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I received a rejection letter from an Editor after I revised and resubmitted my paper by addressing all comments from two reviewers.

The first reviewer has no feedback meaning that he accepted all the responses given.

The second reviewer say that he confirms that all his comments on the previous version of the paper have been addressed. However he still feel that the paper does not contain an adequate level of originality for it to be published in a journal like "xxxxxxxxxxxx" with a very high impact factor. He did not utter any doubts regarding the originality during the first round

Is it still possible to write an appeal to the Editor-in-chief against the decision?

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    Ultimately, despite the reviewers' responses, it is the Editor's decision - you may be able to amend parts of your paper to emphasise the originality of your research. – user21984 Oct 19 '14 at 6:01
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    "The first reviewer has no feedback meaning that he accepted all the responses given.". I am not too sure about that. – scaaahu Oct 19 '14 at 7:18
  • To Wrzlprmft: No, he didn't. – Anwari Oct 19 '14 at 8:38
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    I agree with Omen and scaaahu. To be explicit: Even if both reviewers would have written only that you responded adequately, the real decision about the originality and interest is the Editor's. The Editor can consult confidentially with the reviewers, additional experts, and other editors without your knowledge and ultimately decide the paper is not interesting enough. There could also be additional factors you are not aware of (e.g. competition in the same or other journals). – Bitwise Oct 19 '14 at 12:31
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    Just a possibility: perhaps the referee indicated the originality concerns in another part of the original report, which the editor didn't send to you. It is common for referees to have comments for the author and also private comments to the editor. Of course, we can't tell exactly from the outside, but this is at least a plausible theory for the word "still", if it actually appears in the referee's report. – Oswald Veblen Oct 19 '14 at 13:00
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Is it still possible to write an appeal to the Editor-in-chief against the decision?

Sure, it's always possible to do that. Whether the appeal will get you anywhere is a different question. In this case, I feel like you think what you told us is grounds for an appeal which has a reasonable chance of being successful....but I didn't see anything in your post that would make me, if I were an editor of your journal [disclosure: I am not a journal editor; but I have dealt with journal editors regularly for some years now], reconsider the decision.

Basically they are saying that after addressing the comments they agree that your paper is solid and publishable, but is not worthy of publication in their journal. More specific words like "originality", "difficulty", "novelty", "value", "depth" all amount to this same judgment. Does a journal have the right to reject papers that they think are perfectly sound and publishable but not good enough for them? Of course they do!! The journal's right (and even obligation) to do just that is what allows the entire system -- in which some journals are more prestigious than others, and for which publication in the most prestigious journals (e.g. Nature and Annals of Mathematics) is a career-making accomplishment -- to function.

Unfortunately it is quite hard to successfully appeal this kind of verdict. In the rare case that you happen to know that the editors lacked some specific, objective, important piece of information that would have impacted their decision -- the referee's report dramatically mischaracterizes your work, say by neglecting to mention that you solved an important and well-known problem -- you can bring that to their attention. More often you suspect that they didn't properly appreciate your work, but your recourse is to resubmit to a journal of equal or greater prestige, and look forward to the (usually implicit!) "I-told-you-so" when your paper gets published there.

Maybe you thought that being asked to make revisions meant that the paper would be accepted conditionally on making those revisions in a way that satisfied the referees? Well, if you were specifically told that, then: Yes, appeal. You have a strong case. Otherwise: unfortunately, no, that need not be the case. If a referee feels that even if you made the revisions she would still not recommend the paper for acceptance, then the ethical thing to do is to reject the paper and make clear that the suggested revisions are for a version of the paper to be submitted elsewhere. However, even if the referees recommend the paper, then the decision to accept rests with the editors. As a general rule, the better the journal the more likely it is that a paper which was satisfactory to all the referees will still not be published. Some of these journals presumably don't even have the space to publish all the papers that their referees recommend them to publish, so they have to make hard choices.

There is one small word in your post which shouts to me: still. This suggests that one of the referees mentioned in her original report that your paper did not have enough originality to be published in the journal you sent it to. Is that right? If so: well, then is it really true that you addressed all the comments of the referees? In my experience, lines like this are often hints that the referee is not going to want to publish your paper even if you make some revisions which in your mind measurably improve the paper. Since "originality" is quite subjective, it is very hard to be confident that you are adding originality, and when you get a report like that it is often a good idea to check in with the editor to see whether s/he views that comment as a deal-breaker. (I can think of one instance where I got a comment like that, was asked to revise, and wrote back to ask the editor whether he really wanted me to revise the paper under the circumstances. He said yes and the paper was published. However the journal, while solid, was very far from the top one in my field.)

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    Thank you for your answer. Yes, the journal has the right to reject papers that they think are not good enough for them. But the reviewers did not mention in their original report that the paper did not have enough originality to be published in the journal. – Anwari Oct 19 '14 at 10:10
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    The last paragraph, combined with Oswald Veblen's comment above, seems the most plausible to me: the lack of originality was mentioned in the original report, but in the part that was sent only to the editor, not the part that was sent to the author. – Nate Eldredge Oct 19 '14 at 15:18
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    @Anwari: If they really didn't mention it until after the revision, it's definitely annoying, but what you'd be complaining about is the manner in which the paper was treated, not arguing for its acceptance. I am not myself averse to sending along an email letting the editors know that I wasn't thrilled with the way the paper has handled, but I have learned to be clear in these emails that I am not asking for an appeal of the decision. – Pete L. Clark Oct 19 '14 at 15:30
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There may be an appeal process (the details vary from journal to journal), but it is generally a venue for complaints about the fairness of the editorial process, not a second scientific evaluation. Based on the information you give, this is not your case.

