When the Editor disagrees

June 18, 2012

It is common enough in the manuscript peer review process. You have submitted your best professional analysis of the manuscript and then the dang editor proceeds to ignore you.

Does this bother you?

Is it worse or better when your opinion is to reject, or to accept?

Do you go by the reviewer box-score and remain unconcerned of it is 2/3 against your review? Or do you insist those other two idiots missed all the key points?

No Responses Yet to “When the Editor disagrees”

  1. Dr24Hours Says:

    I’m not concerned with the editor disagreeing with my analysis. In my private comments to the editor I specifically stated I could only review the engineering, not the medicine. But the engineering was good. My edited review makes it look like I did not say that.


  2. drugmonkey Says:

    It bothers me when I have clear reasons for rejecting and the editor overrules.

    Naturally, as an author I am delighted when the Editor finally tells the person with the bee in their bonnet to sod off….


  3. Neuro Polarbear Says:

    Once I hit the submit button, I forget about it.


  4. Virgil Says:

    My biggest annoyance in these cases, is when I present clear evidence of creative data management (a.k.a. image fraud) in my comments to the editor, and a carefully worded statement to the authors (you may want to double check that western blot loading control). The editor will then reject the paper, with no mention whatsoever of the fraud in the rejection letter, only some BS excuse like “did not achieve high priority”. If the editor doesn’t have the b***s to tell the author why the paper was rejected, chances are they’ll send it somewhere else and the fradulent data will get published anyway by a less scrupulous journal. That’s why it’s important to send these submitted manuscripts to ORI.


  5. drugmonkey Says:

    Seriously? If you suspect fraud you cc it to ORI?


  6. odyssey Says:

    Virgil, how often have you detected suspected data manipulation? Your comment makes it sound like it’s been more than once.


  7. Beaker Says:

    I once reviewed a manuscript that had lifted a paragraph word-for-word from a review (mine!). I informed the editor of the plagiarism, expecting that the paper would be immediately rejected. Instead, the editor told them to change or take out the paragraph. A rather gentle slap on the wrist if you ask me.


  8. Bashir Says:

    I don’t think I’ve had an editor disagree with me on the basic revise or reject decision. (My n is small)


  9. One thing reviewers need to remember is that:
    1) Reasons for rejection need to be specific (I’ve gotten far too many reviews of the sort “It’s obvious that the authors haven’t thought deeply about the impact of their results on issue X and therefore I don’t think this should be published” where X is an issue of presumably more interest to the reviewer than to the authors. Would just having the authors include a paragraph on issue X be enough? Is the lack of focus on X really a critical failure?

    2) Reasons for rejection need to fit the criteria of the journal. For example, in PLoS ONE and its clones, lack of perceived novelty is not enough to reject a paper. “There is nothing unexpected about the results of this study and so it doesn’t further the field” just isn’t a valid complaint in such journals.


  10. pyrope Says:

    I also tend to delete the paper from memory once the review is submitted. In my field, it is actually still unusual to receive a blind copy of the decision letter…so, I only see the editor’s decision every so often (I guess for others I could log in and go look it up, but I never have). So far, no complaints.
    I have definitely overruled reviewers as an editor. A couple of times when they were overly harsh in terms of beating on the authors for a point that seemed relatively minor to me. Once in the reverse when the paper still needed a lot of work but the reviewers gave me only a useless paragraph to work with.


  11. A. Tasso Says:

    @Beaker: why not just let the plagiarism slide through peer review? Then you can nail the authors with a formal plagiarism charge when it actually gets published.


  12. Morgan Price Says:

    If you feel strongly about it maybe you should publicly post your review!


  13. Beaker Says:

    @A. Tasso: I had assumed that rules and mechanisms were in place at the journal to punish offenders. Don’t most Instructions to Authors carry a stern warning against stealing? In retrospect I was too trusting of the editors.

    And of course–they didn’t cite the review they stole from. The authors were from countries where English is not the native language, so apparently they were operating under the philosophy of “I couldn’t have written it better myself, so I didn’t.”


