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We have a manuscript that has been rejected from different journals twice: once after initial review, once after the editor felt we didn't address the reviewer comments appropriately.

In both cases the same reviewer pointed out what he thought to be a fundamental flaw of the study. We disagree with their assessment. We know it is the same person because they said so, even though they didn't provide their name. We have an assumption who it might be.

Would it be considered unethical to submit the paper to a different journal without addressing the reviewer's comments?

Would it be considered unethical to submit the paper to a different journal while listing who we think the reviewer might be as an opposed reviewer stating that we have a conflicting approach to our particular area of research and feel they might not comment fairly?

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    Have you asked someone else that has some expertise what they think about it? A (valid) second opinion agreeing with you might be worth something. Sometimes it is hard look at ones one research from an outside perspective and recognize potential flaws.
    – Sursula
    Jul 12, 2023 at 10:43
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    We had many (formal and informal) reviews along the way. This particular issue was not pointed out by anyone. Jul 12, 2023 at 13:56
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    @academic_burner sure, but it could be nice to have someone who is in the field to ask about this exact issue. I would like to side with you as some reviews are indeed just unnecessarily bad, but in all of this, I also cannot get rid of the feeling that you're trying to somewhat avoid addressing the issue and that there is something inconvenient about it: not only the reviewer says so but the editor rejects it? You didnt talk to anyone else about the issue yet? So just convince us and yourself that this is a non-issue.
    – Mayou36
    Jul 13, 2023 at 7:37
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    I understand that you don't want to bloat your paper trying to refute an objection that you think a reasonable person wouldn't make. But have you considered adding an appendix (not for publication, but to aid reviewing) explaining this issue and why you think (a) it is not an issue and (b) it does not warrant addressing it in the main part of the paper?
    – Heinzi
    Jul 13, 2023 at 14:33
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    It's one thing to disagree with objections, another to ignore them. Is there a reason you prefer to ignore? Just because nobody else raised the same objection doesn't mean it's invalid or obscure - they may just be approaching from a different direction or area of expertise. (I'm also not sure why you're phrasing this as an ethical issue rather than a practical one.)
    – Stuart F
    Jul 14, 2023 at 13:29

11 Answers 11

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I don't actually think it is unethical, given that you are saying why, but I doubt that it will help, and will probably hurt, your case for publication by any reputable journal. They will probably want the reading of that reviewer.

While you don't have to address every reviewer comment, you should, at the minimum, consider it. Having a different opinion on a matter isn't enough. If you can't clearly refute those comments to the satisfaction of an editor you don't have a very strong case for publication.

Perhaps you have work to do.

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    +1, For anecdote I have had two cases where it was helpful. One was from exhaustion (4 different journals, same negative reviewer), I pre-emptively gave all the back and forth to editor at the 5th, asked them to make judgement themselves and not send it to that specific person (they obliged). Another example I just articulated a conflict of interest to the editor, and asked to send to the conflicted reviewers first degree connections who I suspected would be less biased (so not avoiding altogether). Agree it is not a strategy to use often though!
    – Andy W
    Jul 13, 2023 at 11:12
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    "If you can't clearly refute those comments to the satisfaction of an editor you don't have a very strong case for publication." personal experience tells me that is not always the case. I had a paper rejected once because the reviewer claimed that the complexity was O(n^4), rather than O(N^3). I updated the paper to spell it out in pseudocode with three nested loops containing only scalar mathematics, but the editor still rejected it because the reviewer was very eminent. As it happens I was adapting something from another field where it had been used for years without controversy. Jul 14, 2023 at 18:00
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    In short, both editors and reviewers sometimes fail to do a good job. I published the paper elsewhere. It is however absolutely reason to seriously question whether "you don't have a very strong case for publication."! Jul 14, 2023 at 18:01
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The ethics of your plan depends on the following unexplained statement:

"In both cases the same reviewer pointed out what he thought to be a fundamental flaw of the study. We disagree with their assessment." (my emphasis).

It is unclear on which basis you "disagree". In any respectable scientific or intellectual debate "disagreeing" does not suffice as a justification. You need to explain an in this case thoroughly and precisely, why you disagree with the criticism.

If your disagreement is based on a relatively strong basis, and you explain it effectively, I think your plan is ethical. Otherwise, it seems like very bad scholarship (more than an ethical question).

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    They need to refute the assessment of the flaw, not just ignore it because they happen to disagree. Disagreements are solved with proof, not feelings. The fact that this reviewer rejected them twice means they haven't actually addressed the concern. Jul 13, 2023 at 13:28
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Would it be considered unethical to submit the paper to a different journal while listing who we think the reviewer might be as an opposed reviewer stating that we have a conflicting approach to our particular area of research and feel they might not comment fairly?

Of course it is unethical. What you are proposing is to mislead an editor in order to circumvent normal peer review and get your paper published despite appearing to have a fundamental flaw.

