The misery called Reviewer (2)

Gepubliceerd op 2 juni 2023 om 12:00

The review process is important to ensure the quality and integrity of scientific journals. We have described this in detail in our blog about the Review process. However, that does not mean it always goes well!


The bad reviewer

Unfortunately, you do not always get a good reviewer. Sometimes you are faced with a reviewer who clearly has his own agenda. He may ask you, for example, to cite some of his own published papers. These reviewers are usually pretty easy to recognize, because all the papers they suggest you add coincidentally all have him/her as one of the authors. If these detract from the content of your paper, you certainly should not add them. A useful phrase for your rebuttal in such cases is that “the proposed literature falls somewhat outside the scope of this study”. Of course if they are actually relevant papers, there is no harm in citing one or more of these suggested studies in your manuscript. If the review comments are otherwise substantively strong, an ‘own agenda reviewer’ is actually just a good reviewer.


The worse reviewer

Selfish reviewers are unfortunate for the review process, but things can always get worse. Sometimes you receive feedback that makes you (justifiably) wonder whether the reviewer even has sufficient knowledge of your field, is up-to-date in terms of statistics or has even read your paper properly. They may ask you to add or explain stuff, that is already incorporated in your paper. Or they claim that you have missed certain scientific literature, while you refer to these papers in your manuscript. In those cases, the reviewer has not done a careful job of reviewing your paper. The benefit is that this type of feedback is easily addressed in a rebuttal. The downside is that you miss the opportunity to improve your paper even further.


And then of course there is the possibility of Reviewer 2 crossing your path. Yes, it is common that multiple reviewers check out a manuscript! On average there are two or three, but up to six reviewers can also occur, for example in scientific journals with a high impact factor.



The worst reviewer: the myth of Reviewer 2

The myth of Reviewer 2 was born out of the frequently occurring situation that the first reviewer (Reviewer 1) is positive about your research and the second reviewer (Reviewer 2) is absolutely not. Reviewer 2 has the infamous status of being a mean, vicious, vindictive and overall revolting individual. Reviewer 2 is the one who, without a trace of compassion, a shred of decency, thoroughly and proficiently burns your carefully written research paper to the ground, without even a hint of constructive feedback. That is Reviewer 2. How do you survive the devastating comments of Reviewer 2? Thankfully, there are peer support groups you can attend whenever the fate of Reviewer 2 strikes you. You can visit the Facebook page ‘Reviewer 2 must be stopped’, for example, or the twitter account @grumpyreviewer2.


Anecdotal evidence

An example of a nasty reviewer with his own agenda comes from a researcher who had submitted a meta-analysis to a scientific journal. The meta-analysis soon went under review, but subsequently it took months before she heard back from the journal. After repeated inquiries from the researcher, the journal finally rejected her paper, because another meta-analysis about this the same topic had recently been published. It turned out that the reviewer of her manuscript, was an author on the recently published meta-analysis. He most likely deliberately delayed the review process of our researcher, so he would have the scoop himself.


Advice of the day

In this blog no step-by-step guide or a list of tips. But if there is any advice we can give you: Reviewer 2 can be found in every scientific field. If you have the misfortune of one crossing your path (and statistically speaking this certainly will happen at some point), simply laugh out loud, shake of their bitter criticism and just be happy this person is not your daily colleague. And whatever you do: make sure that you NEVER become Reviewer 2!


 Have you ever had a bad or weird experience with a reviewer? Leave a comment or contact us personally through the contact page.

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I had the bad luck of having a Reviewer2 a few times. In a few occasions it resulted in a rejection of the article, most of the time it resulted in a revise and resubmit. In the revise and resubmit it is often easy to rebut the comments of Reviewer2. In a reject it is not. However, once me and my co-author wrote an email to the editor-in-chief to complain about the poor review of Reviewer2 which in fact had little to do with the content of our paper, resulting in an adjustment of the decision. Our paper got published after we improved it with the good and constructive reviews of the other two reviewers.

And more anecdotal. In a double blind peer review process Reviewer2 suggested that I (the author) could call him/her for an exchange of ideas ... Of course the editor-in-chief informed me to ignore Reviewer2. The comments of the other reviewer were very good and helped to improve my article significantly.