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Is accepting or rejecting a paper the reviewers’ responsibility? Or is it left to the editor to decide based on all the reviewers’ comments?

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    @D.W. As an assistant editor of a journal and organizer of multiple peer-reviewed conferences, I strongly disagree: this is definitely a practical and answerable question. Whether the O.P. is currently experiencing it or just curious is beside the point. – jakebeal Apr 20 '15 at 18:50
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    @D.W. It's not remotely necessary for somebody to be setting up a journal to ask a question like this. Understanding the peer review process is necessary from all angles: in particular, if one is asked to review an article. – David Richerby Apr 20 '15 at 19:48
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    @D.W. If your original comment is obsolete, please delete it. Hypothetical questions, within reason are fine: this one is clearly reasonable. The question also provides all necessary detail. – David Richerby Apr 21 '15 at 7:02
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Reviewers can only recommend acceptance or rejection (or a major or minor revision). It's the editor's responsibility to weigh the reviews, along with the manuscript, and decide.

After all, you will often have multiple reviewers. And they will usually not even know who else is reviewing a given manuscript. So how else could you decide what to do with a manuscript where two reviewers recommend a major revision, while the third recommends rejection?

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    Well, from what I have seen, the job of creating a mutual summary of all reviews, and a combined recommendation, (as well as requesting additional reviews in case the reviews diverge considerably and thus prove inconclusive) often falls to the "primary reviewer", who will then report that combined recommendation to the editor. – O. R. Mapper Apr 20 '15 at 14:11
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    @O.R.Mapper: that is interesting. In the fields I am familiar with, that job falls squarely on the editor. – S. Kolassa - Reinstate Monica Apr 20 '15 at 14:15
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    @O.R.Mapper Can you explain what a "primary reviewer" is? It sounds like a synonym for what I know as "associate editor." – jakebeal Apr 21 '15 at 4:34
  • @jakebeal: The primary reviewer summarizes what the other reviewers have written and also adds his or her own thoughts, both in terms of understood paper content and most important/prevalent reviewer comments. In the notification mail, the normal reviews are then titled "Review 1", "Review 2", etc., whereas the review by the primary reviewer is sometimes titled "Metareview" or "Review X (primary)" ... – O. R. Mapper Apr 21 '15 at 7:05
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    @StephanKolassa: Not at the core of my personal topics, but as a possibly somewhat known example: Reviews from ACM's CHI conference are usually structured like that. Notification mails are structured like this: "Review 4 (...) Reviewer: primary (...) The Meta-Review: (...) Review 1 (...) Reviewer: external (...) The Review: (...) Review 2 (...) Reviewer: external (...) The Review: (...) Review 3 (...) Reviewer: external (...) The Review: (...)" Reviewer 4 has access to all other reviews and sometimes explicitly refers to them in his or her summarizing meta-review. – O. R. Mapper Apr 21 '15 at 7:15
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Accepting or rejecting a paper is always left to the editor. The reviewers, however, are typically expected to summarize their review by providing a recommendation to the editor for the paper's fate. This is generally not just accept or reject, but may also have higher granularity such as "major revision," "weak accept," "reject but encourage resubmission," or "borderline."

As an editor or program chair, I appreciate this feedback (even if I may sometimes ignore it) because sometimes it is sometimes difficult to judge a referee's judgement from the tone of their review. For example, a very long and harsh-sounding review may actually say something like: "I am being very strict in my review of this paper because I think it is good work that can be a great paper on revision." I might overlook it amidst the harshness... or the reviewer might not be so clear.

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