Recently, I got a paper to review for a journal (Elsevier) which is very reputed. The fact is that this journal had rejected two of my earlier works after keeping it under review for more than a year approximately.

I understand that in science, it is good to forget the past; however, it still keeps me haunted when I think that my works became obsolete because of unnecessary delay in the review process that resulted in no satisfactory comment on rejection.

Is it weird that the journal is now thinking that I am capable of reviewing a manuscript?

Anyway, past apart, how should I respond? Should I accept the review invitation? Or, should I just say that I can't do the review, which will be like Tit-For-Tat. I don't know, I am confused.

  • 8
    As someone who has never been involved in the publication activities of Academia, for me, this question confirms the accuracy of Mark Burgess's commentary on the brokenness of the peer review process for the advancement of science. He wrote a blog post about it: Why I stopped caring about peer review, and learned to love the work. You may find it very relevant.
    – Wildcard
    Nov 27, 2016 at 16:54
  • 5
    Just in case you still felt like working for free for this lot I'll leave this here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cost_of_Knowledge
    – Flexo
    Nov 28, 2016 at 7:53
  • 1
    Part of your (legitimate) complaint is not that they were rejected, but how, and how slowly. Were they rejected with or without comments? Were the comments correct, accurate and helpful? Could you use them to resubmit elsewhere?
    – smci
    Nov 28, 2016 at 12:54
  • 3
    Review is not usually slow because of a lazy editor but because of slow reviewers.
    – Karl
    Dec 7, 2016 at 4:09
  • 2
    Watch it. You could also ask this question in the opposite direction, and the answer is also NO: "If I refuse to review papers for that journal, can they retaliate by rejecting my future papers?"
    – GEdgar
    May 21, 2017 at 21:00

8 Answers 8


These two issues are separate: if they reject your paper without comments, that's where you have to complain. They did not do a good job, reputable or not, and you are entitled to an explanatory review, especially since they wasted your time.

But you should not link the issues. If you think the journal is not as good as it used to be, you can decide not to review. If you think it is good, then, depending on how much time you have, you can offer to do the review. And if you do, do it with as much goodwill as you would for a journal that gave your astounding reviews.

But you should not link your rejection and your review - it is tempting to do so, but it is not a professional attitude. And you want to be just that: a professional.

  • 22
    Thank for that statement "And you want to be just that: a professional." -- it makes sense here. I have been thinking this. But, you know, somewhere back of my head, it is afresh - the rejection.(+1)
    – Coder
    Nov 23, 2016 at 19:55
  • 4
    @Coder The rejection is irrelevant. You can expect some of your very best papers being rejected or hardly passing review. That's the way it is. If you think the journal is not doing a good job on the whole, that's a reason to refuse, of course. In general, you will find that taking a low-pass filter approach to experience is more helpful than a high-frequency filtering approach - in short, once is happenstance, twice is bad luck, three times, however, [well, look up Goldfinger's law] ;-) Nov 28, 2016 at 10:52

Is it weird that the journal is now thinking me capable of reviewing a manuscript?

Not really. Almost all scientists have their papers rejected on a regular basis and if this disqualified them from reviewing, journals would be running out of reviewers extremely quickly. Moreover, highly ranking journals reject papers mainly for their lack of importance, not for being technically bad. So, assuming that you have some publications elsewhere to advertise your qualities and your paper was not rejected for outrageous problems (such as plagiarism), I do not find this weird.

Should I accept the review invitation? Or, should I just say that I can't do the review, which will be like Tit-For-Tat.

Only you can make this decision, but consider these points:

  • Seeking revenge on a journal because they rejected your paper is neither ethical nor professional.

  • On the other hand, if you think that the journal or publisher are generally practicing bad behaviour, you can refuse to review on that basis and should state your reasons. It is even okay if you make that judgment on basis of your own experiences – there is a crucial difference between “I refuse because you rejected my paper” and “I refuse because of how you rejected a paper (which happened to be mine)”. However, I think that if you do, you should have complained about these issues when your paper was rejected – after all whatever you experienced could be bad luck or due to a single bad editor.

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ff524
    Nov 26, 2016 at 23:19

Is it weird that the journal is now thinking me capable of reviewing a manuscript?

No, it isn't. Rejecting your papers was a judgement about those specific papers, not about your personal abilities as a scientist. It doesn't indicate that the journal somehow thinks you, personally, aren't good enough for their journal, it just means those particular papers didn't make the cut.

If your experience with the journal has actually poisoned your relationship with it - in particular, if you wouldn't submit again for fear of the same thing happening - then that's probably a reason to decline (perhaps just politely responding that you don't have the time, which is always a valid response). Answering that question probably means deciding whether you think the journal really mishandled your papers, and in a systematic enough way that you don't trust them to handle others, or if they just happened to reject them, or just had a one-time mess-up by a single editor.