  14. leigh Says:

    i most recently have been particularly irked at some grossly inappropriate statistical approaches, and had an editor accept essentially as it stood despite a clear presentation of this issue with citations of the accepted use of said approach.

    if it’s simply something like seeing the editor override and choose to publish something so pathetically bad (poorly written, unscholarly, etc) that it’s an embarrassment to the authors and the publishing journal, i think that’s the authors’ and the journal’s problem. if there is deliberate fucking around to create results then i do care.

    i have yet to recommend publication and find the manuscript rejected. i also have a small sample size.


  15. Virgil Says:

    @DM Seriously? If you suspect fraud you cc it to ORI?

    Yes, absolutely. If the evidence is concrete and the work is federally funded, it goes to ORI. Why should the perps be allowed to publish it? Sure, the unravelling of misconduct in public via retractions and other mechanisms would be more embarassing for the them, but think of all the wasted grant dollars just to get to that point. Surely it’s better to eliminate the problem as early as possible. An attempt to publish is just as damning as an actual publication, when it comes to submitting evidence to the appropriate regulators ***

    @ odyssey how often have you detected suspected data manipulation? Your comment makes it sound like it’s been more than once

    I’d say year on year about 10% of what I review has dodgy images or other data. In the past year the running total is 7 cases sent to ORI or the appropriate international agencies. On at least 2 occasions in the past, perps have been at my own institution, in papers I was asked to be a co-author on. Those ones are the messiest, because the admins have to get involved and it is very difficult to retain anonymity. Generally speaking, if you find one instance of problematic data, the authors’ previous work will contain more. Every case I’ve submitted so far has been backed up by documentation from the authors’ back catalog showing it is a pattern and not an isolated incident.

    ***Hey there’s a thought… set up a fake journal with a 100% accept rate and almost non-existant review process, and use it as bait to catch fraudsters.


  16. drugmonkey Says:

    Holy crap you are in a shitty field of science Virge! Quick question..how often are your suspicions confirmed with convictions?


  17. miko Says:

    After you submit your review it’s none of your business. Editors feeling like they shouldn’t hurt reviewers’ feelings and reviewers being affronted by being overruled leads to a lot of ridiculous bullshit.


  18. EarlyToBed Says:

    I only occasionally get to see the editor’s and other reviewers’ comments after I submit my review. In the cases where I have seen others’ reviews, I have found it very educational to compare my review with theirs. It’s validating when another reviewer agrees with me. I also like seeing how others raise points, and effective ways and ineffective ways of doing so.


  19. physioprof Says:

    It doesn’t bother me if the editor goes against my recommendation, if by “bother” you mean “disturb my equanimity”. However, if I think the editor made a clear mistake, if I have the time, I’ll e-mail her and explain my reasoning further. But none of this “bothers” me.


  20. anon Says:

    I am definitely bothered when I reject papers due to poor quality data (sketchy Westerns, bizarro stats), and they get published in high-profile journals anyway. In these cases, the other reviewers seemed fairly cursory (lazy?) and didn’t comment at all on the concerning points. It seems like the editors need 2/3 making the same complaint to care.

    And it’s not just the high-profile ones where this happens either, it just bothers me more. Irrational, I suppose.


  21. qaz Says:

    What bothers me is when I spend a significant amount of time on a review, pointing out errors in the text and the data, and the editor ignores my review and accepts the paper anyway. Yes, this pisses me off. Why have I wasted my time doing that review work if they didn’t want to know?

    I turn down approximately a dozen reviews a month, and only select a subset of reviews to do. (I do approximately one review per week.) If an editor at a journal doesn’t respect my reviews, then I stop doing reviews for that journal. (At least for a while until the editorship has changed.)

    I’m far less concerned when I liked a paper and the editor rejects it. At least there, the authors have the benefit of my review to help them make the paper better for another journal.


  22. anonfornow Says:

    David Linden, editor of J Neurophys, says that he tells his assistant editors: If the reviews are split 2/3 in favor or 2/3 against, and you always go with the majority, I could just as well have gotten a robot rather than an AE. Your job at that point is to read through the ms and reviews, and make a decision that may or may not match the reviewers’.


