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I have submitted a paper to a peer-reviewed journal. On the first round of review, 3 reviewers had different comments and I tried my best to answer them. On the second round of review, two of them were almost satisfied but the third one had an aggressive tone and asked some questions that were completely answered in the paper or were basically wrong questions.

I answered the reviewer's comments and sent the paper, but one of my friends told me that it was better to ask the editor-in-chief to change the reviewer. I want to know, is that possible? How?

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    This is a classical XY problem. Your question should not be whether you can ask for a change in editor, but how to deal with the situation at hand. – Walter Jun 21 '17 at 17:25
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Certainly you can ask. It's not impossible that the editor would agree, though it's pretty unlikely.

What you describe:

the third one had an aggressive tune and ask some questions that were completely answered in the paper or were basically wrong question.

is normal. Many reviewers take an aggressive tone. Often they ask questions that were answered in the paper. The correct response to "an aggressive tone" is to reply in a professional tone, and the correct response to a question that is answered in the paper is to accept that you were not clear enough in the paper, and to improve the explanation.

(Note, by the way, that this one short sentence I quoted has three grammatical/spelling errors. If this represents how the paper was written, it's not surprising that the paper was unclear, and the reviewer's annoyance is perfectly understandable.)

As for the "basically wrong question" ... here's an illustration of how common the "reviewer number three" syndrome is.

I'm not saying it's good that one out of three reviewers is borderline incompetent. I'm saying that this is part of the territory, this is something every scientist has to deal with, and we don't, can't possibly, all write to the editor and demand they remove Reviewer Number Three. Instead, what we all do is extract the useful parts of the review, accept that if the reviewer doesn't understand something it's mainly our fault for being unclear and fix that, and work as best we can with the reviewer's concerns. In your response to the reviewer, you can clearly and professionally explain why the point is mistaken, and explain what you have done to help clarify it.

Editors often (I think; I know it happens sometimes) unofficially deprecate particular reviews, based on their reading. They are just as good at detecting "aggressive" and outright hostile reviews, and know to put less weight on it.

But you can ask the editor to remove a reviewer. They're more likely to listen if the reviewer is not just aggressive, but outright hostile; when the reviewer makes an unambiguous statement that isn't just a minority opinion, but is flat wrong, and you can clearly show that; or when the reviewer is just completely out of their depth.

But the burden is on you to absolutely clearly, professionally, with no trace of hurt feelings or antagonism, show that the reviewer is without doubt incompetent. If you can't do every part of that 100%, don't even bother. Deal with it the way all the rest of us do.

You may want to look at other answers to questions in the "peer-review" tag to get a sense of the community's feelings:

And many more.

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Well, of course it's possible to ask the editor-in-chief to change the reviewer: you would do that by writing to the editor-in-chief and asking them to change the reviewer.

However, I disagree that it is a good idea to do this. Although it must happen every now and then, changing the reviewer on request of the author is (in my experience at least) highly irregular and sounds like a "a big ask." In order to grant this request, the editor would have to understand and agree that this reviewer's comments are totally out of line. But an editor who feels this way is prepared to not hold this reviewer's comments against you anyway. And the converse is not true: I think many editors would rather keep a reviewer and not hold (all or some of) their critiques against the author than go through the formal procedure of finding a new reviewer upon the author's request.

Instead I recommend that you carefully consider all of the reviewers' comments, make changes when you think they are appropriate, and send along a document describing the changes you made and also explanations for why you didn't make certain requested changes. If you feel that you are right and a reviewer is wrong: say so, clearly, factually, and politely.

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As a past editor-in-chief of an IEEE magazine, I never had an author ask for this, and as an author of several journal and magazine articles, I've never thought to request it regardless of how much I disliked or disagreed with a review.

Instead, I think authors should play the cards they're dealt. @Pete_L_Clark's answer makes the point that you should simply respond to reviewer comments, and push back on those you might disagree with. I'll add to this that if you make a strong enough point about why a reviewer is mistaken, I think an editor will either push back on the reviewer or opt to go to someone else in re-review. This of course assumes that you get a revision outcome of some sort; if it's rejected because of the review you disagree with, you really have no recourse other than submitting elsewhere.

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Is it possible to ask editor-in-chief to change a reviewer?

In your situation, I think you are asking the wrong question. The "right" question might be something like: How do I deal with an "annoying" referee?

In this case, I suggest addressing, in a professional manner, this reviewer's comments as you have before. Additionally, send the editor-in-chief a separate note describing your concerns about this particular reviewer so that the EiC

  1. is made aware of the situation and

  2. can weigh the reviewer's comments and your responses to those in a more objective fashion.

Again, you want to be professional in your communications to the EiC.

  • Why bother the editor in chief at all? – Walter Jun 21 '17 at 17:29
  • Isn't that "separate note" the cover letter sent when submitting a revision? – Fred Douglis Jun 21 '17 at 18:34
  • @FredDouglis I can't remember what it was formally called the last time I exercised this option. [I do remember the text at the submission site saying something to the effect of "correspondence to the editor (this correspondence will not be accessible by the reviewers)".] – Mad Jack Jun 21 '17 at 19:15
  • Not saying you can't correspond with the editor. Only that I would expect such correspondence as part of the resubmission, whereas the answer suggests a separate process. In the systems I've used, at least, you're expected to upload a cover letter. – Fred Douglis Jun 21 '17 at 19:20
  • @FredDouglis Good point; I don't recall ever submitting a cover letter during the review phase (i.e., after initial submission). – Mad Jack Jun 21 '17 at 19:28
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I think Tail of Godzilla needs at least one level deeper an analysis of the problem than is shown in the question. It should be possible to tell from the nature and wording of the obstreperous objections being posed what the problem is.

It could be ideology, professional jealousy or personal academic rivalry, stupidity, or occasionally even an actual question about the content of the paper under review. Each of these is different and calls for a different plan of battle.

  • It sounded like ToG was suggesting stupidity or at least bad reviewing, not any of the other things. The comments were wrong or answered in the paper. But this isn't a reason to ask for another reviewer. There are other remedies: pointing out the flaws in the review. – Fred Douglis Jun 21 '17 at 21:55
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    This anseet doesn't answer the question. If you have earned some reputation, you will be able to post comments. – FuzzyLeapfrog Jun 22 '17 at 5:33

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