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Clearly if your wonderful paper gets rejected, the reviewer was a moron who didn't understand it.

Unfortunate as it may be, the world is full of morons, and it is reasonable to assume that many of them will fail to understand your wonderful paper in more or less the same way and for more or less the same reasons. So, you might as well revise so they don't have an excuse.

More seriously: I know that the thought of revising a paper that you've toiled on night after night can make you want to scream. I've been there. But most likely your reviewer won't be the only person with that complaint, so you might as well try to respond to it.


On the referee side: There are lots of idiosyncratic reasons we have for liking or not liking a paper. Barring a serious error that sinks a paper, I now decline to referee for the second journal when I get a paper I got from another journal that looks to be unchanged (I do take a relatively close look). I think a paper should get another try with another reader - I'm most of us would wish that for ourselves when we get a frustrating rejection. But again, if there was a serious flaw that i felt very confident about I'd agree and point that out again (that hasn't happened come up yet).


I don't know about that recent Phd. I have found that plenty of reviewers have idiosyncratic complaints. Not only that, but I think that no matter what complaints I fix, another reviewer will find different complaints. I think it is very rare these days to get a straight acceptance without a RandR. So I struggle knowing when to change a paper in response to a reviewer. It feels like a waste of time if a different reviewer is going to bring up other problems anyway. But idk, I guess I'm really not sure what to do in these circumstances.


To add a wrinkle ...

Suppose, as many people think, that there are norms that call for generally addressing feedback from one's reviewers before resubmitting. In light of those norms, what are one's responsibilities with respect to a desk rejection?

And, if it is acceptable to resubmit a desk-rejected paper, how does that not call into question the norm for generally addressing feedback, given that the (implicit?) message of a desk-rejection is that the paper is not of a quality that calls for review? Wouldn't a typical desk-rejected paper need more work than a typical reviewer-rejected paper? (Or does the lack of specific information allow one to always say "maybe it wasn't a good fit", even though that's a less common reason offered by editors when speaking generally.)

been around a bit

Provided there are comments from the referees, I think there is a prima facie obligation to address them in some form or other before an author submits the paper to another journal. As someone above already noted, if one person (mis-)read the paper in some way, others will as well, and the author needs to prevent this misreading. I can only think of one case in my publications where an attempt to address a reviewer's concerns made the paper worse. Generally, papers are improved, and I have published in good journals in my area (PhilSci, Synthese, SHPS, Nous, APQ).
As a referee I refuse to review a paper I have reviewed for another journal. I do this for two reasons. First, I do not want to reread the same (lousy!) paper. Second, I think the author deserves a fair shot, and if I was biased in anyway they deserve to have someone else read it. I have been asked now many times to review a paper I have reviewed before. Sometimes a crafty author will change the title and abstract, and I will agree to review it. But as soon as I realize it is the same paper I reviewed before I alert the editor and recuse myself.


Most of my papers had to be submitted a few times, some many times, before receiving an R&R and eventual acceptance. About half of the time comments would be useful, if only to help address areas easily misunderstood. If you're resubmitting a paper over and over making no changes, I think that is unwise. On the other hand, about half the time referees really are incompetent. Sometimes they don't even bother to read the paper. So, you shouldn't be afraid to ignore stupid comments. Anyway, that's my advice. It seemed to work for me.

Untenured Ethics Professor

In reply to Skef: Editors give desk rejections for a lot of reasons. Though the perceived quality of a paper is a common reason, lack of fit can be a reason (as you point out). So can a judgment that the journal has had too many recent articles on a given topic.

If you get an unexplained desk rejection, and you haven't yet gotten much feedback from others about your paper, receiving the rejection might be a good occasion to seek feedback. But if you've already received feedback (preferably including feedback from more-senior people, e.g. advisers or attendees at a conference not only for grad students), and the feedback you've gotten leads you believe that the paper is publication-ready, you are under no obligation to revise further before sending the paper out again.

Sam Duncan

I agree with Pendaran. The quality of comments varies wildly, and more fundamentally I think the spirit that referees approach the work varies too. Referees and the their comments can be bad in two basic ways. First they can be lazy and sloppy. On several occasions, I've gotten comments that were nothing more than three or four lines of unclear text rife with typos. In those cases it's not been clear to me what justification the referee had for rejecting much less how I could improve the paper in light of their comments. Second, they can be partisan to the extent that they simply are not going to give anyone who disagrees with them a fair hearing. If the comments amount to "Only an idiot could possibly believe this paper's claim especially in light of the brilliant work of X showing just how moronic it is" then I feel very little need to make any changes, especially if I've read X and been completely unimpressed. Of course in a lot of cases they can be both lazy and partisan.
If the referee put some level of effort into the comments and made any effort to give your work a fair hearing then I think you're obligated to at least seriously consider revisions and should have a good reason if you don't do make revisions in light of what they said (it's almost certainly in your self-interest to do so too). But it's shocking how often these basic conditions aren't met.
One other point I'd make is that given word limits it might very well be impossible to implement every good suggestion from referees. On more than one occasion I've had referees say, "Well this other related debate is important so it'd be great if the author could say something about it" and I've agreed. But the problem is that addressing that debate in any adequate way would take four or five pages and I was a page or two from the word limit set by the journal. In one case I actually even cut exactly the discussion they wanted so as to just squeak in under the limit.

Recent Grad

I have a question that's somewhat related to the topic of resubmitting rejected manuscripts without making changes. A little background: I'm a recent grad. I've had around 5 reviews for a couple of different papers (including one R&R and rejections for the other submissions). Every single time I've only had one referee report. You can imagine that only having one report complicates the question of whether to do revisions before resubmitting. Referees can be so divergent I find myself very hesitant to make changes based on only one report--unless the criticisms happen to strike me as significant and obviously correct.

I'm wondering whether only having one reviewer decide the fate of a paper is a regular occurrence or have I just been unlucky? I've also heard different explanations for why I'm only getting one report. Some tell me that means that the editor is having difficulty finding people to review the paper. Others tell me that the editor has two reports but is only forwarding me the report that recommends rejection since that's the one he/she agrees with. Does anyone have any insight about this?


I think it could be any of those things. The possibilities, in order of my estimated likelihood:

1.The report you got was the first of two reviewers to turn it in. Because one rejection is enough for total rejection, there was no need to wait on the second report. (I have had emails regarding a paper I agreed to review. The email said I no longer had to do the review because the other reviewer's report was "sufficient".)

2.The editor could only find one reviewer

3. The second reviewer did not provide comments.

4. The second reviewer recommended acceptance and the editor doesn't want to deal with complaints.

In my experience, it is not uncommon to get one report. It happens maybe 1/4 to 1/3 of the time. (Of the times I actually get reports as opposed to desk rejections). So you have probably been a little unlucky so far.

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