  23. Virgil Says:

    @DM How often are your suspicions confirmed with convictions

    Depends what you mean by conviction. About 2/3 of the time, something appropriate gets done (person gets fired, Dean of school gets involved and person’s HR record is ammended, paper gets retracted, person gets banned from submitting grants to a particular agency). So far, because ORI takes f–o–r–f–r–i–c–k–i–n–e–v–e–r to wrap things up, nothing I’ve reported to them has been made public (I’ve been doing this sherlock holmes stuff for about 2 years now). I would expect within the next year or so a couple of big cases I contributed to will hit the federal register. Kind of annoying those people are still out there now, publishing and sucking up grant dollars, but I hear karma can be a real b****!


  24. postdoc Says:

    As a postdoc with borderline imposter syndrome, I care a lot… maybe too much… whether the editor and other reviewers agree with me. I review 1-2 articles/month. Recently I reviewed a ms for a low-IF journal. The ms was inspired directly by one of my other papers and cited it copiously. The ms was also terrible, starting with ridiculous assumptions and then going in inane directions. My review was as delicate as possible but still basically said, “You have not convinced my why your assumptions are correct and how this analysis relates to anything. This seems to contradict journal aims A, B, and C…,” and the editor asked for minor revisions and would I please look at the barely changed article a second time? I’m done with this journal for a while.

    I’m actually surprised by how rarely reviewers agree with each other in their major points. Someone’s big deal is most often someone else’s minor complaint.


  25. drugmonkey Says:

    How often would you say editors fail to “respect your views”, qaz? 33%?


  26. Grumble Says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever had the experience of providing a strongly negative review, only to have the editor go ahead and accept the paper (outright or with minor revision). Maybe that’s because I take the job of reviewing very seriously, and when I give the editor a negative opinion, I back it up with detailed, descriptive explanations to the authors about why I’m not convinced. If you don’t give the editor much wiggle room, it’s hard for the editor to wiggle free. On the other hand, for my own papers, I’ve been grateful to editors who explicitly say, I’m more inclined to agree with the more positive review, please focus your rebuttal on that one. In those cases, the negative review tends to be very cursory (and of course off-base).

    As a reviewer, I’ve seen really nice papers that I liked a lot rejected outright, especially from the fancier journals. These bugged me the most because the other reviewers’ critiques in these cases seemed like BS (it’s not as if they caught something I missed). I chalk this up to editors failing to exercise the judgment that David Linden asks his J Neurophys editors to use (according to “anon”). “Professional” editors who don’t do their fucking jobs – yet another reason to hate Glamour Mags.


  27. qaz Says:

    “How often would you say editors fail to “respect your views”, qaz? 33%?”


    Actually, it’s so rare it really stands out. I can count the number of times over the last decade on one hand.

    I don’t mind when I’m not a huge fan of the manuscript but I don’t find major flaws and it gets in. Nor do I mind when I love it and the editor hates it. What I mind is the few times I say “this is going to hurt the literature” by “muddying the theoretical waters” or by “putting out data that is almost certainly wrong that others are going to have to refute. ” (In the recent two cases that happened this year and last, I gave very specific details with citations as to the problems and the editor ignored it. In one case, because the author was a huge alpha dog and clearly complained to the GlamourMag. In the other case, because the editor didn’t care about the language used, which had defined several terms incorrectly.)


  28. Isis the Scientist Says:

    It bothers me when I have clear reasons for rejecting and the editor overrules.

    It didn’t bother me until I got two more rounds of shitty revisions to review.


  29. Isis the Scientist Says:

    I review 1-2 articles/month.

    WHOAAA!! What the fuck are you doing that for?????


  30. physioprof Says:

    I review 1-2 articles/month.

    That’s pretty normal for established PIs.


  31. physioprof Says:

    Oh, just saw that was posted by a post-doc. Yeah, thatte’s fucken wacke for a post-doc to be reviewing any more than one or two papers per *year*.


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