  • 2
    +1. I don't think the two cases are completely separate. What the OP shan't do is be cruel to the authors; he could do that, accept to review, wait 10 months and write a short rejecting review. But I hope we agree that this hurts mostly the innocent authors. He actually shan't be cruel. On the other hand, I think that be fair is a priority. If you reject to review because you're objectively angry at the journal, you should make the reason clear.
    – yo'
    Nov 25, 2016 at 9:09

I suspect you ticked the "available for reviewing" box when you submitted your earlier work via Elsevier's editorial system. Your name then showed up in a list of potential reviewers based on the keywords you entered at that time. It's possible that the people who handled your papers are different from the ones asking you to be a reviewer.

While I understand the frustration, I don't think it's wise to "rage quit" a journal you consider reputable on that ground. If you don't feel qualified because of the rejections or some other reason, then it's best to politely decline. If not, it's actually a great exercise for you and an opportunity to be part of the community that publishes in your field.

Also, by completing your review in a timely manner yourself you can "be the change you want to see [in your field]".

  • 3
    This is a good answer. I would only add that he should pay attention to his emotions too. This is essentially unpaid work, but it is still important work. And if he feels conflicted about it, he may do less than a stellar job with it. Nov 24, 2016 at 20:38

One fact that hasn't been mentioned in the other answers is that a "journal" is not a homogeneous entity. A typical reputed journal (at least in the engineering domain that I am familiar with) consists of 15-20 associate editors (AE) who handle the reviews. It is quite likely that the AE who handled your paper(s) is different from the AE who is asking you for a review.

When I am handling a paper as an AE, I never check if the reviewer has had any paper rejected in the past. As others have said, almost everyone receives rejections for top journals. As an AE, what is important for me is to find reviewers who will be able to provide a critical evaluation of the manuscript under review...it really does not matter if the reviewer has published in that journal in the past.


Your papers being rejected is not the case for a grudge against the particular journal. The longevity of the process could be.

If you have been invited, it is quite possible that one of the editors thinks that you are capable of evaluating research at the (apparently) high level the journal strives for. Partially, it is a badge of honour (of course reviewing papers is hard work and reviewers are needing everywhere), since now you have the option of participating in the "old boys club" that rejected your papers, and applying your judgement to other people's works. You can influence the outcome of the reviews. If you think they handled you unfairly, you now have the option to contribute to fairer handling of other manuscripts.


There is no dilemma here and no argument for revenge. Being asked to peer review is a complement at its best and at worst an honor. It would also seem to me that if you take the revenge route, you are not only taking this out on an innocent party who is waiting patiently for his or her paper to be reviewed. But you are also running the risk of damage to your reputation with this publication.

My advice is that you take the risk of showing some academic integrity by submitting the most honest review possible as quickly as you possibly can. Where's the harm in committing a random act of kindness. Especially when it's the right and only thing to do. Short of washing your hands of that publication where under such a circumstance you would decline the review as soon as you can for the sake of that writer so that they can find another reviewer quickly.

So, do the review and submit your updated paper as well to the same associate editor. Take this opportunity to build a relationship. Don't shoot yourself in the foot.

  • What do you mean by "running the risk of damage to your reputation with this publication" ? How do you know it?
    – Coder
    Nov 27, 2016 at 3:36
  • What is meant is that if you decide to carry out a childish and immature vendetta by unfairly taking on the review of someone's paper, then stalling for an extended duration, as you state happened with you, your standing with this journal will be less than a positive one. Nov 27, 2016 at 5:40
  • Ostensibly, damage to one's "reputation" with that publisher can be as simple as being known by that publisher for rejecting requests for reviews thereby being removed from the list of potential reviewers. One would have to see some value in being asked to be a reviewer. The publisher not must have but would have have had a good reason for requesting the review. So, I hope you went with what I believe is an opportunity to shine!
    – Oliver
    May 21, 2017 at 19:31

How to proceed: Review the paper honestly and objectively, just as you would hope someone would review yours. This really should not be a question that needs to be asked in my opinion, as the ethical way to proceed is crystal clear.

  • It shouldn't be a question. IMO review must be honest no matter whatever the situation is.
    – Coder
    Nov 27, 2016 at 3:35
  • 1
    Are you implying that the journal you submitted to somehow was unfair in their rejection of your submissions? That would be another matter entirely, and there should be mechanisms in place for appeals, or at least my logic/common sense driven mind assumes so. Nov 27, 2016 at 5:45

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .