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I am early in my career (postdoc) and don't get many papers to review. Thus when I do, I try to put in the work, do a good job, and write a constructive report that is actually useful to the authors. This is the story of how a report I wrote got ignored.

A while ago I was asked to review a paper. I had 3 weeks to do it. Partly due to my own fault and partly due to a lot of work coming up around the review deadline, I was not able to finish on time. Before the deadline, I sent an email to the editor and asked for two more days to finish the review. There was no response to this. Two days later I submitted the review, as I promised. I repeated most of the calculations in the paper (something I don't expect most reviewers do in this field) and found some – fixable – mistakes that affect the result.

Since I was interested in this paper, I checked its status in the editorial system several times, and it always said "under review".

Then about 6 weeks after submitting the report, I got a new request, with a revised version of the paper. Surprisingly, the authors were clearly responding to only a single reviewer who only recommended fixing typos ... it was obvious that they have never seen my report.

Thus I contacted the editor and asked if there was a mistake and if the report was sent to the authors. Just to be clear, at this point my report was still clearly shown as submitted in the editorial system and could still be downloaded. I got back a (probably canned) response from the editor within an hour, saying that: (1) they asked me to review a paper but they never received a response from me (2) due to time constraints they decided to make a decision without my input. At the same time, my access to the manuscript in the editorial system was revoked.

I wrote back again, explaining that I did in fact send a report – which was confirmed received by their automated system –, and offered to send it again. The editor never responded after this.


Questions:

I am extremely disappointed because of the time I put into this and because of what I see as dismissive treatment by the editor. It's really hard to let this go.

  • Should I keep pushing this and write again, or just let it go? I want at least an acknowledgement and and explanation of why the report wasn't sent out.
  • Is being two days late with the report (though giving advance notice before the deadline) a serious offence?
  • I am worried that the misunderstanding that I never sent a report will leave a permanent black mark on my record with the publisher. Is this possible? This is another reason why I want to push it.
  • At this point I am quite tempted to just send the report to the paper's authors privately. While I would have preferred to remain anonymous, I would rather reveal myself than let it all go to waste. I made an effort to keep a constructive tone throughout the report. I do think they will find it useful, whether they will act on it or not. Is it a bad idea to do this?

I posted this question because I am upset and want to do something about the situation but I am worried that I might end up doing something stupid that will damage my career. Some comments from people who are themselves editors will be helpful.

In the end I am thinking of just giving the report to the authors privately with a short explanation and not bother with the publisher any more.


Update: In the meantime the problem got resolved. It turned out to be caused by an editorial system problem, and the rest can be explained with the editor being busy, as many people suggested. The moral is to always have good faith ...

1 Answer 1

Let it go.

Occam's Razor would suggest that what happened is that the editor, a busy person just trying to get their own deadlines met, didn't see (or read) your email, looked at the automated system and concluded that your review had not been submitted, and proceeded before reading your email. It's unfortunate that the review process was so impersonal for you this time, but that's sometimes the way it is, especially when interacting with people that you haven't met.