Instead of a Peer Review, Reviewer Sends Warning to Authors


Cloudy and polluted.

A peer reviewer for the MDPI journal Atmosphere sent a warning — in place of a peer review — to authors who had submitted a paper to the journal.

The story is a long one, and it’s a bit complicated. The peer reviewer, based at the Max-Planck-Institute for Chemistry, had served as a peer-reviewer for a poorly-handled review process earlier in 2015. He peer reviewed a manuscript and recommended that the paper be resubmitted after it was improved.

The paper went through two rounds of review and re-submit, but each time the paper’s scientific flaws were not addressed.

Next, the peer reviewer recommended that the paper be rejected. Following this, he received no communication from the journal or editor. Later, he discovered that Atmosphere had published the paper, in its original form, with the flaws unaddressed.

The peer reviewer asked to communicate with the other peer reviewers and the associate editor who accepted the paper for the journal, but publisher MDPI has so far refused to let him read the other reviews or provide contact information for the others.

Finally, to his surprise, the peer reviewer received an email from MDPI asking him to review another paper, a new submission. He couldn’t believe it.

Here is his review:

Esteemed Authors,

The “reviewer” apologises for

1) Being late with this answer,

2) Providing rather a kind scientific advice than an actual review.

The reason for the latter is my deep concern that having your results published in any of MDPI journals puts them under high risk of invalidation, furthermore it leads to likely damage of your scientific reputation. Earlier I had flagrantly bad experience with this publisher, who disregarded my thorough review of the manuscript [1] and published it despite my rejection, retaining even its initial form (i.e. without improvements introduced). There was no sound scientific discussion offered by both, the authors of [1] and MDPI staff. For months I am waiting from MDPI for the contact with the other reviewer who (as they claim) was reviewing this work simultaneously with me. I am also waiting for them to connect me with the external associated editor who prompted publication of [1] some weeks after my rejection, without notifying me. I tend to believe these people either do not exist or they never had any expertise on the subject, read merely pressed “publish it” button.

It is not only that MDPI conducts the opposite of what they claim to me (“Your valuable comments would be crucial for us to make a decision”, I quote here your “editor” Ms. Danielle Yao, or others from the legion of MDPI “editors”, e.g. Lucy Liu or Xiaozhen Han). They foremost misuse YOU and your colleagues for THEIR personal profit (i.e. the money you are to pay for this publication) offering in return high risk of rejection of YOUR results by the scientific community. Some of my colleagues from Max‐Planck and Helmholtz Societies, NOAA, EGU, AGU, etc. do not consider publications in MDPI journals reliable and authentic. You can further get acquainted with the “predatory” open access publishing following [2, 3], I am a witness of such in relation with MDPI. I regret that the authors of [1] (some of who I do know not superficially) lost their reputation in (not only) my eyes subsequently. As to the lead author of [1], Mr. Keyhong Park, I cannot call him a scientist, as he betrays fundamental principles of Science.

My advice to you is to submit you work somewhere else, e.g. EGU journals, if you search for open source platform. They will provide you with solid reputation and will support your career. A paper in MDPI, in turn, may turn into a disreputable entry in your publication list in the future, supported by your money. Noteworthy, I estimate chances of publishing your manuscript in “Atmosphere” despite such “review” as very likely, irrespective of whether I press “reconsider” button. Time will show. As much as MDPI was interested to publish the work [1] that I showed being inconsistent, they are interested in you only because of your money, but not the science you are doing.

If Ms. Danielle Yao reads this communication (which I still hope for, but cannot guarantee), I sincerely ask her to help me to reach Lucy Liu, Xiaozhen Han and reviewer and editor(s) who were involved in “peer‐reviewed publishing” of [1]; so far I am being the only who had scientifically reviewed this work.

Dear Authors, I sincerely apologise for bringing this issue here instead of reviewing your work. MDPI ignores my requests already for months. They also ignore YOU by asking me to review for them again, and I have no other channel to communicate. Ultimately, my motivation is to forestall you from putting your scientific reputation in danger and wasting your time and efforts with a “predatory” publisher interested merely in your money.

If you have any questions (or would like to throw stones at me), please use the contact information below.

