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I have received peer reviewers comments on a paper I submitted to a reputed journal. After consideration, I have modified my arguments to be compliant with these reviewer comments. When I submitted these corrected arguments, the journal has rejected my work without supplying any reason at all in the rejection notice. I appealed this decision making it clear that my arguments were now in compliance with reviewer comments and seeking a reason that my work was rejected. I am now pursuing the matter with COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics).

The mechanics of the situation are quite complicated... This is the simplest way I can explain it. My first submission consisted of the following steps:

  1. Suppose there exists an overarching, immutable statement S that we accept to be true.

  2. Consider also some statement R that is widely accepted to be true.

  3. Now I present independent arguments to claim that statement E is true. This claim remains uncontested by the editor.

  4. If E is true I invoke S to claim that F must also be true.

  5. Further, I assert that if F is true, then R conflicts with S.

  6. Since two truths cannot contradict each other and since S supersedes R in the ordo cognoscendi, I claim we must reject R over S.

After 17 attempts of submitting the same arguments to the same journal and being rejected without any reason supplied, I finally approached COPE. On insistence from COPE, the editor justified their rejections claiming that statement F cannot possibly be true. Instead they claimed statement F is false, therefore my assertion that R conflicts with S must also be false. Now comes the matter of accountability and being bound to their comments. I believe that the editor is now bound to the consequences of statement F being false. Therefore, in my next submission,

  1. I invoked statement S to generalise statement E into statement G. This claim remains uncontested.

  2. I then invoked statement S to claim that if statement G is true and statement F (as asserted by the editor) is false then R still conflicts with S.

The editor is probably uncomfortable with this argument because statement R is widely accepted to be true. They continue to reject my argument without supplying any reason. In fact statement R is usually written as,

$\gamma = \frac{1}{\sqrt{1-\frac{v^2}{c^2}}}$

Why this odd strategy on my part? Believe me, I could see no other way to do it. Setting aside this particular case, I wish to address the general matter of accountability in scholarly peer review ask the question, "Are editors bound to the theoretical and experimental outcomes of the comments they supply?"

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    Editors don't have to accept papers even when the reviewers recommend acceptance.
    – Anyon
    Commented May 27, 2023 at 3:56
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    I don't understand the question. What does it mean to be accountable or bound?
    – Kimball
    Commented May 27, 2023 at 14:17
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    Do you have a written agreement signed by the editor stating that "If you make your paper comply with these reviewers' comments then we will publish it"? Or is there some other reason for you to believe that they are obliged to publish your paper?
    – Servaes
    Commented May 27, 2023 at 16:14
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    I am sure there are other journals that would review your paper. Why you must send it to this particular one?
    – Nobody
    Commented May 29, 2023 at 4:39
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    FWIW, I am not sure why you consider it relevant that the editor (do you mean reviewers?) stand by an earlier rejection of F. According to your sketch, R is in a conflict with S no matter if F is true. Commented May 29, 2023 at 5:13

2 Answers 2

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No, they are not. Editors are pretty much free to accept or reject a paper for whatever reason they want. You could argue with them, but if you can't convince them, that's that.

You'll likely receive a "sorry, but we can't do anything / it's out of our scope" response from COPE for this reason.

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    So basically you're saying is abuse of power and willy-nilly decisions are beyond accountability? Seems a little unfair and unscientific don't you think?
    – vu2aeo
    Commented May 27, 2023 at 5:25
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    @vu2aeo that's an opinion-based question which I won't get into.
    – Allure
    Commented May 27, 2023 at 5:28
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No. As frustrating as the process may be, accepting or rejecting a paper is at the discretion of the editor. No journal is obligated to accept any particular paper. And, ultimately, reviews are simply suggestions. Making the requested changes to a paper does not guarantee acceptance - in the same way that declining to make certain changes does not guarantee rejection. It is the editor's job to make a final decision based on a variety of factors.

Does a rejection after revisions indicate that there was never a chance for acceptance? Probably not. It is unlikely that the editor just wanted to waste your time. It is for your benefit that you are given a chance to respond to reviewers. But at the end of the day the editor is not bound to reviewer comments. There is no point speculating on reasons for rejection here, there are too many variables.

My personal thoughts as an (admittedly new) editor - there are many reasons why a paper might be rejected and none of them are personal. Editors are usually busy and are not obligated to provide detailed reasons for rejection. You can appeal (as you are doing) or ask for feedback but you're probably better off just submitting elsewhere. COPE is unlikely to be of any help. Your paper is now, presumably, improved as a result of the reviewers' comments. Maybe you will have better luck at the next journal.

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  • There might be limits. If the review was just ad personam slander saying that the author is a known plagiarist and the results are surely fake just to make harm or to get some personal advantage, there could be liability depending on the local defamation laws. Commented May 28, 2023 at 5:00
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    Limits to what? The original question deals with editorial decisions post revision. The OP makes no mention of a biased review so I'm not sure that this is relevant. In any case, I think that my answer still stands as-is, acceptance/rejection of a manuscript is at the editor's discretion. A good editor should identify and exclude an obviously biased review, but that doesn't really change the fact that they are not obligated to accept/reject a paper.
    – sErISaNo
    Commented May 28, 2023 at 14:40
  • The title: "Are editors/ peer reviewers in the scholarly peer review system to be held accountable for their comments?" Your answer: "No." My comment: There may be (legal) limits to that. Commented May 28, 2023 at 17:21
  • Further down the OP clarifies - "Are editors bound to the theoretical and experimental outcomes of the comments they supply?". That is the question I answered. Your comment doesn't really have anything to do with my answer.
    – sErISaNo
    Commented May 28, 2023 at 19:02

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