I'm now replying to a referee. One of his points is unambiguously wrong. Moreover, without going into specifics, he spends a lot of time on that point and asks us to do something with our framework that it cannot address. This is not stubbornness on our part since otherwise we'd be happy to accommodate requests.

But I’m terrified of writing "This comment is wrong". Even if I thereafter go into some detail as to why it's wrong, somehow I fear a backlash which we know shouldn’t be a reaction of referees but often can be.

Does anyone have any advice?

  • 5
    Another point is: your reply is to the editor, not to the referee. But in this particular case, all you need to do is add (in the abstract, perhaps),"Our framework cannot address questions like ..." with examples including the one the referee mentioned. If that referee asked about this, then maybe other readers will also wonder about it. – GEdgar Nov 9 '17 at 13:53
  • Related, possibly duplicate? – user2390246 Nov 9 '17 at 15:42

One is allowed to, and in fact often should, respectfully disagree with parts of a review. However, stay a mile clear from the phrasing "this is wrong". Note that even if the reviewer made an objectively wrong comment, you need to respond with the assumption in mind that this happened due to an honest misunderstanding on his part, and not in bad faith.

Hence, a better phrasing may be:

We disagree with Reviewer 2 on this comment. While we show that our framework is able to do A and B, it is by design not able to do C. We understand that this was not clear enough to the reviewer, and have rephrased our motivation to make this point more clear.

Note how this phrasing does not "give in" to the reviewer, but acknowledges that part of the blame about such misunderstanding lies with the authors. Also note that you do some text changes based on this review, which I have found to generally be a good idea. I have the impression just saying "the reviewer misunderstood; we are not changing the manuscript" leaves a bad taste in the mouth of many editors.

The reviewer may in theory still insist that without C, your framework is without value, but that really cannot be helped if your system just does not do C.

  • 90
    +1 "We understand that this was not clear enough to the reviewer, and have rephrased our motivation to make this point more clear." This is important, and it's not only about being polite to the referee: The referee is in the target audience of your paper, and if someone in the target audience understands something wrong, then it's likely your paper can be improved. You don't want other readers to make the same mistake as the referee. – JiK Nov 9 '17 at 12:29
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    +1 for an honest misunderstanding on his part, and not in bad faith! Thanks for this phrase - it'll certainly help me to deal with future reviews, although I read and answered a lot of them already. – Dirk Nov 9 '17 at 12:36
  • 5
    "This is wrong" does not imply bad faith. – Andrés E. Caicedo Nov 9 '17 at 16:40
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    @AndrésE.Caicedo No, it does not, but it comes across as fairly combative. You don't want that in a response letter. – xLeitix Nov 9 '17 at 17:13
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    @paul23 I am not sure about your discipline, but at least in applied Computer Science your opinion is certainly not a mainstream one. Journals here very much require you to "cater" to people's understanding. Writing up good research in a hard-to-comprehend fashion is a valid reason for rejection, or at least for multiple heavy revision rounds targeted at clarity. – xLeitix Nov 10 '17 at 7:39

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