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Recently I was asked to review a paper for a renowned engineering journal of IExx.

After all reviewers submitted their comments, I downloaded the review PDF with all commments and learned the manuscript got comments from SIX reviewers. The manuscript was not outstanding in any way, no room temperature superconductor and no very trendy technology at all, just bread and butter fundamental research.

4 reviewers voted for minor revision, 2 for major revision, no one for outstanding contribution. There was a lot of redundancy in the different comments, especially on missing references.

I'm publishing and reviewing papers for over 10 years now, I never heard of more than 3 reviewers in physics journals. The journal above was a journal with a main scope and focus on sensors. Even for a room temperature superconductor submission I cannot imagine and suggest to use more than 3 reviewers, maybe more after the first review if the 3 reviewers vote reject, publish as is, major revision.

So what happend here?

Personally I feel this is a huge waste of my time (nearly one afternoon), the other reviewers and the manuscript authors. No one of us would likely have started to interact with the journal knowing this procedure.

So the question is, within the review process, if, how and whom I should contact to communicate this?! The ADM and associate editor is not sufficient for my taste. Personally, whatever the revised manuscript will look like, I don't feel the obligation to read it again (anyway voted for minor revision). If I can trust the editor to do his job and check if the minor revision was handled correctly I also don't know after this procedure.

To me this review process looks like a complete mess. I have an idea and will to communicate this to the journal AND the other anonymous reviewers (if possible in the online review mask at all), but the biggest problem I see is that this will mostly harm the manuscript authors, who were the last to know of the SIX reviewers.

Actually, I was thinking also already several times to publish in that journal. Currently surely not.

So who is and what is the diplomatically correct way to inform everybody on the journal site that this is a mess and waste of time and from my point of view several people on journal site made here mistakes or didn't pay attention without harming the authors or myself for future submissions?

And how "much" "unnormal" is this kind of case. On a scale from 1 to 11 reviewers! (Sorry for sarcasm)

EDIT to the commenters:

I'm upset because it is a waste of my time and many authors pick a journal for max. 2 or 3 reviewers. If the associate editor has a hard time to find reviewers, it's rather a issue of the manuscript or wrong journal pick, but not to be solved by sending 6-10 invitations for review. When many journals seem to be able to organize 2-3 reviewers, then this is simply unprofessional to me. I'm also not hiring 2 grad students for same topic in case one fails, because it is tax money. Avoiding any kind of redundancy should have highest priority when time and money is limited in research, not only in manuscripts.

The solution is quite simple in the digital age: When 2-3 reviewers have downloaded on the website the manuscript, no further downloads/reviewers are allowed. This is a journal issue, not one of the associate editor who does like the reviewers an voluntary unpaid job.

I'm even more surprised, some of the commenters find this an acceptable situation? If this becomes the rule, then your future manuscripts will have a hard time to find reviewers at all. But you can answer, why you think, and my reaction is totally wrong...

The underlying important question here is simply: How much review is enough and how to practice and establish this in the community, not how can we explain such waste of time still happens in 21th century in some cases.

And personally I can only recommend to publish and review in journals that keep this practice to limit the peer review to the maximum necessary amount of work for all. The opposite of it is redundancy. This time should be better used to reproduce work of other authors.

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    Were all reviewers invited at the same time? Some journals seem to run with the approach of sending many invitations, expecting most invitees to decline to review or never to respond, and so the journal is left with a reasonable number of reports in a shorter time. I agree this is disrespectful to the reviewers.
    – Anyon
    Apr 2 at 23:11
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    Why are you so upset? I'm really curious. Why is it worse to be 1 of 6 instead of 1 of 3 or 4?
    – Peter Flom
    Apr 2 at 23:17
  • You should just be very happy that you were part of the ultimate creation of a very well-reviewed publication.
    – R1NaNo
    Apr 3 at 3:44

1 Answer 1

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Try to put yourself into the associate editor's shoes.

It is very hard to find people to review, but you are also supposed to find reviewers in very short time. It used to be that you find people you liked to review, extended them an invitation, and they would usually accept. This is no longer the case, at least in my (of course limited) experience. So, as an associate editor, you have to invite quite a number of people at a shot. Under rare circumstances, you suddenly have more than enough reviewers. If you do not have a strong personality, you will feel bad about sending someone an invitation, saying that you had too many people willing to review, and that you decided that this someone was not making the cut. Much easier to get more reviews than are needed, because also, sometimes, reviews are not very thorough.

Of course, I do not know what has happened in your case, but this would seem to me to be the most likely scenario.

To whom should you complain? The editor and the journal set the policy and maybe should think of a procedure to deal with this rare occasion. But as journals compete for short overall review times, and as authors really appreciate short review times, the best policy might be to ask for forgiveness if this happened. The associate editor is the one that is at fault. It might even be that the submission setup is not even alerting the associate editor that this might have happened. As an associate editor, one might check every day or every other day what needs to be done and the only message popping up is that this paper now has enough reviewers and its status changed to "under review".

I am sorry to hear that you are considering severing your ties with the journal and no longer be available as a reviewer. I would like to mildly suggest that you communicate your feelings to the associate editor and allow her/him to explain what has happened.

If the journal would have indeed have a policy of six reviewers for uncontroversial papers, then you are right to consider this journal to be a journal for which you do not like to review.

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  • thx, I think it is a policy or technical mistake of the journal to involve more than 3 reviewers at all here after reading your answer and the linked similar question. The associate editor is possibly not to blame strongly to invite more than 3, when he gets no reply and has to keep overview over several to be reviewed manuscripts. Yet, the journal and he will be on my blacklist to publish and review in future. Apr 3 at 14:59

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