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I have received the referees' reports for my paper. The reviews were both positive, however I am quite baffled/disappointed with their content.

The comments of both referees regard the easy part of the paper, the other, more complicated part which also has some calculations in it got no comment at all.

It seems that both the referees have been... how to say?... lazy? Should I complaint with the editor?

The journal is not predatory and has a good reputation in the field (theoretical physics).

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    Were the reviews positive? Sometimes the "easy" part of a manuscript is already so bad that I comment on that in my review and don't bother looking at the "complicated" part, because if the authors improve the "easy" part, they will need to scrap and redo the "complicated" part in any case... Jan 29 at 12:45
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    @StephanKolassa As a reviewer in similar situations, I have occasionally pointed out in my review that I didn't read the whole paper but focus on the issues that lead to a level of concern and/or confusion that made a full reading pointless. Jan 29 at 12:51
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    This might be an X-Y problem. Keep in mind that it's your job to make sure your published results are correct, not the referees'. The main job of a referee is to assess whether your results deserve publication. It's possible they skipped the most technical parts if the results looked plausible. Their most valuable input is a high-level view of your paper, and an assessment that it's valuable enough to appear on a journal. Good referees will also note minor errors, typos and the like, but it's not their job to do it. Ideally, your paper should be correct and typo-free at submission. Jan 29 at 14:28
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    Why are you picking fights with positive reviewers, again?
    – Anonymous
    Jan 29 at 14:55
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    What're you looking for from the reviewers? Like, are you looking for acknowledgement as a form of personal validation? Or do you want them to edit your paper for you? Or do you want them to help you with a theory? Or what? Like, say, hypothetically, that they accept your paper without comment: what would be the issue?
    – Nat
    Jan 30 at 2:49

6 Answers 6

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You submitted a paper, not a draft of the paper. Reviewers have no responsibility to turn your marginally acceptable paper into an accepted paper. Their responsibility is entirely to the editorial staff to make a recommendation as to whether the journal should publish the paper.

You don't say what the tone of the reviews you got back were, but if the referees see a real problem in the "easy" part that would preclude publication, and they have problems understanding your "complicated" part, no, they don't owe you a review of the complicated part.

Where I tend to see reviews that don't address many of the issues in a paper is when there are real basic problems that will have a clear impact on the paper as a whole -- in other words, when the paper needs some real work before referees can really offer a comprehensive review.

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    +1 for "You submitted a paper, not a draft of the paper" - how true. And how much do I wish everybody knew this is the case. Jan 29 at 20:25
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    The OP mentioned in a comment that both reviews came back positive.
    – Idran
    Jan 30 at 14:23
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    @Idran True, and the response deals mostly with a critical review. But the first sentence is true in any case. The responsibility for the correctness of the paper lies with the author. Frankly, I wish this would be far better understood in our religiously "peer review"-driven system. Jan 30 at 15:18
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Unless they were "lazy" and also suggest rejection, then you have nothing to gain from a complaint. You don't actually know why it got no comment.

I think you are far better off dealing as necessary with any suggestions that were actually made and moving forward. A complaint, at best, will delay publication.

And, even if rejection was recommended, make what improvements you can and move on.

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There is a possibility that the reviewers were only vaguely familiar with your exact topic - and might not have felt very confident in reviewing what you describe as the "difficult" part, but more confident on the general parts, which is why they commented more on these. It is not that uncommon that the research area and the paper one gets sent to review don't really overlap.

If you really feel that you need more feedback on the "difficult" part, you can reach out to the editor and ask for an additional review, although that might definitely delay publication, as already mentioned by Buffy.

I wonder why you want more critiques - others would be happy with only minor remarks, do you not feel confident about your submission?

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    If OP needs critical reading of the difficult parts, they should ask some colleague to do so. The reviewers may or may not do so, but it's not their job to ensure correctness. Jan 29 at 20:26
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    No vote on your answer by me, as I agree with your first paragraph but totally disagree with the second one. As CaptainEmacs said, it's not the job of reviewers to do your proofreading.
    – Dubu
    Jan 31 at 9:21
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Quite possibly the editor was not very happy with the quality of reports they received, but nevertheless decided that it is not appropriate to delay publication of your paper while they find another reviewer (who might not be any more thorough than the first two). That is their decision to make, and since they decided that way for your benefit I can't imagine they will appreciate it being questioned.

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Although chances are my reviews by and large don't look like the ones you received, as a reviewer I sometimes comment far more on earlier and potentially easier parts of the paper than on the later "beef". The reason is not that I don't read and think about the more complex part. Possible reasons are:

  1. I may think that the main part of the paper is just fine, but the introduction (and maybe also the conclusion and review of other people's work) has some questionable statements, issues with how related literature is commented on (or even misunderstood), some statements that are overly general for marketing reasons etc. Certain issues are more likely to show up in the beginning, and it may well be that your main results are fine but there are these other issues.

  2. Sometimes I start to read a paper and write down all issues I can think of, even though some of these are not strictly necessary to have in the review (such as language issues). I may then realise that I have a time management problem, so from some point I only write down things that I find really necessary to note in order to get the review finished, even though I do read the paper properly and convince myself that the hard part is fine, even though I could've noted some minor issues there having taken more time. I may still put the more detailed earlier list of issues in the review because it is information to the authors and editor that may make some sense to have, even though the review may in the end look a bit unbalanced between detailed early criticism and just giving green light for the more difficult core part. There is some "lazyness" regarding the writing in this, but it doesn't mean that there's anything seriously wrong with the later parts.

I'm not saying your reviewers were like this, but these are potential explanations why reviewers may only (or largely) comment on the early bits other than having actually ignored the rest of your paper.

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  • Also, the later parts of the paper aren't methods and data. They tend to be conclusions, and reviewers are often generous in letting authors wax philosophical and/or lay out unproven possibilities for the community, so long as they don't overstate the straws being reached for. Feb 2 at 15:40
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First, are you sure you received the full comment from the reviewers? maybe there has been an update in the editorial system and the reviewers letters/reviews have been cropped.

Unlikely, but worthwhile to investigate.

Otherwise, you are free to ask the editor to find other reviewers and the editor is free to put your paper in the bucket "to be done tomorrow" which means "tomorrow is forever tomorrow".

A short historical digression: the peer review as we know is a rather recent thing. In the past centuries, scholars were sending some details of their scientific publications to peers (sometimes to their worst enemies) hoping to receive a feedback. They were then carefully collating the feedbacks and using them as suited them best.

This process of looking for peers and shoveling them your work is cumbersome and sometimes annoying. A much better version is when interested peers can reach your papers and read your papers and eventually comment on them, without you having to bother them asking to read and comment your work.

It would be great to have such an estabilished process. Hey, wait a minute, if your paper is accepted it means that it will be available to this large pool of peers, mission accomplished!

If, on the other hand, you are afraid publishing because your paper has not been thoroughly reviewed ... do not delegate to others what you should do!

Every paper you submit should be in its best possible form and you should be sure that it is free of errrors, at best of your knowledge (which does mean you have no doubts about it being error-free, but it does not mean that the paper is error-free).

If your paper is still at the stage you have doubts about it, and you feel you need the peer review to assess if it is error free, then your paper is not mature enough for publication. Otherwise you are just offloading to the reviewers the due diligence you should perform on your own work, which is not the idea of peer review.

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