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Can we ask a journal to assign another reviewer to review our paper if we think that his/her review is not satisfactory, for instance if we have reason to believe that s/he is not familiar with the subject of the paper? For example, s/he points out that s/he does not understand a term which is well-known in the subject area.

Edit:

In this particular case, the reviewer in question is generally positive about the paper. The other reviewer is positive, and the editor has recommended acceptance.

Do you keep quiet about it because the paper has been accepted? Or should we at least let the editor know that he has not assigned someone who knows the subject to review the paper? Or do you go as far as asking the editor to assign another review just to be sure that everything is done responsibly?

If you have been in similar situation, I am interested to know which action you took.

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    You can try to ask, if the editor does not agree, you will end up with 2 options. Respond to the comments or withdraw the paper. – The Guy Apr 15 '16 at 12:20
  • @TheFireGuy, why should I withdraw the paper? – adipro Apr 15 '16 at 12:25
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    Because you think the review is "unsatisfactory"! – The Guy Apr 15 '16 at 12:29
  • @TheFireGuy, ah yes, of course. – adipro Apr 15 '16 at 12:38
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I have made a request of this kind once, and it was granted by the editor. The referee in question was positive about the paper but had a significant misunderstanding of the subject area. The other referee had recommended acceptance of the paper in its current form. After a couple of rounds of refereeing, it seemed likely that resolving this misunderstanding might require many more iterations without any benefit to the paper. In this particular case, the associate editor handling the paper understood the subject area well enough to recognize this, and agreed to assign a new referee.

Of course, starting from zero with a new referee after multiple rounds of revising is not ideal either, so consider carefully before you make such a request.

  • The scenario I'm in is almost exactly like yours, but this is still the first round of review. I think I won't ask the editor to assign a new reviewer. – adipro Apr 15 '16 at 13:54
  • Perhaps my other related question is, how can an editor assign someone who doesn't know the subject area as a reviewer? – adipro Apr 15 '16 at 13:56
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    Especially for non-top-tier journals, finding reviewers is hard, finding good reviewers is an order of magnitude harder. If this is the first suboptimal review you've run across, either you haven't submitted many papers or you've been very, very lucky. Get used to it because it happens a lot. – iayork Apr 15 '16 at 14:25
  • @iayork, If it happens a lot to you, what do you do in that case, then? This is what I'm really interested in. – adipro Apr 15 '16 at 15:28
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    @adipro you mean how do I deal with bad reviews? I professionally address each point, considering whether there is any way I can reduce confusion, and if the reviewer is wrong then I politely and objectively explain why. If I'm rejected because of a bad review, I move on. If I complained to editors about every stupid review, I'd spent all day every day writing letters of complaint, and wouldn't get any work done. Bottom line, it's part of the job, deal with it. – iayork Apr 15 '16 at 17:40
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You can ask. It's not likely that your request will be granted, but it's not impossible. Keep in mind that the editor's default assumption will be that you are simply disgruntled by negative reviews -- every single author who receives a rejection is convinced that it's because the reviewer is incompetent -- so you need to show why you're different. You will need to make a strong case that the reviewer is actually incompetent, not merely that you disagree with them.

That means you will need to point to incontrovertibly wrong statements they make. If they say something that 90% of the field disagrees with, that's probably not enough, because it may still be a legitimate minority opinion. Similarly, if their statements have any qualifiers, the editor is more likely to side with them. And it needs to be central to their review, not a side point. Basically, you need to leave the editor no room for subjectivity in deciding that the reviewer is incompetent.

It's probably not worth the trouble, unless you have strong reasons for really wanting that particular journal for publication. Keep in mind that the stronger the journal, the more trust an editor typically places in their reviewers, so you'll need to make a really strong case.

That said, I've seen it happen, so it can be done. Editors make the final decisions. They very often do deprecate one reviewer's opinion. But again, every author believes the same as you do, so you'll need to show objectively why you're the one in a thousand exception.

Edit: From the comments "it is based on the assumption that the review and the editor's decision are negative. It would be great if you could include the other scenario as well, which I am more interested in."

This makes it sound as if you sent in a paper that you suspect is incorrect or incomplete, and you want reviewers to point out the errors that you believe are there. This seems like an inappropriate use of the peer review system. The peer review system isn't a free editing service for you. It isn't a way to avoid having co-authors, or to get someone to hold your hand and walk you through a field for nothing. If you have doubts about something in the paper, it's your responsibility, not the editors', to find someone who can reliably identify and fix problems.

If the reviewer approved the paper, but you don't think the reviewer was competent and you are concerned that there are still problems with the paper, then you shouldn't ask for another review, you should withdraw the paper and fix it yourself. If you can't do it yourself, then get a co-author who can, or at the very least have a colleague review it for you.

Edit in response to the question being revised. If the review is positive, but the reviewer shows that they are not familiar with the topic to the point that the review is completely useless, I would not request a new review. The editor is supposed to be familiar enough with the field herself to understand this, and to deprecate the review or calibrate its impact appropriately. Telling the editor that the review is incompetent and requesting another review would be pretty insulting, telling the editor that they are incompetent themselves.

What might I do in the case of an egregiously terrible review? The same as I do with a good review. Even if the paper is accepted, there's a response-to-reviewers letter, and you can use this to politely and professionally indicate that the reviewer is incompetent. Just as I said above, be objective, find points that are irrefutable and unambiguous, and show that the reviewer is completely wrong. I can't overemphasize that you do this professionally. It's the same thing you do with every response to a reviewer -- show where they're right and where you're right, and why. You never say that the reviewer is incompetent, because that's unprofessional. You simply show that they are objectively wrong. The editor should pick up on this and understand that if every point the reviewer made is objectively wrong, they shouldn't use them again.

Finally, get over it. Bad reviews are a part of the job. It's hard for editors to find good reviewers. Almost every paper I've submitted has had at least one bad reviewer. I've seen scores of stupid, inane, missing-the-point comments. Get annoyed for a few minutes if you want, but don't take it to heart.

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    While this answer is useful, it is based on the assumption that the review and the editor's decision are negative. It would be great if you could include the other scenario as well, which I am more interested in. – adipro Apr 15 '16 at 12:11
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    @adipro Why on earth would you want a new reviewer if they recommend the paper be accepted? What would you gain from that? The review is not meant to be there to help you improve the paper (that can just be a happy side effect). – Tobias Kildetoft Apr 15 '16 at 12:21
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    @adipro The editor would likely think the same as the rest of us and potentially seriously reconsider accepting the paper. – Tobias Kildetoft Apr 15 '16 at 13:27
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    If you're really unhappy with the reviewer, rather than requesting a new one (if they recommended accepting) you might consider adding an informal note to the editor in reply to their message. Saying something like Thanks for the acceptance, here is final version with requested revisions, note for future reviews that reviewer 3 does not seem very familiar with the field for reasons X, Y, and Z. – iayork Apr 15 '16 at 14:21
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    I am not a fan of the peer review system. It may be a response to the increased volume of papers submitted, perhaps also due to the US-driven professionalisation of the scientific world, but in an ideal world, it really should not be necessary. I believe the authors should take full responsibility for the quality of their publications, and peer review, unfortunately, seems to induce people to offload quality control. Your paper should be the best possible at submission. All relevant people should have been queried. By the time it reaches peer review, all foreseeable problems should be fixed. – Captain Emacs Apr 16 '16 at 14:08

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