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I recently received reviews on a paper that I submitted to an Elsevier journal, with 2 reviewers. One had some minor comments and recommended minor revisions, while the second reviewer recommended full rejection and was very vehement about it.

The second reviewer's concerns were basically that he believes that one of the databases used in the paper (which is used in many other studies published in this journal) is completely invalid, but to back up their claim they posted links to a bunch of blog articles. Overall though, they were very disparaging of the paper in almost every possible way because of that.

The editor gave the paper a "major revision" decision. While I feel like we can respond to the comments, it doesn't look like the second reviewer would be convinced regardless of what we respond if he believes that database is invalid. I've also read that if a paper gets a "full reject" recommendation from even one reviewer, the probability of it being accepted is basically zero regardless of what the other reviewers say.

Any thoughts on how to proceed?

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    Is it an option to add a mini-study using another database, even if for a smaller sample, as proof-of-concept to the paper? – Captain Emacs Jan 27 '16 at 22:45
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    "I've also read that if a paper gets a full reject recommendation from even one reviewer, the probability of it being accepted is basically zero regardless of what the other reviewers say." - no, that is not true. – Bitwise Jan 28 '16 at 0:32
  • There was a recent, notorious scandal in which the editor accepted a paper for which all reviewers recommended rejection! – David Ketcheson Jan 28 '16 at 12:07
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I have successfully revised a paper with a reject from one reviewer, through a major revision, into an accepted article. It is definitely possible. I would write your best revision and include a very strongly (but politely and professionally) constructed and worded cover letter directly addressing the reviewer's points including the fact that using blog posts as counter evidence is outside the norms of the field. If the reviewer can point to peer-reviewed academic publications that support their negative points, then that might be sufficient evidence to reject the article, but otherwise, that evidence isn't very strong.

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    Indeed. The editor has not rejected it, which is a sign he sees a chance that you may be able to address the issues. – Captain Emacs Jan 27 '16 at 22:50
  • including the fact that using blog posts as counter evidence is outside the norms of the field – I slightly disagree with this. Even if the reviewer (or blog author) is a complete crank, you should be able to debunk their arguments. (There are however some exceptions, when the asker cannot be expected to do this – see my answer.) – Wrzlprmft Jan 28 '16 at 9:53
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The one deciding upon the acceptance or rejection of your paper is the editor, not the reviewers. In an extreme example, you do not need to fear that your paper is rejected due to a review saying nothing but:

I recommend to reject this paper because of fish.

The editor would just blacklist the reviewer and request another one. Of course, reality is more complex, but you can assume that editors put less value in reviews that show little effort from the reviewer’s side, resort to questionable arguments or seem entirely unbalanced in their assessment. In addition, if the authors convincingly address a reviewer’s critique, this will also go into the decision.

Regarding your particular case: If the negative review had fully convinced the editor that it is impossible or very unlikely that you salvage your paper, they would have rejected it, which they obviously didn’t. Moreover, if the journal accepts many publications using this database, the editor should be very worried if he is convinced by the reviewer’s criticism of the database. It may very well be that the editor just wants you to respond to possible minor criticisms from this reviewer and give some argument that your choice of data was valid.

Thus revise the paper as best as you can, addressing as much criticism as reasonably possible (i.e., stay true to your assessment of reality and do not change your claims just because the reviewer wants you to). In the response letter, address the reviewer’s or blogposts’ criticism of the database, which you usually should be able to do. There are a few exceptions from the latter, e.g., if you are just using data from another field as a benchmark for a method (in which case the validity of the data is not that problematic for you paper anyway), if the argument is based on extensive studies (in which case you can resort to arguing that these studies shall be peer-reviewed), or if there is a considerable gap between data acquisition and evaluation in your field (in which case, it’s not your responsibility to sort out these problems). However, if you cannot respond to the criticism at all, there may be indeed something wrong with the data.

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