With best regards, S. Gromov


[1] Joint Application of Concentration and δ18O to Investigate the Global Atmospheric CO Budget / Keyhong Park*, Louisa K. Emmons, Zhihui Wang and John E. Mak,‐ 4433/6/5/547

[2] and refs therein.

[3]‐publishner‐mdpi‐added‐to‐list‐of‐questionable‐publishers/ and references/further links therein.


So, here we have a peer reviewer for MDPI who recommended that a paper be rejected — only to see it published without his recommended changes — and who later received a second request from MDPI to review another paper.

It is clear that MDPI sees peer review as merely a perfunctory step that publishers have to endure before publishing papers and accepting money from the authors. Also. it’s clear that MDPI’s peer review is managed by clueless clerical staff in China.

MDPI is not currently on my list. They appealed, and the appeals board recommended I remove them, so I did. Nevertheless, I think Dr. Gromov’s advice is wise, and I would encourage honest researchers considering submitting to MDPI journals to consider more reputable publishers instead.

47 Responses to Instead of a Peer Review, Reviewer Sends Warning to Authors

  1. Mary Ann Smith says:

    The authors of [1] must have taken the reviewer’s advice. They have subsequently published a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres.

  2. bolofalana says:

    Can MDPI be put back to the predatory publisher list? Most readers would likely agree that the journal did not provide proper peer review of the article that the reviewer was writing about above.

  3. paul okolie says:

    Is sciencedomain international in your list?

  4. Come on…..are you guys truly surprised by this? You appear to have this perspective that the peer review process is somehow sacrosanct, which in my considerable experience (200+ articles) is far removed from the reality of journalistic review.

    This type of interaction between reviewers, editors and authors is commonplace in peer reviewed publications throughout dozens of peer reviewed journals that I have published in…..and none of these journals are on your list of “predatory journals”. Any “EXPERIENCED” author will tell you that the peer review process is by nature highly subjective and because of that various political agendas get worked out. I liken the peer review process to the game of water polo where the real game happens under the surface of the water. In the present case the reviewer merely gave us insight into a single example of unseemly behavior. MDPI may be “predatory” but you need to provide more compelling evidence than this, because by this definition, the entire industry is predatory—which may in fact be true! :-)

    This is why I contend that a post publication community based (crowdsourced) scoring process, i.e. Cureus’ SIQ, is a far more legitimate measure of scientific quality than any pre-publication review my a couple of experts.

    • Cesar says:

      absolutely agree.

    • wkdawson says:

      I also agree that we should put more emphasis on post publication review. The editor is sometimes left with a very difficult decision. If all that is above is _exactly_ true, I am a bit mistified why the paper was published without at least acknowledging Prof Gromov’s views. this is something we don’t have access to either.

      Anyway, when there is a real scientific dispute, the scientist in question should be granted the full right of a _moderated_ forum to defend the work. It is sometimes very difficult to tell if someone is a crank or not, it can require a lot of time to sift through their arguments. However, eventually, through continued engagement, it does become clear. I don’t know in this case, because I don’t even know the article in question, what the dispute is about, or anything in fact. Only a claim of misconduct by the editor.

    • Hugo van den Berg says:

      Agreed. Stuff gets through regardless if a senior author is “prominent” and/or friends with the editor. I have learned to decline assignments when I know that provision a thorough review is going to be a complete waste of time.

  5. Robert Cameron says:

    At least this gives us an example of individual integrity! While i agree with Adler that abuse of the peer review system is (a) not confined to OA journals and (b) is not merely a recent phenomenon, I do not think that open post-publication review is the answer. It will increase the flood of stuff to be read while decreasing its average quality. As a reviewer and associate editor for many years, one of the most rewarding aspects of the process has been dealing with inexperienced authors whose first language is often not English, so that the revised version they publish after this private criticism is a real credit to them and to the journals they publish in. The naive first draft is not exposed to public comment.
    But I do admit that as a referee in the distant past I have been disturbed to see papers appearing in rather high-ranking journals without modification after I had raised serious questions about the accuracy of the data, or where I suspected plagiarism or at least a rip-off of other’s unpublished work. However, these were very rare cases among the many hundreds of reviews that I have done.
    One good practice I note among some high ranking journals is that the editors send all reviewers copies of other reviewer’s comments (of course, anonymised). Knowing that this will happen is a kind of safeguard against grossly inappropriate reviews.

