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I submitted a manuscript to an established ecology journal and received reasonable reviews. The reviewing editor requested a revision. However, the comments from the reviewing editor were abysmal. First, the literacy and analysis were, in my judgment, poor by high-school standards. Second, based on the comments, I seriously doubt the reviewing editor read the manuscript. I have published 10 papers (mostly in higher impact journals than this one) and this reviewing editor stands out. I think I would rather withdraw the paper than deal with this person. Is it possible to request a different editor? I have never heard of that, but I have no desire to work with this person.

EDIT: The email from the journal contains 3 sets of comments. They are labeled "Reviewer #1", "Reviewer #2", and "Associate Editor." I am referring to the comments from the Associate Editor, who is not named. The comments from the AE synthesize the comments from the reviewers, which is his/her job, of course. However, it reads like the AE was busy and let his 12 year old son write it for him.

EDIT 2: Thank you for the input. I asked this question because A) the comments from the AE were unusually bad and B) it will require more finesse to deal with a bad editor than a bad reviewer. However, I have decided to proceed as normal anyway. I have already invested the time to get reviews and I need to deal with reviewer comments regardless. Once you are halfway into the forest, forging ahead is the quickest way out. So I will play the journal-review roulette even though I think it will be more random and aggravating than usual.

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    The role that you ascribe to the "reviewing editor" sounds like what in all my experience is performed by an external "reviewer" or "referee". @Peter Jansson pointed that out as well. Could you speak to that: is the person who has made these comments an actual, named editor of the journal, or is it an anonymous reviewer/referee? – Pete L. Clark Jun 4 '14 at 7:06
  • Thank you for the question. I have edited my post to clarify that this is definitely an editor. – chiroptologist Jun 4 '14 at 14:12
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    Speaking to the language aspect alone, it would not be uncommon for international reviewers not have a good grasp of English. It has happened from one of my publications as it reads as if someone is "translating" from their own language. – user479 Jun 4 '14 at 22:06
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You clearly have a very low opinion of the competence of the anonymous Associate Editor (AAE). It might be worth looking through some issues of the journal and asking around about the quality of the journal: does it really have the stature that you previously thought?

If so, then I would draw a distinction between the impression that the AAE has made on you and the effect this will have on your manuscript and your own revision process. The relevant question is: is it going to be more trouble to push this paper through to publication -- is it even headed in that direction? that wasn't completely clear to me from your description -- than to start fresh with a different journal?

It sounds like you think that the referees made reasonable comments, comments that you would have to address anyway before resubmitting. So what is the downside in preparing a revised version that addresses the referees' comments, together with a brief, unconfrontational reply explaining that the AAE's suggestions were considered but ultimately not followed? To me it seems strategically best to try this first and see what happens.

As a final point: let me address the question: How do you communicate to the journal your professional opinion that the AAE is truly incompetent? I would say that criticizing an unknown editor of a journal is difficult or impossible to pull off in a way which is likely to be productive: the risk seems too high that you would simply be writing to the person you are complaining about and informing them that their work is "poor by high-school standards". I tried to imagine a person who might respond well to that...and I did not succeed. In my experience, the current journal system makes the process of complaint / appeal / seeking of restitution so awkward as to rarely be worthwhile for anything other than a cathartic (Festivus-style?) airing of grievances: too much of the process happens out of your sight. The point at which you feel like you need to complain is probably the point to resubmit somewhere else.

  • You have some points, so +1. Just one thing: I wouldn't complain to the AAE, I would contact the Editor-in-Charge. His work is to associate the AAE to your manuscript, and review the AAE's work. – yo' Jun 4 '14 at 22:12
  • @tohecz: Because the "associate editor" is anonymous, it seems to me that there is a non-negligible chance that it is the editor-in-chief, or managing editor, or whoever might be directing the journal. In general, I think trying to appeal to one editor of a journal against another editor is a low-percentage move. (I say this because I have tried to appeal to an editor of a journal against a referee, and it usually does not go well. This seems less auspicious.) – Pete L. Clark Jun 4 '14 at 22:30
  • On the other hand, we all make mistakes and we all hurry with the work. I know from my practice that good Ed-in-Charge will revisit the review process because he know that mistakes or imperfections happen. Therefore it makes sense to point it out. However, I would stick to addressing the reviewers' issues; that's the most important thing anyways, which is what you suggest. – yo' Jun 4 '14 at 22:38
  • @tohecz: The level of the OP's criticism of the AAE is well beyond "we all make mistakes and we all hurry with the work". He feels the AAE is incompetent. That's a hard message to deliver. "I know from my practice that good Ed-in-Charge will revisit the review process because he know that mistakes or imperfections happen." This sounds true by definition. In practice, EiC's are open to certain kinds of appeals, but at least in my field, the sentiment that if you disagree with the intellectual evaluation of your work you should simply resubmit elsewhere is quite strong. – Pete L. Clark Jun 4 '14 at 22:44
  • Well, in my humble opinion that the OP is over-reacting, but it is something he has to re-consider, not us, because he knows the situation much better. And after all, we can only suggest something and provide a bit of help, but we can't solve the issue ;) – yo' Jun 4 '14 at 23:17
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As chief editor of a journal, I can say that I would see such a request as reasonable under certain circumstances (and it has happened). However, in the case you describe I do not see what it is that the editor has really done. The reviewers comments form the basis for your revisions and the editor should judge if any comments are more important than others and summarize what the editor sees as important revisions you should make. It is then up to you to do these as you see fit and if you disagree argue against those that need such action.

Change of editor requests come when an author feel a paper has been unfairly judged (usually rejected) and I know of one case where an editor rejected a paper after using a set of reviewers that were marked as "non-preferred" due to a conflict of interest. I also know of cases where a zealous copy-editor has modified the language to a degree that the science was almost completely lost. In your case, it is not clear what has happened to the manuscript, has it been rejected? have you written a rebuttal and argued against changes imposed?

I would suggest that you make the revisions you think are reasonable and provide a rebuttal on the suggested changes to your paper. If you encounter more unreasonable resistance from the editor, I think it is only fair to write to the Editor-in-Chief and state that you think you have been unfairly treated and wish to get a second opinion on the handling.

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    I appreciate the informed response! In answer to your questions, the MS has not been rejected; the AE requested revisions; I have not yet revised the MS nor responded to the AE. At this stage, the AE has not done anything egregious. However, I showed the AE comments to a colleague who said "These are the dumbest comments I have ever seen from an AE." I have no faith this person is qualified for the job and I anticipate a painful experience and I hesitate to invest a lot of time in a response to this AE. I might request a new AE, or I might withdraw and try another journal. – chiroptologist Jun 4 '14 at 14:25

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