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For the last many days, I have a question in mind related with the editorial decision of accepting or rejecting the manuscript after peer-review:

Few days back I got a review report from a very reputed mathematics journal in which reviewer 1 had given some good points and suggestions to further improve the paper while reviewer 2 had given some points and rejected my manuscript. Although, its not tough to revise the paper as per the suggestions of reviewer 2. I would like to know why editor has given me chance to revise the manuscript while reviewer 2 has rejected it. I asked this question because in the past I had bad experience of rejection despite of getting acceptance from one of the reviewers.

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    What was the referee's reasoning for rejection? Did they suggest that what you did was irrelevant or uninteresting? Some journals don't care about relevance, only about correctness. Did they suggest that the paper has mistakes? Perhaps the editor decided to give you a chance to fix those mistakes. The reviewer's main job is to give objective feedback. The decision whether to reject is subjective and it's up to the editor, not the reviewer. An erroneous paper won't be published but the editor may always decide to give you a chance to fix those errors. Especially if there's a publication fee... – Szabolcs Nov 29 '14 at 0:27
  • @Szabolcs There were no mistakes in the work. Some reasons were like : need for some more comparisons, some more numerical experiments. – srijan Nov 29 '14 at 12:11
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    A sufficient explanation would be that the editor agrees that "it[']s not tough to revise the paper as per the suggestions of reviewer 2". – Blaisorblade Jul 8 '15 at 17:32
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It is up to the editor whether to accept or reject. The reviewers only make recommendations. Even if the reviewers give positive recommendations, the editor can decide to reject a paper.

If both reviewers give negative recommendations, it is much less likely for the editor to accept a paper. If there is a mix of opinions the editor has to make a judgment, subject to whatever internal procedures the journal has in place. It seems like, this time, the decision was favorable for you.

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To make sure I understand: you submitted a manuscript and got two referee reports. One of them was favorable (?) but the other one recommended rejection. Nevertheless you have been given the opportunity to revise the paper. I hope I got that right.

From the sound of it, the editor sees more merit in your paper than the second reviewer. I agree that when one review is positive and one is negative, rejection is the most common outcome. (I think the extent to which this happens is positively correlated with the reputation of the journal. Most of the journals I submit to are roughly in the "very good" range, and in that range they can and most often do only accept papers with uniformly positive feedback from reviewers.) However, that need not necessarily be the case: most frequent referees know of at least one example of a paper that appears notwithstanding the fact that they recommended rejection.

I would be wary of making changes that are (i) time-consuming and (ii) you do not agree actually improve the paper, because it is still by no means assured that the paper will be accepted by this journal in the end. However, if you agree with the suggestions and think the journal is very reputable: sure, make the changes, resubmit and hope for the best. Sometimes you catch a break: enjoy it.

  • Thank you very much for the answer. I have tried my best to implement the suggestions of the reviewer 2. Still I am worried as he must be having negative thoughts about my manuscript. – srijan Nov 28 '14 at 2:01
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    An editor might regard one referee's report as more reliable than another's on the basis of how carefully they seem to have read the paper and how well they have understood it. That sort of information might be in the official reports that the author sees, or it might be in their confidential comments to the editor. – Andreas Blass Nov 28 '14 at 2:11
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The decision on a manuscript is usually based on more than one review, often two. As an editor you are faced with many different view from reviewers. Often reviews point in the same direction and may be differ by one providing a major revision and one a minor. But, it is no unheard of that one reviewer can suggest rejection while the other a direct accept.

In all cases, the editor should evaluate the reviews and arrive at some well-balanced decision for how the author should use the reviews to improve the manuscript (in addition, cases where MS are accepted without revisions are very, very rare; direct rejections are of course not so uncommon). If reviewers arrive at widely different recommendations and there are no obvious ways in which the editor can see how to reconcile the differing opinions, requesting an additional review by a third reviewer should be the solution. It is in this process where your question can appear because the way in which an editor values reviews depends on the scientific content, for one, but also on considerations such as the integrity of the journal and the publisher. Often such considerations lead to rejections rather than acceptance.

Accepting papers that have received more negative reviews can usually occur because the editor believes, for example, that the revisions suggested are not as severe as the reviewer indicated by suggesting (in your case) rejection, or, that the reviewer is off in the judgement as a whole. I have for example, seen rejection suggestions that are based more on antagonism than scientific reasons.