The proper course of action is to modify the paper to clearly explain why this apparent flaw does not actually invalidate your results. If this reviewer thought it was a problem, and an editor agreed, probably others will too, so this is worth doing even if you don't get the same reviewer again.

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    "What you are proposing is to mislead an editor in order to circumvent normal peer review and get your paper published despite appearing to have a fundamental flaw." That interpretation is quite a stretch. And your "proper course of action" sounds bad as a general advice. Not every reviewer comment should lead to a modification of your paper. Some reviewer comments are just unnecessary or wrong. Like, properly wrong. Thank god, or hopefully, this is rare.
    – kricheli
    Jul 13, 2023 at 6:29
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    @kricheli I don't see how it is a stretch. The real stretch is turning "I don't want you to see what this reviewer is likely to say" into "this reviewer is likely to be unfair". Jul 13, 2023 at 8:15
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    If OP was going to be as honest with the new editor as they have been with us, there would be no problem (but of course the editor would then think "I really want to know what this supposed fundamental flaw is"). Of course, OP doesn't have to say anything to the new editor, but if they do want to ask for this person not to be a reviewer, they should be honest about why. Jul 13, 2023 at 8:23
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    Do you not give the benefit of the doubt? If the reviewer is indeed incorrect, you are not misleading an editor and not circumventing normal peer review. Saying that the reviewer would be unfair, well, I'd agree that you'd have to be careful about that/have good reasons. Depends perhaps on the specifics of the arguments and the reviewer's positions etc. and we don't know that.
    – kricheli
    Jul 13, 2023 at 8:29
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    @kricheli If the reviewer is incorrect, and OP tells the editor "we think this person has previously reviewed this paper, making incorrect comments", then the editor is not being misled. And I would certainly give the benefit of the doubt here if OP merely believes the reviewer is incorrect. But OP is instead proposing to say that this person might not review fairly, which is not the same thing at all. Jul 13, 2023 at 8:39
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Is it unethical to submit a paper without addressing criticism?

Maybe. I lean towards "yes", but it is complicated.

On the one hand, if one journal does not accept a paper, but the authors are confident of their results, then it is entirely reasonable to resubmit the paper elsewhere. This really isn't a problem, in and of itself.

On the other hand, if an author submits a paper to a journal, and the reviewers point out perceived errors or flaws, the burden is on the author of the paper to either correct the errors (if they are "legitimate" problems), or rebut the reviewer and explain why the perceived errors are not a problem. Until the problems are either corrected or rebutted, the assumption should be that the paper is flawed.

If the author resubmits the paper somewhere else without fixing the problems, they are engaging in a kind of deception—they are presenting a flawed paper as though it had no flaws.

Additionally, this reeks of something like p-hacking. Whenever you submit a paper, there is some chance that it will be accepted, even if it is flawed. The more times you resubmit the paper, the more likely it is that some journal, somewhere, will eventually accept it. It is like rerunning the same flawed experiment over and over again, and only keeping the result which, at random, rises above your desired significance level.

Don't do it.

Is it productive to submit a paper without addressing criticism?

No. Absolutely not.

Even if you are being selfish, this is a waste of your time (not to mention the time of the reviewers and editors who have to deal with your paper). Academic circles tend to be relatively small and, depending on how broad your field is, it is likely that you will encounter the same reviewer over and over again. This reviewer will point out the same perceived flaws over and over again. This doesn't help you to get your paper in print.

If your goal is publication, address the review. Explain why their criticisms are incorrect, or edit the paper to fix the errors.

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    We have written a (comprehensive) rebuttal at the time when we had the chance to. In it, we offered the reviewer to introduce some language to the relevant section to describe why, in our opinion, their concerns are invalid. However, the editor was apparently not convinced of our response and rejected the paper after the first round. We cannot further rebute this paper as it is now rejected. Jul 12, 2023 at 13:50
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    @academic_burner I was not necessarily suggesting that you rebut the review to the current editor. But, going forward, you must address the reviewers concerns by modifying the paper (or it is likely that the paper will never see the light of day). A reviewer found a flaw. Either the flaw is real, and you need to fix it; or the flaw is the result of a failure of communication, and you need to edit your paper to address this error. In the latter case, the modifications constitute a rebuttal of the original reviewer. Jul 12, 2023 at 14:26
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    Fundamentally, you need to figure out what your goal here is. Is it to publish a high quality paper? or is it to be "right", whether or not the paper is ever published? Jul 12, 2023 at 14:27
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Is it ethical to re-submit a manuscript without addressing comments from a particular reviewer while asking the editor to exclude them?

There are two things here.
Should you resubmit without addressing comments. You shouldn't.
Even when submitting to a new Journal, I'll still prepare a rebuttal, even if it's for my personal use (although I won't be submitting). This assist with giving thought to reviewers comments/view/opinion. I need to be clear within myself what I'm addressing or why I'm not revising.

