Q: Is there any higher organization to make a complaint for a malicious peer review?

Detailed Question -

If I encounter a malicious peer review, can I make a complaint to any higher organization?

1 Answer to this question

Your question is so pithy and pointed, we shall also get to the response straight away.

Unfortunately, no, there isn't any higher organization in research publishing for any kind of complaint, not just for peer reviews, but even for other matters of conflict such as coauthorship issues and plagiarism. There are several industry bodies, such as International Council of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) and Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), that provide a lot of guidance and direction, but you cannot register a dispute with them. In most cases, journals are the mediators or decision-makers, as the case may be.

So, if you have received a malicious peer review, it would be best to discuss this with the journal editor, unless of course you fear a repercussion, either to your manuscript or to yourself. If it helps, you may wish to involve a senior/supervisor, who could either guide you or correspond/communicate on your behalf.

Having said that, we would suggest proceeding in either or both of the following ways.

Firstly, take a step back or even a short break. Keep aside the review comments for a few days. When you get back to them after some days, hopefully, you are feeling less agitated. Or to put it in another way, when you are feeling less disturbed over the review, only then get back to it. :-) Perhaps by then, you may see things in a different light. Then, you can begin working on the revisions and responding to the review comments in a calmer manner. Maybe the second round might be better.

When you get back, here are a couple of articles on how to respond to peer review comments that you may find useful:

Now, if you do that and that doesn’t work, or you feel this won’t work, you may consider withdrawing the manuscript. If so, it may help to share with the editor why you are doing so: over the negative nature of the review comments. That may be a ‘complaint’ in its own way. Maybe if enough authors have shared this with the editor, they may proceed to take some action against the reviewer, even if simply not to have them review again. Unless the reviewer is well established in their field and they have no option but to go with them. Yes, these things can be quite complicated. :-/

The peer review process is overall stressful, like most of the publication process. But hopefully, you’ll be able to manage this with time. You’ll also know when to keep pursuing and when to move on. For more insights on this, we have an excellent article that you could go through: 7 Secrets to help you build academic resilience

Additionally, to show that peer review comments can be positive at times, you may check out this recent query we received on the ‘happy problem’ of responding to positive comments: How do I best respond to positive feedback from reviewers?

Hopefully, this might provide some cheer. :-)

For now, all the best for the next steps.