    • herr doktor bimler says:

      one of the most rewarding aspects of the process has been dealing with inexperienced authors whose first language is often not English, so that the revised version they publish after this private criticism is a real credit to them and to the journals they publish in.

      Wholehearted agreement. Despite never receiving credit (by name), a constructive reviewer can be like a collaborator.

  6. The journal asked the reviewer for an expert opinion – and they got it. Oh dear.

  7. Franck Vazquez says:

    Dear Mr. Beall,
    This is Dr. Franck Vazquez, Chief Scientific Officer of MDPI. As I indicated to Dr. Gromov (and cc to you yesterday 16.12.2015) we could not disclose the report of the second reviewer without his formal agreement. This is the second basic principle of peer-review guidelines of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)( ), also mentionned in §2.a of the recommendations of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE)( ).
    We received the reviewer’s consent to make his report public on 16.12.2015 we have shared his report with Dr. Gromov today (17.12.2015). Of note, the Editor-in-Chief of Atmosphere is a renowned expert in atmospheric sciences. He made the decision to accept this paper for publication after evaluation of both reviewers’ comments. He may be willing to comment on his decision later. Atmosphere is indexed in SCIE and has an Impact Factor since 2013.

    • It’s regrettable that the “renowned expert” editor missed the scientific flaws that the reviewer tried to report.

      You can try to hide behind your SCIE and impact factor all you want, but it won’t change the fact that MDPI is an easy-acceptance open-access publisher.

    • Franck, also, one of the documents you link to says this: “Editors are encouraged to share reviewers’ comments with co-reviewers of the same paper, so reviewers can learn from each other in the review process.”

      You need to work on your reading comprehension. Can’t MDPI do any better than this?

      • Chung-ke Chang says:

        Jeff, while I appreciate the role of your list as a service to the community, I can’t help noticing a flaw in your reasoning here. While the editors are _encouraged_ to share reviewer’s comments with co-reviewers, they still need to obtain prior permission from the reviewer. As far as I am aware, there is no stipulation in COPE or ICMJE that the editor _must_ share reviewer’s comments. In fact, many journals, including both open-access and closed-access ones, do not. The fact that Franck is at least willing to communicate is more than I can say for many other publishers.
        It would be wonderful if all journals had a framework like the EMBO Journal, where reviewers’ comments are also (often) accessible to the reader.

      • Robert Cameron says:

        No doubt the range of journals for which I review is limited, but some make it clear upfront that all reviewer’s reports (anonymized) will be sent to all the others, along with the editorial decision. It is the comments, rather than the recommendation that are forwarded. This seems fair enough to me. It could get a bit heavy in terms of time and effort for small, specialist journals with non-automated submission and processing systems.

  8. Ken Lanfear says:

    I have not read the article or the reviews, so I can’t comment on the merits of the alleged scientific flaws, but I can add the perspective of a journal editor for nine years.

    Sometimes, I decided to accept an article over the objections of one of the several reviewers. It was routine practice in thanking reviewers to explain my decision to them, particularly if there were differing recommendations. While I would never disclose a reviewer’s identity, I had no problem sharing relevant review comments. Usually this sufficed, and I got more notes back saying, “thanks for considering my view” than, “take me off your reviewer list!”

    For a few papers, one reviewer’s views simply could not be reconciled with those of the author and the other reviewers, even after a couple of rounds of reviews. The problem could be stubbornness, or it could represent a deep split in the views of the scientific community on a subject. This is where, consulting with the editing team, the editor-in-chief has to take a deep breath and decide if the paper has demonstrated sufficient merit to continue the debate in the public realm via publication. In such cases, I always invited the dissenting reviewer to submit a Discussion for publication.

    I doubt very much that the earliest papers on quantum theory, plate tectonics, or climate change would have been published if the authors of such “radical” theories had to satisfy all reviewers wedded to older theories. So, I’d hesitate to list a journal over a single unhappy reviewer, unless it represents a pattern or there is other evidence to indicate a deficient review process.

