Most journals have a peer review process, where there are several rounds of reviews and modifications over a single paper.

In my particular case, one of these reviews was, in my opinion, a bit over the top. In this case, the reviewer asked me to expand a set of equations that are explained in any undergrad numerical analysis book. It even has a very well described Wikipedia page. And the set of equations took an entire page of my paper.

Yet, my PI at the moment told me it was just better to comply and get the paper ready (it had already been accepted subject to these changes).

My new PI told me it seemed wrong to him, since it is a very basic set of equations and the fact that one reviewer is not familiarized with it, is not an excuse to break the rhythm of the paper, since suddenly a whole page of equations can do that for you in a paper.

He told me he would have fought it back.

What is the overall opinion in different fields with respect to this?

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    I think this gets the "primarily opinion-based" close vote. Reasonable people can disagree on matters of style. Some prefer to make papers self-contained, others would rather focus on their own work and cite everything else. Some are willing to fight to publish their papers exactly as they want, others would rather just defer to the referee. I don't think there are any "overall opinions". – Nate Eldredge Sep 3 '14 at 0:32
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    The top-level question is on-topic. Asking "what do you think" is not. – aeismail Sep 3 '14 at 10:30
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    If the editor asked this person to reivew the paper, it is because he is an expert of the research topic. If this reviewer does not know a particular notion, it is safe to assume that many readers will be in the same situation. Everything that may help readers to understand the paper should be encouraged. However, if you feel it slows down the pace of reading too much, what about putting the details in an appendix? – Taladris Sep 3 '14 at 15:50
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    Have you given any reference about those equations in the article? Even though some equations can be very basic for you, they might not be as basic for the reviewer or for other readers. Never assume that things that are basic for you are basic for everyone, even if one is from your very same field. – Massimo Ortolano Sep 3 '14 at 18:55
  • Depending on the journal, you may submit Supplementary Material for your paper. It could be a nice way to comply with the referee's request while keeping your paper's rhythm (which I agree is important) intact. – SteffX Aug 9 '16 at 17:07

From what I know (I am a mathematician with some publishing experience), it is perfectly okay to argue against a referee's demand, as soon as

  1. you do it politely, and you explain your arguments in a non-conflictual way;
  2. you are ready to delay the final acceptance of your paper;
  3. you are ready to either ultimately accept the demand if the referee does not change her mind and the editor backs her up, or to get your paper ultimately rejected.

In the case you describe, I do not think that explaining your point of view would have turn the editor's mind right away. In a similar situation (a referee asked for some terminology to be changed into something more standard), with my coauthor we argued with success (our argument was that to date, no terminology existed for what we discussed, let alone standard terminology).

Added in edit: I forgot an important point; in many situation, including yours, you can find a middle ground that may be considered an acceptable answer to her query by the referee, and that avoid departing too much from your initial intention. For example, in your case, you can propose to add a precise reference giving the derivation.

  • Does "okay" here mean morally okay or having no consequences for your chances of getting the paper published? – virmaior Sep 5 '14 at 6:47
  • I mean both, with the provisio given in my answer (mainly, possible delay). – Benoît Kloeckner Sep 5 '14 at 13:10

My experience in this regard, being in Epidemiology as a field and having both successfully and unsuccessfully pushed back against reviewers:

You are best served arguing against a reviewers requests when you have clear, definitive case. This does not necessarily have to be "the reviewer is wrong" but can be "This was done deliberately, and here is why..."

In my experience, this appears mostly in either the generation or interpretation of results. Stylistic arguments, such as the one you're currently considering, have less of a defensible "Here is why this was the way it was..."

In your particular case, consider the following:

  • While you might think the expansion of the equations is trivial, at least one person who is both sufficiently qualified and interested to agree to review your paper thinks it is better served fully fleshed out. For most papers, this actually represents a fair fraction of the total lifetime number of readers of the paper.
  • A reader needing to expand your set of equations, and do so without error, also breaks the flow of the paper.

The fundamental question you should ask yourself is "If I say 'No', and the editor replies with 'Thanks, but no thanks...' was it worth it?"

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