In the end reviewers make suggestions, editors (hopefully) provides an educated and insightful "verdict" that you need to adhere to in your revisions.

ad endum: When you receive more "extreme" negative reviews, you should ask yourself: is this because I am not very clear in some way? The answer is often yes!

  • The last paragraph cannot be highlighted enough. – Davidmh Nov 28 '14 at 15:36
  • @Peter Thanks for the reply. There is no such points in the review that can not be work out. I have addressed all the points in the revised manuscript. What made me worry is the fact that reviewer has negative mind towards my paper. Despite of my hard work if he rejects, it would trouble me a lot. – srijan Nov 29 '14 at 12:17
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I had the exact same item happen recently in quite a well renowned journal. One very strong review, one very weak review. Accept and decline. The editor acted as a referee and said he felt the reject review was over "petty" and moved the paper forward with minor edits. I think it was good practice by the editor as he clearly read both reviews and then made the call. This is essentially their job. I think in other cases the editor may have gone with the reject if he felt it was the more robust review. I would say it is just the way it falls sometimes. I would say your goal under revisions is to move the "reject" reviewer to a position of indifferent. Make them at least not block the progress of the paper.

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Assuming the editor is not an expert in the paper's subject matter, he/she will defer to the referees regarding correctness and importance. However, the referees do not necessarily have a clear understanding of the journal's standards. Sometimes the standards change over time (a low-quality journal may be gradually improving, or a high-quality journal may not be able to attract quite as high a caliber of papers as it did a few decades ago), and the referees may not be up to date on these changes. The standards may not be the same in all areas: sometimes a journal manages to attract excellent papers in one niche but doesn't want to restrict its coverage to just that area and is therefore willing to accept somewhat weaker papers on other topics if necessary. Sometimes a journal is not so well known and the referees simply don't understand what it's looking for. Sometimes a journal is famous enough to have mythical standards attributed to it that would be completely unworkable in practice. And sometimes referees are just out of line with the rest of the field in terms of their personal standards: some people are consistently harsher or more lenient than other referees, and the editor may know this.

In principle the journal's public description and private instructions to referees can help alleviate these issues by establishing standards. However, it's difficult to write clear and unambiguous standards. Past examples give far more information than any description of reasonable length, and the editors will be more familiar with those examples than just about anyone else.

The net effect is that although the referee's recommendations are very useful and often followed, the editor's decision is made in a broader context that is not necessarily fully visible to the referees or the author.

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There're a lot of possible reasons. Some possibilities:

1) The reject review(s) are weak while the accept review(s) are strong. I once had a paper were one reviewer said "this paper is clearly wrong, if we accept this methodology one can prove anything, reject" without elaborating. The paper also had three other reviewers who all took the paper seriously and gave suggestions for improvements. At this point it's either trust the word of the first reviewer (bringing in secondary factors like seniority, publication record ...) or ignore the first review. I think most people will think the latter is more reasonable.

2) The reasons for rejection are not fatal. This is the most common reason. In the above example, suppose the first reviewer had gone into why the methodology is clearly wrong, and provided good reasons for it. In that case the paper is fatally flawed, and so rejection is obvious. On the other hand if the flaws can be corrected, then revision might be better. This comes down to the judgment of the editor, and different editors will react differently.

3) The journal lacks papers. The ugly side, but does happen. If the journal is having trouble filling its issues then it might be more inclined to send your paper for revision than reject outright. Conversely if the journal is receiving way more submissions than it needs, it might incline towards rejection. This is also when biases can play a role. For example, a journal could be trying to expand its author market to [X country]. If you're from X, then they might incline towards revision.

4) The editor had received confidential information. This usually leads to the second possibility (when the editor rejects even though reviewers recommend accept), but it's possible it leads to acceptance. There are two main sources for this: the "confidential comments to editor" box when writing a review, and the "please explain why you are declining to review" box.

5) The reviewer(s) might have a history of recommending rejection (or vice versa). Editors can see a reviewer's history of recommendations. If the reviewer has been recommending reject for most papers (including those that were accepted and went on to generate lots of citations), then the editor might put less weight on the review.

Ultimately, the job of the editor is to decide whether or not to accept the paper, and it's a judgment call. Just like different reviewers might have different opinions on a paper, different editors can also reach different conclusions.

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Some venues have a more fine-grained scale. For instance, I have seen "weak" and "strong" accepts/rejects. A "strong accept" may cancel out a "weak reject" and then some, especially if there are few submissions with stellar reviews.

Even if this is not made explicit in the "recommendation" field, the editor may very well have inspected (the language in) the reviews in full and put them in relation themselves.

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