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I have now more than once had the following series of experiences as a referee of mathematics papers:

  1. Elite Journal A sends me a paper. I find some problems with it, some small and some large, and describe them in a carefully- and thoughtfully-written report, but also tell the editor that even if the problems were fixed I do not think that the results are sufficiently interesting to rise to the august standards of EJA, though the results would deserve publication somewhere.

  2. Several months later, Mediocre Journal B sends me the same paper. The author has clearly not incorporated anything from my earlier report: typos that I pointed out have not been fixed even though it would have been trivial to do so, and the more serious problems that I found have not been addressed at all.

The first time that this happened I was quite upset with the author: based on my earlier report he had been made aware of fundamental flaws in the proof of his main result, yet he had the nerve to try to publish it anyway. But since it has happened again (with a different author), it has occurred to me that maybe what is happening here is that the author simply is not getting a chance to see the report, because the editor isn't sending it with the rejection email.

Is there a consistent practice in this regard? When I have had papers rejected I suppose I often haven't gotten a detailed report with line-by-line corrections, but I usually assumed that one had not been written (most of my rejections have happened fairly quickly and on grounds of significance as opposed to correctness). If I want the author to see my report even if the paper is rejected, do I need to specifically tell the editor this? Or have I just happened to stumble across some unscrupulous authors?

  • Possible duplicate of academia.stackexchange.com/questions/7200/… – StrongBad Apr 7 '15 at 23:13
  • Thanks for the link; I would say that the present question is different in the sense that it is asking whether a certain assumption that is implicit throughout the linked discussion--namely that the authors are actually seeing the reviews--is in fact true. – fedka78 Apr 8 '15 at 1:14
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    Somewhat related: Reviewing a revision, after the original review did not reach the authors, especially @JeffE's comment: "The authors have not addressed any of the concerns in my earlier review (attached for reference). Therefore, I cannot recommend acceptance at this time." – S. Kolassa - Reinstate Monica Apr 8 '15 at 6:31
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    You could always email the editor to ask whether your review was shared with the authors. – Jim Conant Apr 9 '15 at 0:09
  • @StephanKolassa The right approach. MJB gets a high-quality review "for free" and it's good for science that the editors now know that the authors have low standards. (While leaving open the unlikely possibility that they didn't actually receive the review the first time.) – David Richerby Apr 9 '15 at 9:20
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I do not believe journals would withhold the reviews from an author, because they generally want to make the reasons for rejection as transparent as possible.

Most of the cases I have seen have fallen under the first scenario–the authors don't want to fix the paper, they just want to get it published somewhere. I once had the unfortunate experience of having to go through four versions of the same manuscript because the authors were refusing to provide a key plot to demonstrate the accuracy of their results. After they finally provided it (and showed the results were not accurate), I promptly rejected the manuscript. Unfortunately, the same manuscript was published in a much lower-profile journal a few months later, completely unchanged.

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You appear to have experienced the scourge of journal-shopping, in which authors just throw a paper at journals in decreasing order of preference until it sticks. Any reasonable journal will have forwarded your reviews to the authors (otherwise, the editor is wasting your time), and so if you see a paper essentially unchanged, it generally means the authors are simply ignoring the issues you raised and hoping their next roll of the dice will produce a more favorable reviewer.

When I encounter this, I am typically very harsh, because I don't like having my time wasted. I will typically write something along the lines of:

I didn't like this paper the last time I read it either, and the authors appear to have made no attempt to address the issues raised.

then copy in the review from the previous round (you do save all your reviews, right?), and strongly recommend rejection. I will do this even if I recommended only a major revision previously, because I consider it a sign of bad faith on the part of the authors to refuse to address reasonable criticisms of a paper.

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One would expect to see the full referee's report. You obviously approach the job in a conscientious manner, and the author could benefit from your remarks. However, from my own experience, it appears that this is not always the case. A few years back I sent a paper to a prestigious journal. It was sent through a submission portal and I was given a "tracking number" to stay up to date on its status. Eventually, the paper was rejected. That didn't bother me because I thought that journal was a bit of a stretch for that particular paper. I waited patiently for a few weeks so that I could view the referee's report and make necessary changes before submitting elsewhere. And still I wait. I contacted the area editor, who promised to look into it. Eventually, I contacted the editor-in-chief, who promised to look into it. What I ended up with was a claim that the report must have been lost. No effort to contact the referee for a copy or anything. Sooner or later I will resubmit. But ... .

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It is not common, in my experience, but I have encountered two journals where editors send a synopsis of the reviews, rather than the verbatim reviews. I'm not saying that I believe that's what's going on, but it is a fact that some journals excerpt reviews. (Plus, at least one that I've reviewed for gives reviewers a choice of "share nothing; share the following...; share the full review").

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In general, I think assuming the authors have seen your review is reasonable. It is possible, however, in some cases, for your review to not be seen. The first is simply the authors not understanding how the online system works and missing a review. Possibly only seeing the AE comments or maybe one or two reviews. The other possibility is that the AE rejects the paper prior to all the reviews coming in. Maybe it was a borderline desk reject, the first review came back as a reject, and the AE made a decision at that point. I think the Frontiers journals ask for lots of reviews and make a decision once they have "enough" so authors may not see all reviews.

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    And those journals don't contact the remaining reviewers to say, "Thanks but we already decided to reject"? Why does anybody agree to review for them? That seems much more worthy of boycott than journals that merely treat reviewers as a large pool of free labour. – David Richerby Apr 9 '15 at 9:27

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