  9. Nkongolo says:

    One of my graduate students (MS) was recently mocked by a soil scientist whom he contacted for an assistantship for his PhD studies. He was mocked because he published a thoroughly reviewed paper in a Special Issue of “Climate”, an MDPI journal. However, few days ago, I read this paper below by “an authority” in my field:, published in another journal of MDPI. Is Jeffrey Beall recommendation about MDPI Journals a waste of time? Another of my student is now preparing a paper for another MDPI journal (to be published free of cost if accepted). Should I stop? What about the renowed expert??? Has he lost his reputation?


  10. KN says:

    Another gross misconduct by the British Journal of Mathematics & Computer Science published by the so-called SCIENCEDOMAIN International. A certain paper ( authored by three Nigerians is reviewed by another two Nigerians, one of which is from the same department as one of the authors. There is a clear conflict of interest! However, the journal and for that matter the publisher has seen nothing wrong with that.

  11. wkdawson says:

    Pehaps Prof Gromov might consider beginning a genuine process of _moderated_ post publication peer review at an appropriate forum and provide us with a link so that those of us who are competent in the sciences can follow the progress of the discussion that evolves.

    This would probably lead to a more respectable and better understanding of the science in question anyway and shed better light on what might have gone wrong (if in fact that is the case).

    This is rather unprofessional to have the sole opinion of one expert placed on a forum as the only opinion that is worthy of consideration. I concede the possibility that Prof Gromov is correct. However, at present, it the discussion little more than a “you said/he said” matter as no science at all is discussed. When there is a dispute about the science, the scientist in question should be granted the right to defend himself/herself.

  12. In my experience, mdpi is not a predatory publisher. I have published two papers in their journal Symmetry and guest edited a special issue of that journal. The handling of both papers and the special issue was similar to the experience I’ve had with other open access publishers, PLoS One and Hindawi. I am an associate editor for Genetica and I review 10-20 papers a year for a variety of journals, and I am in complete agreement with Ken Lanfear (above). Editors always have the authority to override a reviewer’s suggestions. The history of science is full of such examples. See the story on the Quantum Source of Space-Time in the November 16th issue of Nature for one recent example. (Mark Van Raamsdonk’s ultimately influential paper was published despite scathing criticisms by all reviewers.) Without additional information, this charge against the journal and, more importantly, the publisher is just hearsay. In any case, this is something to be worked out between the editor of the journal, any associate editors involved, the reviewers, and the author. It doesn’t deserve a public airing.

    • Excellent, so MDPI successfully used you to solicit manuscripts from your contacts, increasing their revenue. I frequently observe that people who have worked with low quality and predatory publishers often defend the publisher because they take any criticism of it personally. And you’ve also worked with Hindawi. Any others you’re not mentioning?

      The question is not whether editors have a say over the reviewers. You completely missed the point. The question is whether it’s okay to publish flawed science. But I realize you and others will defend their pay-to-publish publisher to the end of time.

    • Robert Cameron says:

      I worry about your last sentence. If cases are not heard in the open, how do we get a handle on the extent of real bad practice? Sure, there are some plain bad reviewers defending their own turf as well as fake reviews. As I said earlier, it is helpful if editors send reviewers the anonymous responses of other reviewers. If I find that my comments are ignored , it helps if I see that other reviewers have very different views. Ultimately, the decision has to rest with the editor, but it is easier to accept if I can be shown to be out of line with others. While I think Jeffrey’s response to you is a tad cynical, there is enough bad practice around that editors (perhaps unfortunately) should be able to answer charges like the one that started this string in public.

      • wkdawson says:

        I can basically agree with you here. At the very least, it is a courteous gesture to the (sincere) reviewer who sometimes spends at least a day’s work. A major fraction of that work can come at personal cost to the reviewer, as it is not typically part of the official duties. It would be better to hear from the editor why a decision was made. In particular, if it was a difficult decision because one or more reviewers had major objections, then what measure of redress did the editor take with the authors of the manuscript to address such objections?

        I don’t think these disputes should always be brought to a public forum. However, if it spills over like this into the public forum, it probably is better for the editor to step in. If nothing else, it should be clear if this was the purported “editorial discretion”, though I would not think particularly well of it.

