Some associated editors should grow a spine

There, it happened again. An associate editor of a prestigious software engineering journal rejected our paper, because they wouldn’t overrule a single bogus review.

In the current case, all reviewers were on plain accept, with one holdout, reviewer 2, who recommended a plain reject. (The paper was the first revised version of the original submission.) This is what the associate editor made of it:

You will see that one [reviewer] is still advising against publication of your work. Therefore, I regret that I must reject it.

From the rejection letter

Frankly, you must not. It is your decision whether to accept or reject a paper, and not a reviewer’s decision. To me, such cowardice suggests that the editor fears the reviewer and rather dodges their responsibilities (than to fulfill them).

The editor continues:

[…] considering the positive aspects of the paper, if you are willing to revise it according to the reviewers’ comments, I would strongly advise you to resubmit the paper. Subsequently, it will be treated as a NEW submission.

From the rejection letter

You may wonder about reviewer 2’s reason for rejection, which also happens to be the only comment that contains any suggestion for a revision. Here it is:

[An objective of the journal is that] all articles should provide evidence to support their claims […] The manuscript does not provide [..] such type of validation […] Lacking this fundamental validation aspect, I am not comfortable suggesting the acceptance of this article at [the journal].

From reviewer 2

The reviewer rambles on a bit more about validation studies.

Our article triangulates a theory by presenting and combining a systematic review and an interview study. It contains ample empirical data, spread out over some long forty pages, providing the necessary evidence for the presented theory.

There is a whole journal (Computing Surveys) dedicated to systematic reviews and related methods. The journal in question here contains copious amounts of theory building papers without additional validation studies.

Seriously, requesting to add an evaluation case study or a controlled experiment to a forty pages long systematic review paper makes no sense. A good editor should have the spine to reject such overreach.

Ask me in private about the journal if you want to make sure to avoid it in the future. I certainly will.



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