As regarding if you can request exclusion of certain reviewers, yes you can. However, not in the manner you outlined.

Some journals welcome proposing and opposing reviewers as part of their submission process. One simply propose or opposes based on discipline topic/methodology. Politely so. There's no space for personal attack!

I have opposed certain persons when submitting certain manuscript. For instance where I know certain persons equate critical theory to be same as critical realism. This isn't about the persons but simply because of the improper view they'll bring to the review.


This only address an aspect of your question. There are other nuances that warrants different responses and approaches.

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    Regarding the exclusion criteria, the journal I'm targeting states that legitimate reasons to oppose a reviewer are "conflict of interest, direct competition, opposite views and opinions not just disagreement". Not sure where "disagreement" ends and "opposite views and opinions" start. Jul 12, 2023 at 13:46
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There is no ethics involved here: just the regular review process. It is appropriate to exclude a referee if you can fully justify this exclusion with the editor.

Given this referee was selected by two other different editors means this referee is likely very qualified to provide an expert opinion, so you will need a strong argument to justify your case, which amounts to having a rebuttal to the referee ready at hand. Just stating “Please exclude X because we have a difference of opinion” will not get you anywhere with any reasonable editor.

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Would it be considered unethical to submit the paper to a different journal without addressing the reviewer's comments?

No. There is no ethical obligation to address a referee's comments if you think doing so would not improve the paper.

Would it be considered unethical to submit the paper to a different journal while listing who we think the reviewer might be as an opposed reviewer stating that we have a conflicting approach to our particular area of research and feel they might not comment fairly?

That depends on whether you are proposing to lie by omission here or not.

It seems like the only basis for believing that Researcher X might not comment fairly is precisely because you think that (1) Referee #2 did not comment fairly and (2) Researcher X is Referee #2. If you are honest with the editor about this reasoning, then surely there is nothing unethical about this. Of course, I imagine the editor might not find this reasoning particularly convincing, but that's a different matter.

If, on the other hand, you intend to create the impression in the editor that your concern that Researcher X would not treat your manuscript fairly is based on something other than your belief that Researcher X = Referee #2, then this is in effect an attempt to deceive the editor (certainly it does not count as honest communication) and as such is indeed unethical.

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I don't know if I'd say "unethical" because it isn't 'wrong'. Rather, unless you can prove that the assessment is false, I would simply say reconsider if you're right. They may be pointing out something legitimate. Any paper I submit, I send to a few coworkers in my field before I do, as they may have a fresher perspective than me.

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I don't think it would be unethical to submit to another journal without addressing the criticism or to ask the journal to exclude a specific referee. Other answers seem to imply that it is your duty to do something about the flaw in your paper. I am not sure this is an imperative.

Let me explain. You are trying to publish a paper. I don't understand why your paper must be perfect. If it moves the state of the art forward, it is publishable. If some referee disagrees, it's just an opinion of that referee, and you don't owe anything to that referee.

Let me give a couple of historic examples. We all know Pauli as a greatest physicist. When Kronig suggested that Pauli's "two-valuedness not describable classically" is related to rotation of the electron, Pauli's criticism was devastating, and his arguments were very reasonable. As a result, Kronig did not publish the idea, although it is now generally accepted (I believe:-)).

Decades later, Pauli's criticism of Yang and Mills' work was harsh, and his arguments were very reasonable. Later work by others fixed the flaw of Yang-Mills' work and won Nobel prizes. Were Yang and Mills unethical to publish flawed work?

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There is an unethical aspect to resubmitting the way you suggest. You are hiding important information from the editor of the journal to which you will submit, information that may (or may not) give an indication of a fundamental flaw in your article/research. What I propose is a simple thing: address the point raised by that reviewer, and reason in the article why you did x, decided y, or ignored z (etc., whatever is relevant in the case of the alleged defect, which was pointed on earlier). This will add another dimension to the article that you did not address before, and will also be more ethical.

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If you believe that the reviewer is biased, or has conflicting interests, or that their viewpoint is not universal - it is legitimate to demand the editor to assigned another reviewer or to appeal the decisions. Most of the scientific journals have such appeal procedures put in place and the final rejection letter would be signed by a divisional editor or an assigned reviewer, usually a top-of-the-field scientist. So you need first check the specific policies of the journal in question, and try to follow them through to the end.

So, what seems to me unethical/questionable is not that you go to another journal, without taking all the luggage associated with the article, but that you do so before having exhausted all the options - it seems like an admission that there is indeed a problem with your research.

In practical terms, people certainly do gamble by submitting to as many journals as possible, until the paper is published. Refusing to do so would demonstrate your high moral standards, but might put you at a disadvantage in comparison to other scientists in your field.

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