38

I reviewed a manuscript submitted to a high-impact journal. The quality was low and I believed it could not reach the journal’s standards even by revision. I clearly recommended rejection.

Now I received the revised version for review. Two of three reviewers (myself included) had suggested to reject the original paper. The third reviewer suggested a major revision. Nonetheless, the editor had asked the authors to revise the manuscript (I never experienced this before).

Clearly, the editor is in favor of publishing this paper (for personal or professional reasons; I cannot judge). What should I do? I publish 80% of my works in this journal, and it is very important for me to avoid any conflict with the editor.

  • 15
    recommend rejection again as you did in the first time. Simply argue that, in your opinion, even after the new revisions the manuscript cannot make it to the high bar of the journal. The most you can do is exactly that: make a recommendation. If the editor, for whatever reason wanted to give a second chance to the authors, then good for them. – PsySp Dec 1 '17 at 12:03
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    I don't think your conclusion that "Clearly, the editor is in favor of publishing the paper" is justified. It's quite possible that the editor is trying to be fair to the authors by giving them a review of the paper. – Brian Borchers Dec 1 '17 at 15:12
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    I think you meant "Clearly, the editor is interested in learning if the revision addressed the concerns of the reviewers." – chepner Dec 1 '17 at 16:32
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    An editor who really was committed to publishing the paper would probably pick a new set of reviewers to replace those who had rejected the paper the first time around. – Brian Borchers Dec 1 '17 at 19:36
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    Too vague. It helps if you tell us why the quality was low, and what the recommended revisions were, and what revisions they actually made. If it's still unfixable IYO, why precisely? – smci Dec 1 '17 at 23:36
139

When you recommended rejection, you presumably listed a series of issues that made it unacceptable. On the revision, you go back and repeat the list of issues and simply say for each one, "The revision has/has not corrected this problem". If you reach the end of your list and all the issues have been corrected and no new issues have been introduced in the revision, then you say the paper is now suitable for publication. If the issues have not all been corrected, then you say "The paper is still not suitable for publication because the issues I noted previously have not been corrected."

  • 75
    +1'd : Objectivity > Guessing other's motives. If the paper adressed fully the first review objections and did not introduce further issues by being updated, then it is publishable now. Profit for humanity. Thank you mr. reviewer for your hard work. – Mindwin Dec 1 '17 at 16:35
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    If you reach the end of your list and all the known issues have all been corrected, then you should probably check if the revision has introduced new problems that weren't there before... – user9876 Dec 2 '17 at 0:06
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    If the reason for recommending rejection is that the research simply is not of sufficient interest to merit publication in the given journal, then I don't see how fixing specific issues would suffice. – Tobias Kildetoft Dec 2 '17 at 10:26
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    @tobias-kildetoft insufficient interest is not the reviewer's decision. It's the editor's decision, although of course the reviewer can make suggestions. If the editor has sent you the manuscript for re-evaluation, then you the reviewer have to assume that the editor has made their evaluation on interest already, has decided against your original suggestion, and wants to evaluate other aspects. (I suppose a revision could remove sets of experiments and end up less interesting than the original, and you'd flag that, but as a change.) – iayork Dec 2 '17 at 13:10
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    I disagree. The importance and interest of the results are among the things I am asked to judge as a reviewer, and may well be the main deciding factor in my recommendation. – Tobias Kildetoft Dec 2 '17 at 17:44
43

I don´t see the problem. Review it how you would review any other paper. If it is still (after the major revision) not up to the standards of the journal, recommend rejection.

10

You should review the paper from scratch.

One thing I wonder why nobody considered in the comments and answers is that the points raised in a rejection report are usually different from those in a report asking for a revision.

  • When you suggest rejection, you raise the points justifying why the manuscript cannot be revised (otherwise, you should recommend revision).
  • When you suggest revision, you list the modifications, which might be suggestive or tiny corrections such as typoes. These are not normally listed in the former case.

In the first report, you have probably argued why the manuscript is not suitable for publication. For whatever reason, the editor has felt that the manuscript can be revised. If you think the revised version is capable of being further revised to be publishable (from your answer, I assume the current version is not). Then, you should review it from scratch like a new submission. If you want to suggest a major revision, you should clearly mention the points, which can be modified in a further revision.

Since the authors have probably addressed your points. If you want to reject the manuscript again, you have to justify why the revised version is not acceptable.

