A respectable journal with high standards recently published a (mathematical) article. I care about the topic deeply, so I had a look at the paper. In several parts, it is poorly written (the authors are not native speakers, but I'm unsure whether they are students). In my opinion, the results are definitely not substantial enough for the given journal (the same journal has both rejected and accepted my work). However, after fixing language errors, it would have been an OK publication for a lower-tier journal (in my opinion).

The following two facts raise my suspicions even more. First, the authors of the paper are from country X, and the paper was communicated by a person from country X as well. Further, the whole process (from "received" to "received in revised form") is only 3 months, and I wonder if enough time has been given to review the paper.

I know "bad papers" appear in "bad journals", and with these I don't bother. This time I'm wondering though: should I let anyone know, or just move on?

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    "Fishy" to you means "some language errors, and not substantial enough for this journal"? To me, "fishy" suggests "I suspect the results are invalid, serious methodological problems, possible falsification of results", etc. Maybe there's a better adjective..
    – ff524
    Jan 26, 2017 at 9:54
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    Maybe "Should I do anything about a recent article in a respected math journal that is not up to its usual standards?" would be a better title.
    – ff524
    Jan 26, 2017 at 9:55
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    My personal (and to some extent professional) opinion is that there is not much constructive that you can do, but that you are probably far from alone in your feelings. Even if other people don't know the area in question they will almost surely have similar stories in their area. So I would advise moving on, but to keep this in mind, especially if you later find yourself asked to recommend any of these people as referees for articles.
    – Yemon Choi
    Jan 26, 2017 at 11:14
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    If you are not one of its editors upholding the standards of a journal is not your concern. If there are factual errors in the publication you can and should communicate that. Anything else might lower your opinion of this particular journal, but that's a consequence the editors and publisher have to live with.
    – Roland
    Jan 26, 2017 at 11:21
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    Also think of it this way. If you are lucky enough to put out garbage in a top journal/venue, it means more people will know you produce rubbish. Jan 26, 2017 at 21:10

2 Answers 2


You could consider "doing something about it" if the article was indeed questionable in terms of its science, i.e., if the data seems fabricated or you find faults in the proofs. Finding that this article's contribution is not exciting enough or minor language issues almost certainly do not qualify. How substantial the results of a given paper are is rather vague and subjective, and spelling errors almost certainly are not grounds for retraction. The best you can hope for, in my mind, is a corrigendum of the spelling errors.

You should also keep in mind how your supplemental arguments will appear to an outsider:

the authors of the paper are from country X, and the paper was communicated by a person from country X as well

First of all, this is not "suspicious" as it happens all the time. Further, and this is the big concern, replace "country X" with "the United States", and see if you would still find this suspicious. With concerns like that, it is very easy to be perceived as judgemental or downright racist, so I would be extremely cautious in following this line of argumentation any further.

the whole process (from "received" to "received in revised form") is only 3 months, and I wonder if enough time has been given to review the paper.

We all know that the review process is capricious. While 3 months is certainly well below my average review time, it's not outrageous to assume that the paper had the usual number of reviewers, all the reviews were returned reasonably quickly (in one to two months) and found the paper acceptable, and the authors only had to do minor changes for the revision. While most manuscripts don't go through as easily, this does not appear particularly suspicious either.

  • You are absolutely correct with the remark regarding country X; this is only a "gut feeling" that I have developed (I also know of several excellent people from X), and I would not mention it in any official correspondence. It could also be my initial reaction stems from my own bitterness: "how come they accepted such a paper, but not mine?!" After a bit more thinking, perhaps the right action is to do nothing or spend time to go through the proofs (although sloppily written), and find concrete flaws (if any). (cont'd).
    – user68231
    Jan 26, 2017 at 10:46
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    If there are no errors, I simply must conclude I personally don't like the paper, but others did, and that's the end of it. Maybe I can also regard this is a sign of the journal lowering its standards, but of course, I am free to submit where-ever I wish in the future.
    – user68231
    Jan 26, 2017 at 10:47
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    @user68231 I think this is exactly how you should treat this case.
    – xLeitix
    Jan 26, 2017 at 12:24
  • @user68231 Indeed. And, in my field, I know people that did not like a topic (they thought it not very valuable) and now it's the "hot" thing. The quality of a paper is multidimensional and perhaps you may overlook dimensions in which it is relevant. Of course, nepotism (which may be what your suspicion is about) exists, but frankly, it is up to the editors to protect their journal's reputation. Of course, if you find a direct and objective flaw, you can report/comment/publish. Jan 28, 2017 at 10:02

As the academic system works, you may have much more to lose than to gain. I know that the math people love (in-) fighting. But it's much better for your career to make friends rather than enemies...

So for the sake of your career: lots of bad papers get published - ignore it, and move on. It's their problem if the paper is below quality standards. It's their reputation that suffers.

If there is an actual error, and the journal has the option of 'letters', then you can write up the analysis of the error and try to get that published ad an addendum. But don't spend much time on this - nobody reads them, and nobody cites them.

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