complaints Email, but ElSevier does not.

EDIT - Dec 05, 2023 The Elsevier chat got back and confirmed that there was a mixup on the reviewers end that was not picked up by the Editor. Nevertheless, the manuscript is still rejected on the same grounds.

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    Agreed, that is the answer. I would also have another party read your email to the AE before sending to make sure it is very clear. Perhaps they were unhelpful because they were confused about the nature of the mistake.
    – Dawn
    Feb 10, 2023 at 21:36
  • @Dawn I dont think there was any confusion (at least in my opinion) as we were also able to talk to the person over the phone. Again, I genuinely believe it is an innocent mistake by the reviewer upload or the AE. Feb 10, 2023 at 22:22
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    @ChristianHennig that would be my expectation too, I simple sorry, or even no sorry but atleast to send the correct review so we can address it and maybe if it is not fit for the Journal find some other Journal to publish. But the way its being waived off it really puzzling in all of this. Feb 10, 2023 at 22:24
  • "completely paper" — did you mean "completely different paper"? Feb 11, 2023 at 20:52
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    Re July update. Sorry it turned out like this. It is sad that some people are just not interested in doing their job responsibly, also owning up to their mistakes. Jul 9, 2023 at 10:59

2 Answers 2

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That looks like they clearly made a mistake. It's hard to believe that the associate editor when contacted wouldn't be of any help. I'd expect "sorry, this was the wrong review, here we send the right one", or "the reviewer may have mixed things up, we try to solicit another one". If the situation is as I get from what you write, next thing to do is contacting the main editor. Also trying once more to get something better out of the AE may be worthwhile.

A worthwhile addition from the comments by @Dawn: "I would also have another party read your email to the AE before sending to make sure it is very clear. Perhaps they were unhelpful because they were confused about the nature of the mistake."

(Not sure whether this adds much to the answer of @Wolfgang Bangerth but I was asked to put it here so that is that.)

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  • Accepted answer as it was first posted as a comment to the Question. But I agree, the most optimal answer would be a mix between this answer and @Wolfgang. Feb 13, 2023 at 19:19
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Editors, reviewers, editors-in-chief, and journal staff are all people, not machines. Mistakes happen. In a case where the evidence that a mistake happened is clear, lay out your case and go up the chain one step at a time until someone listens. If the associate editor in charge is too proud or scared to admit an error, then go to the editor-in-chief. If that person is too busy to be helpful, go to the journal admins, and from there to the publisher's publication board.

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    While I agree with you 100%, and I Genuinely! believe its an innocent mistake by the reviewer upload or the AE. Its the way the AE just waived it off, and not willing to provide the actual review for our paper that really just stands out in all of this. Feb 10, 2023 at 22:21
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    @AlyAbdelaziz You pretty much have two options - escalate like Wolfgang says here to see if they change their mind, or use your bad experience with the journal to decide you don't think it's worth publishing your work there.
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 10, 2023 at 23:41
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    @AlyAbdelaziz A good strategy for many issues in life is to come up with a clear answer to what you want the outcome to be in an ideal world. If your goal is to keep a grudge with some editor somewhere, then that is your prerogative. But I think that your goal is actually to get the paper eventually published. In that case, it is worthwhile articulating what steps you want the journal to take, and then to think who you have to talk to to make them take these steps. Feb 11, 2023 at 0:16
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    @AlyAbdelaziz You're extrapolating from one editor who is bad at their job to the entire journal and publisher. That makes no sense to me. If you're not willing to talk to the next level up, you're not trying. Feb 13, 2023 at 21:09
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    @WolfgangBangerth maybe I wasn't clear. We are sending out and Email to the Chief editor to request more clarification. I apologise if I wasn't clear. Feb 14, 2023 at 3:10

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