  • 4
    the points raised in a rejection report are usually different from those in a report asking for a revision Not in my experience. The editor makes the revise/reject decision, the most you can do is recommend, so you don't actually know what your review is going to be. I write them exactly same, and I think most of my colleagues do as well. – iayork Dec 2 '17 at 1:39
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    @iayork it doesn't matter what the editor decides. When you suggest rejection, this means that the manuscript cannot be revised. In this case, you list the major problems. But when recommending a revision, you mention any tiny mistake to make the manuscript publishable. – Googlebot Dec 2 '17 at 12:01
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    this is absolutely not true in my field. – iayork Dec 2 '17 at 13:07
  • @iayork what you say does not make sense logically. If the manuscript can be revised with the points you raised, then, why have you recommended rejection? Recommending rejection is like abandoning a sinking ship because she cannot be saved. If addressing your points is enough to save the manuscript, why abandoning the ship? By your logic, no manuscript should be rejected. We recommend rejection (in any discipline) when we believe the problems are fundamentals cannot be solved (we abandon the ship). In this case, we do not bother to list all tiny mistakes such as typos (or you do?!?). – Googlebot Dec 2 '17 at 14:38
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    I do a complete review for everything I get. Yes, I flag typos and make other comments even if I think it should be recommended. Why? Because (1) I don't make the decision, the editor does, and if I don't bother explaining my points then I'm denying the editor important information, and (2) the reason I review papers is to help the authors make a better paper. Even if the paper is rejected from this journal, hopefully my review will help them improve it and submit it elsewhere. – iayork Dec 2 '17 at 21:48
7

it is very important for me to avoid any conflict with the editor.

I think it works the other way around.

The editor chose you as a reviewer because you publish in the journal, and can therefore judge papers submitted.

not

The editor will be more likely to accept your papers because you are helpful to him by reviewing.

  • 1
    It is also a good idea to not start a war with the editor, though. – neuronet Dec 4 '17 at 14:37
6

At least in my field, the reviewer's job is not to accept or reject the paper. That is the editor's call. Your job is to provide enough information to the editor to make this decision.

"It can't meet the journal's standards" is a subjective statement, and it is up to the editor to decide this anyway.

Write objective statements in your review. First of all, are the results correct? Does the analysis back up the paper's claims? As for the less objective aspects, such as impact and significance, don't just state your opinion, but back it up. Don't tell the editor what to decide. Instead, help him decide.

I have seen reviews where the referee clearly didn't go through the paper in detail because they decided early that the paper is too insignificant to merit a proper review. They gave a few unhelpful criticisms and recommended rejection. In reality they simply didn't get the point. This is of course a somewhat extreme (but sadly not too uncommon) situation. Probably this is not what happened in your case. Nevertheless try to avoid even the appearance of such an attitude.

After you have given your general assessment, provide whatever recommendation you feel is correct. But keep in mind that this is merely a recommendation, and it is the least important part of your review.

4

Existing answers suggest either review from scratch or going through your reasons for rejection point-by-point. You may need to do both.

There are two reasons for a reviewer seeing very serious problems with a paper. One is that there are real problems with the underlying research. The other is that the research was not conveyed clearly, and the reviewer had a basic misunderstanding.

The usual advice for authors who think they have the second case, reviewer not understanding the paper, is to rewrite to make the paper much clearer, and specifically to prevent the reviewer's misunderstanding. The assumption is that a reviewer not understanding a paper is a symptom of a very unclear paper.

Reading the revised paper as though it were a new paper may give you a different basic view of the research. If so, forget your prior objections and continue to process the paper as though it were new.

If reading the paper from scratch does not substantially change your view of the research, look at the reasons for which you rejected it and see if they have been handled. If not, continue to recommend rejection for the same reasons.

0

The proper answer is to recuse yourself as unable to make an objective conclusion, and allow a colleague to approach the paper with a fresh perspective.

  • Why would the OP be unable to make an objective conclusion? – Andrés E. Caicedo Dec 5 '17 at 2:16
  • Why would you risk it? It's the job of other scientists to find flaws in a theory, that doesn't happen by suppressing work due to concerns about quality. Several incorrect theories of protein structure were publicly-suggested before Pauling suggested the alpha-helix, and a good number of Pauling's letters were to say, "I read your paper, it seems incorrect." Let someone else read it and chew the fat over its quality in the memos. Maybe they'll discover something new!! – user20350 Dec 5 '17 at 2:20
  • What is there to risk? – Andrés E. Caicedo Dec 5 '17 at 2:21
  • That the ongoing discussion of the laws of nature which has furnished humankind with everything from penicillin to the jet aircraft is terminated by a reviewer's hubris. The author of this question should consider recusing himself. Semmelweis died in an asylum after his findings were rejected by the scientific community of his day, causing countless deaths. Years later were confirmed by Pasteur and Lister. If someone has written a paper, they have a contribution to the scientific discourse, and if they've submitted it to a high-impact journal twice, it ought to be heard, even if "low quality." – user20350 Dec 5 '17 at 2:27
  • Your rant is completely unwarranted and off-topic, and the suggestion in your answer feels entirely inappropriate and unjustified. – Andrés E. Caicedo Dec 5 '17 at 2:44
-5

Treat the manuscript as if you've never seen it before. Re-evaluate the paper like you normally would and in the future avoid invitations from that editor, if at all possible.

  • 1
    @MartinBonner Agreed. Actually, I now think this is a very bad answer. It makes no sense to pretend you've not seen the paper before: why forget everything you ever knew was wrong (and also right) with it? – David Richerby Dec 3 '17 at 15:35

protected by Alexandros Dec 5 '17 at 21:15

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