Do you re-review papers you’ve rejected?

Sometimes I’ll review a paper for a journal and reject it.

A few months later, another editor will ask me to review the paper again for a different (usually worse) journal.

Initially my stand was to only review it if I thought I was going to accept it at that new journal.  (Say I’d suggested it wasn’t of general interest for Glam, but would be a good fit for Top Field, and then I got it to review for Top Field.)  I would politely decline otherwise.

Then an editor emailed me back to ask if I wouldn’t please reconsider my decline.  And another asked if I could send my previous referee report even though it wouldn’t be official.  Even though the paper might have changed!

So my new policy for something I rejected but didn’t think would fit without changes was to email the editor to say I’d already reviewed it, didn’t like it at the time, and might be biased given I’d already rejected it.  Would they like me to review it again?

So far 100% of editors have either asked me to re-review or to send my previous rejection.  So they can see if the author took my advice, they say.  I suspect they don’t check that carefully depending on what the other reviewers say.

This makes me uncomfortable.  I don’t really think it’s fair.  I wouldn’t want reviewers who didn’t like my work the first time to review it again without me having the ability to explain to them why their comments weren’t right for whatever reason or to see that I’d clarified the thing they thought was wrong but really was only written unclearly… or what have you.

But it’s what the editors want, and I’m still in a position where I want to keep editors happy.  So I think I’ll continue asking them what they want.  But I won’t feel good about it.

What do you do?  Do you ever get articles to review that you’ve reviewed before?  What do you do if you’re an editor and you send it out to someone who has already reviewed it?

23 Responses to “Do you re-review papers you’ve rejected?”

  1. moominoid Says:

    If they’ve taken on board my main comments from the previous review then I’m happy to say so. But often people make hardly any changes and submit again, and then I’m annoyed.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      See, sometimes the person making comments initially is making stupid comments that show they don’t understand (for example, there’s a person who seemed to get all the referee reports in a specific subfield who didn’t understand that main effects are often significant in a DDD equation, that’s kind of the point of doing the DDD, right?)

      What if I’m that person? What if you’re that person? (Not about DDD, but about completely and totally not getting something we think we get?) It really doesn’t seem fair to the person whose paper is being reviewed.

      I say this because the first person I heard that sentiment from was some guy who is a total idiot (not saying you are a total idiot). I don’t want him reviewing my papers twice(!)

      If it were an R&R then I’d be able to explain the point of confusion without changing the paper (in a way that makes it more confusing to everybody else), but when it’s rejected you can’t.

  2. The frugal ecologist Says:

    Hmm, my initial thought is along the lines of moominoids.

    I actually have only had this happen once: I did what you did. Tell the editor it had been rejected, and offered to look at it again.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      How do you know you’re right though? It seems unfair to reject something twice without giving the authors a chance to explain themselves like they would be able to in an R&R.

      • The frugal ecologist Says:

        I guess if there was a methodological issue that I wasn’t sure I was right about, I would probably ask someone in my field? I think it’s possible I get clarification on a technical issue w/o breaking confidentiality of the review process.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        But if you *think* you’re right, you won’t do that!

      • coffeenscience Says:

        In such cases I typically agree to review, and try to do so with consideration to the new journal standards/scope. Often this results in a R&R, since, more often than not, my previous comments have been ignored. But given a less-than-glamour sitting, the previous reject is now transformed to R&R instead, thus giving the authors a chance to respond. In many cases I re-use (parts of) the previous review, but change the decision. I don’t mind if it obvious that I’m re-reviewing the paper, as long as it’s clear that I’m doing so in light of the new publishing venue.

      • Coffeenscience Says:

        Athough, if it’s a methodogical issue, I happily reject it again with the same argument. A basically flawed method is still wrong, of course, independent of journal IF…

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        What, though, if you’re wrong about the methodological issue?

        Or what if your definition of “not of general interest” isn’t everyone’s definition?

        With new reviewers there’s at least a chance that the truth will out. Something that’s bad will hopefully still be rejected most of the time by new reviewers, but something that’s good that you just happen to be wrong about will get a second chance that it wouldn’t get with you reviewing it again.

  3. Flavia Says:

    I’ve never had the opportunity to do this myself, but like you I have qualms about the practice, based on the really unjust treatment that some friends have received at the hands of self-important and territory-policing senior scholars. Obviously, I don’t think that I, or you, or any of your readers would behave that way! But I do feel rather strongly about the importance of allowing every piece of scholarship to receive fresh and independent hearings, and that it’s not fair for one person to be able to block an article from ever seeing the light of day.

