I have been asked to referee a paper for a middle-tier physical science journal. I have reviewed for this journal many times before, although it was several years since I had gotten a paper sent to me by this particular editor. (I thought that this editor disliked me, since I was fairly critical of one of his own research papers.) However, some weeks ago, he sent me a paper to referee, and I promptly sent back a report.

The peculiarity came the second time that I was sent a draft of this paper. After the first round, I asked for some significant clarifications, since the work being described in the manuscript seemed to have been done properly, but the justification was very poorly explained. The editor was not able to find another scientist to provide a second report, so the revisions were based solely on my comments. The authors made some changes, which I have not combed through that carefully yet, but they are probably satisfactory.

However, this editor told me explicitly in the letter he sent me that he will definitely accept or reject the paper, according to whatever "verdict" I return. This makes me a little uncomfortable. On the one hand, I am honored that he trusts my judgement sufficiently to put the entire decision effectively in my hands. On the other hand, I feel a nagging concern that the editor is, to some extent, shirking his own responsibilities in this case. Not that I would ever really expect him to go against my recommendation, but I am sort of uncomfortable with the level of responsibility that he has implicitly placed on me.

As a general rule, the way this editor works is somewhat idiosyncratic. For example, the journal has an online system for submission and refereeing, but its use is apparently optional for the editors. Every other editor I have worked with on this journal has used the Web-based system for assigning and collecting reviews, but this guy does everything entirely via e-mail. His e-mails can be rambling and mix personal and professional communication, quite different from most e-mails I get from journals, which are almost all boilerplate.

First, is it reasonable to be concerned about what the editor has said? Second, is there anything I can (or should) do about it?

  • Can we assume the paper is one where an editor could reasonably find another reviewer? (not a highly specialized topic, or a big science project where everybody else is in someway connected)
    – user71659
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 23:50
  • @user71659 There certainly are other people who could do the review, although the number who are strongly qualified is not that large. I am probably the most knowledgeable person about the topic, since it builds directly on my own prior work.
    – Buzz
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 0:23

4 Answers 4


What you could do is locate a second reviewer, say a colleague, yourself. Explain the situation and the paper (in general terms) and ask if they could give a review. Then write to the editor

I found that the authors addressed most of my concerns. However, there are still a few points I am unsure of and would like a second opinion on. I have spoken to Researcher B (without disclosing the paper) and he/she is willing to give me some input. May I share the paper with him/her?

Even for mid-tier journals, a single reviewer isn't unheard of, especially when the topic is specialized and as you have said you are an authority on the topic. What usually happens is that the editor doesn't tell you about their plans.


My experience being the sole referee of papers in physics is that editors are very likely to follow my "verdict" anyway. The fact that the editor has articulated they are going to do so in advance is unusual, but if you can make a firm recommendation to accept or reject, I see no reason to communicating anything else.


This answer does not address personal likes and dislikes and whether you should be concerned about the editor's work flow.

If you clearly feel that the paper should be rejected/accepted then tell the editor that. If you are unsure, tell the editor that you are unsure, tell them what you think and ask them to find a second referee.


It might very well be the case that...

(a) he still does not like you very much and (b) does not like the paper either but (c) feels he needs to go through the proper motions because one (or more) of the authors is (are) (connected to) a Big Fish in the field, but (d) does not want to waste his usual trusted reviewers on this one and consequently (e) has saddled you with the hatchet job.

  • Subversive, but interesting response. +1 Commented Apr 27 at 11:23
  • Edgy response there.
    – Elk
    Commented Apr 28 at 15:11

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