        We are witness to no reviews and no information on the decision, yet strong assertions of foul play. These “flaws” could admittedly be true, yet no article has been placed on exhibit for review, no reviews are accessible to us, and no author has been granted a chance to speak for himself/herself. Some of us are very well educated in the sciences and should be able to draw our own conclusions on the scientific issues with some serious study of the issues. Every published work surely has some “flaws”, but if the arguments are sound, they will stand or fall on their own merit.

      • Robert Cameron says:

        Basically, a reply to WK Dawson. Thanks: I think the moral here is for editors to tell reviewers why their recommendation has been discarded. I guess what annoyed Gromov was not getting any feedback from the editors.
        In my experience, it more often happens the other way round: I recommend acceptance (maybe with modification) but I learn later that the journal has rejected it. Sometimes, I get to see other reviews. The editor of course has the final decision. This raises a different can of worms: being asked to review for a journal that has an 80%+ rejection rate. I have refused a few review requests in these cases, though I know the editors of some journals try to weed out the terminally unsuitable before asking for reviews.
        And some authors are also unscrupulous: As an associate editor I accepted a paper but spent a lot of time improving the English and the organisation of the text. I sent it back to the author for approval of my editorial changes and never heard again: Having had a free service, the paper went to different journal!
        Sorry, this is drifting a bit. What I don’t like, but others evidently do, is the idea of everything being up there in the public domain for open, post-publication review. Having a public disagreement about a properly reviewed and published paper is a different matter.

      • wkdawson says:

        A reply to Robert Cameron: Thank you also. Again, I probably largely agree with you.

        Certainly a “post-decision” explanation was clearly lacking and exacerbated by a failure to genuinely engage the aggrieved reviewer. Though it may not have assuaged Gromov’s bemusement, at least some of the heat would have been focused directly on the responsible party.

        There are times when a reviewer will never be satisfied and the editor must make the call. I cannot tell if this is what happened here, but the editor should not stonewall either. Authors can abuse the system too, forgetting that it is a privilege to publish and even so much as besmirching the good faith of the review process.

        I don’t think everything should be published. The “signal” is probably weak in most of the journals Beall complains about. However, that does not mean that it is _always_ pure noise. That is where I find I have problems.

        Is it better that an expression like “z = x + iy” from an obscure surveyor in the Netherlands should sit in a musty archive for some 80 years before some librarian stumbles on the work while moving material around and happens to know a prominent French mathematician? Most of that archive probably was just paper, but we should never forget that gems can appear in unexpected places, as in this rare example. I consider it fair to raise a flag, but work should not be dismissed (or accepted for that matter) simply based on where it was published. Such judgements should be made only after reading the paper (or at least making an attempt to read it and then perhaps finally confronting the author).

  13. From Morocco says:

    Though MDPI is removed from Beall’s List, it’s still hovering on the frontiers of predatory publishers. I can’t deny that in MDPI there is some improvement compared to what was before.
    The paradox: What if we call MDPI as a HYBRID publisher (legitimate & predatory)?

    An interesting blog by Leonid Schneider exposing double standard of Nature (NPG): Optionally transparent peer review
    Here are some cherry-picked passages:

    “Nature Communications was primarily intended as such specialized journal, with the purpose of catching all these manuscripts rejected upstairs at the Nature family. …… if a paper is rejected for not being good enough, the elite journal retains its reputation and precious impact factor, but loses the cash from the publication fees. To avoid the customer’s dollars, euros, pounds and yen from going elsewhere, publishers introduce new journals to catch up the papers rejected at their premium outlets.”
    “The article processing charges (APC) at Nature Communications are princely €3,700 per article, nothing to be sniffed at. Later on, as Nature Communications gained respectability, NPG has introduced Scientific Reports, another open access journal where papers previously rejected at Nature Communications are often published. The APC at Scientific Reports is not bad either: €1,165 per article.”

  14. Farzad says:

    It appears that the manipulation of peer-review process is not only widespread but also is evolving and taking new shapes given the technological advances made in the area of online submissions and manuscript review process.

    The latest of these unscrupulous methods is perpetrated by creating counterfeit emails and accounts that are used to get around genuine and authentic peer-review process and provide fake review reports for the manuscripts.

    I came across a retracted article in the Scientific World Journal published by Hindawi Corporation in which a previously published article was withdrawn because it was found to be accepted for publication according to false review reports submitted to the editors of the journal via bogus reviewers` accounts.