    I totally understand your desire not to get on the bad side of editors of important journals, though, and it strikes me as strange that the editors aren’t accepting your “no” as a no. In my field, I understand that declining on the grounds that you’ve reviewed it before (and might be biased against it) is both the gracious thing to do and is accepted as such by book and journal editors.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Back when I said no, they’d mostly accept that no (just those two examples they didn’t), but when I don’t give a hard decline, they pounce.

      I think it must be difficult to be an editor.

      • The frugal ecologist Says:

        Yes, I think your experience definitely reflects the difficulty of finding willing reviewers. I agree that every submission deserves fresh eyes, but that’s not always possible.

      • Coffeenscience Says:

        I agree that it seems to be a difficult task to find reviewers. I have even responded that I’m biased since I work with the authors in question and publish with them, but still get a “please can’t you do it anyway” as response. However, I think that the difference is wether you feel confident in your assessment or not. If you believe that you truly are correct and that the fundamental flaw makes it unpublishable, I think you should persist. Otherwise there is a choice between asking for advice/support or handing over to someone else by refusing to review. It all depends on the context, of course, but following your conscience will, more often than not, result in the “right” choice.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The problem is with all the people who have Dunning-Kruger…

  4. knittingclio Says:

    Oh my I hope you’re not talking about the article I just resubmitted to another journal! ;-)

  5. Ana Says:

    Some of these comments are disheartening. I think each paper merits an unbiased review. If you tell the editor up front that you rejected that paper, I’d be very surprised if that did not influence the ultimate decision. And who knows, the paper may have changed substantially or it may have changed not at all. It may be just the thing for this journal, while it was completely wrong for the last one. And yes, if you suggested something that was not incorporated, you may have been wrong, since a firm rejection gives the authors no chance to clarify.
    Clearly this is personal for me! I just submitted a paper with very minor changes to a lower tier journal after an initial harsh rejection.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I know! It’s really hard to know what to do. I want people to have the benefit of the doubt and a fresh chance, you know?

      I do review again if I think it’s a good fit for the new journal– sometimes they’ll take my advice on where to send it next with the previous rejection (usually from Glam to top-field) and it’s an easy R&R decision.

  6. Fiona McQuarrie (@all_about_work) Says:

    I have had this happen too, and it’s a difficult situation. From the journal editor’s perspective, though, they don’t know if the author seriously revised the article based on the earlier reviews at the other journal – or if the author just tweaked the title or something else very minor and sent it off again.
    In one case I offered to look at the paper informally to see if it was significantly different than the earlier version. I didn’t write a review – I just read the paper through to see if it had been revised. The journal editor was fine with that. As it turned out, the paper had hardly been changed at all, and based on that I declined the opportunity to review because I felt I had a conflict of interest having already rejected the same paper elsewhere. The journal editor was fine with that too. (I believe the paper was ultimately rejected by that journal as well – the paper had significant methodological problems that I think would have been an issue no matter where it was submitted.)
    I suspect that not all journals may be comfortable with an informal read-through to determine if there is a conflict of interest on the reviewer’s part. But it might be worth asking if that is an option.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I don’t think that would help though– if the reviewer is wrong, then that reviewer is still going to be wrong. Plus doing a read through takes time!

      • Fiona McQuarrie (@all_about_work) Says:

        In this case, all three reviewers (including me) had rejected the paper at the first journal for similar reasons – so while I did have opinions about the paper, they weren’t only my opinions. But you’re right, if the reviewer is wrong, then their subsequent review is still going to be wrong if they are expecting the same things to change.
        I should clarify, though, that when I said a read-through, I wasn’t thinking of a detailed read to the extent you would do to write a review. I was thinking more of a quicker read of key points like how the research question/hypothesis is established, the methodology,and the analysis.

  7. Matthew Healy Says:

    My grad school thesis adviser once got the same paper for review from multiple journals as the authors worked their way down the impact factor ladder; since the authors never did squat about his advice he started just saying something like “you are the fifth journal asking me to review this manuscript; since the authors appear not to have taken any of the advice I gave to the other four journals I recommend you reject it as the other editors have.”

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The problem with that is that your adviser might have been wrong, but it would have messed up the paper to explain why. In an r & R situation, the authors have a chance to respond.


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