I was very surprised by the results of Meg’s recent poll on what reviewers mean when they say that, yes, they’d be willing to review a revised version of an ms. 34% mean not merely that they’re willing to review a revised version, but that they want to see a revised version to make sure the authors have addressed their concerns. Like Meg, I had no idea that reviewers who feel that way are such a large minority!
Which got me thinking about the roles of reviewers and editors, and if my own view on their roles isn’t as universal as I had (naively?) assumed. So below is a one-question poll. Do you see reviewers as advisers to the editor? Or do you think editors should ordinarily defer to reviewers, so that all reviewers should be satisfied before a paper is accepted for publication?
The poll gives you four options. First, I briefly elaborate on each; then comes the poll where you choose the option that best matches your own views. I’ll give my own view at the end, but no peeking until you do the poll! (Note that for purposes of this poll I’m glossing over the roles of the EiC vs. the editorial board. At many journals ultimate decision-making authority rests with the EiC, but don’t worry about that for purposes of this poll.)
- Reviewers advise, the editor decides. Editors will take the advice of reviewers seriously, but sometimes will overrule some or even all of the reviewers when they disagree with the reviewers or when the reviewers disagree with one another.
- Editors defer to reviewers. Review ordinarily will continue until all reviewers are satisfied, with the ms being rejected otherwise. Only in rare circumstances, such as when a reviewer is sloppy or biased, will an editor accept an ms over a reviewer’s objections.
- It depends if it’s a technical or subjective issue. Editors ordinarily will defer to reviewers on all technical issues, and not accept an ms unless all reviewers are satisfied on all technical issues. But “reviewers advise, the editor decides” when it comes to more subjective issues (well, issues that are widely seen to be more subjective) like whether the ms is a good “fit” for the journal and whether the ms is sufficiently “interesting” for the journal.
- I have some other view as to the roles of editors and reviewers, very different from the other options.
My own view (which I hold as both a reviewer and a former editor) is that reviewers advise, the editor decides. That’s because a final decision has to be made somehow, because reviewers sometimes disagree with one another, and because editors generally are better-placed than reviewers to make that decision. Editors typically have a broader view of the field than do reviewers, for instance. Editors also know more about how the ms compares to others recently submitted to the journal. Also, as a practical matter, it can be hard to get good reviews and as an editor you don’t want to burden your colleagues asking them for reviews unless you really need them. Until I saw Meg’s poll, I had assumed that my view was nearly universal–we’ll find out if that assumption was correct!
p.s. Before anyone comments to point this out: yes, I know the poll options define points on a continuum. For instance, as an editor at Oikos and Axios I was less deferential to reviewers when handling mss that were “in my wheelhouse”, more deferential when handling mss far from my area of expertise. But I couldn’t figure out how to write a one-question poll that would capture the range of people’s views, so I just went with the poll above in the hopes that it will be a good conversation starter.