    Below I provide a link related to this act which is also accompanied by a statement from the publisher.

    It is my hope that Dr. Beall will look into this matter and shed light on how it could be possibly carried out and what publishers have been affected by this ostensibly systematic fraud.

  15. tekija says:

    The real threat of predatory journals on science integrity does not lie in the predatory journals themselves. It lies in traditional publishers increasingly copycating their practices and fees and adjusting their services toward these lower and thus less costly standards, such as publishing papers without copy editing. Wherever you publish, read very, very carefully the small print in the instructions for authors.

    For an example see e.g. the comments thread in:

  16. Paul Okolie says:

    please is British Journal of Applied Science & Technology in the predatory list? secondly is this people in that list too. i await your urgent response asap.,thanks.

    • The publisher of the British Journal of Applied Science & Technology (which is not really British at all) is included on the list. That publisher is ScienceDomain.

      The second journal you link to is published by a firm called Scholarlink Resource Centre Limited. This publisher is included on my list here. In both cases, I recommend that you not submit any papers to either journal.

  17. truther says:

    “MDPI is not currently on my list. They appealed, and the appeals board recommended I remove them, so I did.”

    Judging from the tone of your post and comments it doesn’t seem like you agree with your appeals board’s recommendation.

    If that’s the case, why did you agree to remove MDPI from your list in the first place? On the other hand, if you did agree with their recommendation, why do you continue to portray MDPI as a predatory publisher?

  18. Lazgin Barany says:

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    The journal is published by the American Research Institute for Policy Development that serves as a focal point for academicians, professionals, graduate and undergraduate students, fellows, and associates pursuing research throughout the world.
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  19. I have had a somewhat similar experience with a journal in Economics. I rejected a deeply flawed manuscript, the journal still published it and then had to nerve to ask me to review a follow-up by the same authors submitted to the same journal. That one got rejected, though.

    This was an Elsevier journal.

  20. […] non perdere, la risposta di uno scienziato a una richiesta di peer-review da parte Atmosphere, rivista di un editore open […]

  21. Hugo van den Berg says:

    I have had similar experiences as a reviewer for PLOS journals, which somehow have acquired a reputation as the “good” OA stuff.

  22. liorsham says:

    The case described above is clearly not unusual. In cases of disagreement between the authors and one of the reviewers the authors can ask for a new reviewer to replace the reviewer with which they have disagreements, and the editor may decide whether to grant the request. That is probably what happened here. The authors asked for another reviewer, and the editor granted their request. Given that no details are provided it is difficult to tell whether the editor had a good case to make that decision, but generally speaking there is nothing wrong or unethical with that decision. I don’t see anything unusual. That is a common practice that happens in the most reputable journals, and there is nothing wrong with that.

    As some commented here, if that practice was a symptom of predatory publishing then PLoS, Elsevier, and practically all other publishers would have been considered predatory.

    • Uh, I think you missed some important details in your analysis, like, for example, the fact that the one reviewer found the manuscript was scientifically flawed.

      • Lior says:

        Zimmermann who commented above clearly said that he reviewed a paper he believed was scientifically flawed, and was still accepted to an Elsevier journal. Still we cannot flag Elsevier as predatory based on that case. My point is that it is not unusual that a paper is published even if one of the reviewers believes it was flawed, while the other reviewers have a different opinion. I am not suggesting that it is a healthy practice, but my point is that it is not a symptom typical to predatory publishers.

      • liorsham says:

        Zimmermann who commented above said he reviewed a paper he believed was scientifically flawed, and the paper was still accepted to an Elsevier journal. Still, based on that case we cannot flag Elsevier as a predatory publisher.

        My point is merely that it is not unusual that a paper is accepted even if one reviewer believes it is flawed, while the other reviewers have different opinions. That practice is not a symptom of a predatory journal.

      • wkdawson says:

        Usually, if there is a legitimate issue, journals allow comments. Moreover, if it is clearly a case of fraud, retraction watch is another place to submit a complaint.

        At any rate, without a paper to evaluate and some genuine discussion about the nature of the dispute, these “flaws” and the charges of editorial malfeasance are basically gossip.

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