I would suggest you use the input from this journal to improve your paper and submit it elsewhere. Choose your battles wisely.

  • Thank you @Doru Constantin. I agree that I should submit the paper to another journal. – Anwari Oct 19 '14 at 10:18
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As I learned from my good friend who is very well published:

  1. Whenever you're planning research, plan to have publishable results no matter your research results. (Set up your experiments so both the positive and negative cases will be interesting, however it works out.)

  2. Plan and understand your field's journal hierarchy. If you don't succeed at your top journal, then go on to the next. Go for quantity and quality of your research, there's always the next paper.

Can you appeal to the editor? Of course, but it is a "Hail Mary" pass. You're telling the editor that he or she has a problem (the process that led to the non-acceptance of your work) and that a fix is needed. No one welcomes or appreciates that kind of request and the tendency is to dismiss the biased complainant (you), unless the problem is egregious.

Remember that you also don't necessarily want to start your relationship with the journal's editor as a complainer.

As an alternate course of action, why not try the next journal down on your list? You'll be bringing that editor a great paper and perhaps other research in the future will cite your work in journal #2. (Thus demonstrating over time that your paper was truly high quality.)

With your next project, not only may you be accepted at journal #1, perhaps you'll be asked to be the guest editor someday.

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    Large parts of your answer seem not to answer the question and those that do are mainly redundant to existing answers. – Wrzlprmft Oct 19 '14 at 17:02
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    The OP made no mention of "experiments". Please remember that academia =/= laboratory science. – Pete L. Clark Oct 19 '14 at 21:25
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    @LarryK: Your answer says "Whenever you're planning research, plan to have publishable results no matter your research results." Thus it sounds like it is meant to apply universally. But my point is that it doesn't: e.g. in my field (mathematics), you really don't know whether you will get something publishable when you start working on something, and vowing to publish no matter how your research turns out could be bad advice: in some academic fields you are not expected to convert every piece of work into a publication. – Pete L. Clark Oct 20 '14 at 5:53
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    However, though I (as a relatively experienced academic) know that your advice doesn't apply universally, I think that many readers will not. Moreover, although I know that it doesn't apply so well in my field, I don't know exactly which fields in which it is good advice, or even in which fields you intend it to apply. Thus I think the range of applicability of your answer is not so obvious. Wouldn't being more specific improve your answer? – Pete L. Clark Oct 20 '14 at 5:56
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    Also, this part of your answer really does not address the question at all. It seems you are just giving general advice about how to do research and publish papers. If the advice that you give is not even in the same field as the OP....then this part of your answer seems especially distant from the question. – Pete L. Clark Oct 20 '14 at 6:02
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Disclaimer: I have never been involved in a comparable situation, and thus the following is based on thought only.

In addition to the scenario depicted by Pete L. Clark, I think you have a good point if all of the following applies:

  • Neither the reviewers nor the editor gave any hints regarding a lack of originality in the first round.
  • The second reviewer did not state that she or he could not evaluate the originality of the paper unless some aspect had been clarified or something similar.
  • No new information affecting the originality of the paper came up since the paper was first submitted. For example, if one of the improvements in the revised paper was a better context embedding, this may have shed a new light on the originality of the paper. Or you might have attenuated your claims for some reason.
  • The second reviewer did not gave a (good) reason why she or he did not raise objection regarding the originality during the first round.
  • The paper was actually rejected due to the second reviewer’s criticism.

If all this is true – and I strongly recommend to carefully check this as far as possible and have your assessment confirmed by a somebody else, e.g., a colleague¹ –, then I would consider the behaviour of the second reviewer questionable, as she or he

  • unnecessarily lengthened the review process;
  • wasted the time of everybody involved: the other reviewer, the editor and you;
  • caused your paper to be rejected on basis of a point of critique that you had no chance to respond to (though lack of originality can be an incontestable killer argument anyway due to its inherently subjective nature);
  • can not excuse this as an honest mistake (e.g., like failing to spot a hole in a mathematical proof), because evaluating the originality of the manuscript is one the main jobs of a reviewer and should not depend on details
  • created – by using the word still – the wrong impression that the lack of originality was an old and unaddressed point of critique, though it was not.

Moreover, this could actually be a malicious strategy to delay the publication of your paper (for example because the reviewer is in the process of publishing a similar paper): Delay the paper as long as possible² with strong, but not rejection-causing critique and only then raise the hammer argument (here: lack of originality).

Thus, in this case, you would have a good point. However, this is only half the battle. The editors and the journal can still do as they wish³ and can be disgruntled as it was them who accepted the second reviewer’s critique or at least missed that lack of objectivity had not been criticised in the first round – unless the journal assignes somebody else to evaluate this situation.


¹ unless this is a breach of confidentiality
² which may be one round for a high-impact journal
³ unless you have such a strong case that they have to fear the loss of reputation if you make this public

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    this could actually be a malicious strategy to delay the publication of your paper Please, no. Occam's razor: the paper was rejected because the editor found it to be not original enough not because of some absurd conspiracy. – Cape Code Jul 29 '15 at 8:30
  • @CapeCode: This is not about the behaviour of the editor but about the behaviour of the reviewer, which – if it is as depicted by the asker – is either sloppy or malicious. And as much as I would like to live in a world where malicious reviewers only appear in absurd conspiracy theories, I do not think I do. – Wrzlprmft Jul 29 '15 at 8:44

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