When you are asked to review a paper that you’ve already reviewed for another journal

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This situation can be a bit of a conundrum if you haven’t dealt with it.

Let’s say you review a manuscript for the Journal of Scientific Stuff. Ultimately, that paper ends up getting rejected by JSS. Some time goes past, and you are asked to review what appears to be the same manuscript, by the editor of Proceedings of Scientific Stuff.

What to do?

Here’s what I prefer: Before saying “yes” or “no,” just write back to the editor of PSS, and let them know that you recently reviewed an earlier version of the paper for another journal. Ask them what they’d like you to do.

As an editor, I ask the reviewer to have a look at the manuscript, and if it’s entirely the same as before, I ask them to just send me the same review they submitted before. If the manuscript is different, then I ask them to provide a new review for PSS, in which at their discretion they can mention that they’ve reviewed an earlier version.

I think some reviewers think this isn’t fair to the authors, because this is arguably “double jeopardy” — perhaps a manuscript shouldn’t be put on trial twice with the same reviewer a different journal? But I don’t see it that way, because I don’t see the editorial process as a trial. Reviewers do not have the power to reject or accept papers — reviews are there to advise the editor. The editor should be qualified to determine whether any concerns of a reviewer are substantial or legitimate enough to prevent publication in their journal, and that process can’t be improved by the subtraction of information about the manuscript.

If the editor is not aware that the manuscript is essentially getting the same review from two different journals, this might get into “double jeopardy” territory. This piece of information is important for making a decision in the appropriate context.

Authors who work their way down the tiers without taking the remarks of reviewers to heart are more likely to get stung by ignoring reviews while they are reformatting their references. In our peer review system, this might be more of a feature than a bug.

Have you had different experiences, or do you handle these situations differently?

14 thoughts on “When you are asked to review a paper that you’ve already reviewed for another journal

    • Jeremy, thanks! If I had recalled this post, I definitely would have linked to it! (and perhaps not written this one)

  1. As a reviewer and an author, I think of reviews as part of the scientific process of improving the research product; not simply an evaluation mechanism. Thus, as an author, I always incorporate reviewers suggestions (or craft a rebuttal in the text) when I next submit. As a reviewer, I put a lot of effort into constructive reviews. If the author simply reformats the references and submits elsewhere without considering my comments, I get annoyed about my wasted effort. If I end up reviewing the manuscript again, I let both the new editor and the author know about my feelings as well as my thoughts.

  2. One rare case where it may be appropriate: when you receive a manuscript and your review is basically, “right paper, wrong journal.” It has happened to me, I reviewed a paper which was basically good (suggested minor revisions) but seemed to me to be not at all fitting in topic/scope for the journal it was originally submitted to- and I stressed that point strongly (why did the editors of that journal even send it out for review in the first place?) Some months later the same paper came back to me to review… for a different, much-better-fitting journal. I believe it was published there.

  3. My concern is that telling the second editor that you’ve reviewed the paper before is the same as saying “some other journal already rejected this paper”. Couldn’t this information bias the editor? I feel that being sent a paper for review is confidential. As a reviewer, I’m not allowed to disclose that the authors submitted their paper to another journal.

    • In this case, would you prefer more specificity (like in Tom Gill’s case above) or no context at all? And what if the context were positive (if you were asked to review for a niche journal but also reviewed for, say, Nature, would the editor look more positively or negatively [or neither] if you let them know you reviewed it for Nature and it was subsequently rejected)?

  4. As a reviewer I pretty much handle it the way you describe. If the authors have made no attempt to respond to previous reviews, however, I would return it to the editor with a note that I’d be happy to look at it once those issues are dealt with. (Perhaps under those circumstances I should withdraw instead, as it tends to make me somewhat grumpy when my comments are completely ignored, so a subsequent review could be unduly biased against the paper!) That assumes that the issues cannot be rectified of course. I like your approach – I have always tried to be constructive and helpful rather than judgmental.

  5. I would feel that the value of reviewing the paper has bene greatly diminished if i were to review the same paper: is the equivalent of losing one reviewer.
    The reviewer should be replaced if she/he has previously reviewed the same paper.
    Countless of articles have been totally vindicated by new reviewers and all authors deserve equally that vindication chance!

  6. We have run into problems with aggressive gatekeepers as reviewers, who clearly just did not agree with our results (even though data is data), and essentially wanted us to conduct the study in the way they wanted, dismissing our (proven) methodology because ‘it wasn’t the way they do things’. Thus same reviewer came up twice (different journals), and gave us a copy paste of the first review even though we had made significant changes to the manuscript. Has anyone ever had an editor go against a reviewer who recommended rejection of a manuscript, especially if the reviewer was a big name in the field? Early career scientists can be kept from publication, and may be forced to rely on having a ‘big name’ as a coauthor to fight gatekeepers.

    • Speaking just for myself, as an editor, there are many occasions where I decide a reviewer’s criticism isn’t a problem, and I think it happens more often when the review is from a high falutin’ senior person. I have to be really diplomatic when writing the decision letter because I don’t them to think that I think their bad opinion is a bad opinion, but that’s just part of the job.

  7. editors teject or accept papers with the advice of reviewers.

  8. I often get papers to review that I have seen before from another journal. I look to see if they have made any changes to the version that I saw previously and if they have I am very happy to read it again. What really annoys me is when you find that the authors have submitted the exact same manuscript that was rejected and have totally ignored all the hard work that the previous reviewers have done. This seems w to me to be rather an arrogant attitude and I then tell the Editor about it.

  9. Without going back to find and cite the source, I saw a study showing a greater impact of studies rejected by top-tier and accepted in second-tier journals, speculating that it may partly be due to improved writing through the double-review process. From a longtime researcher perspective, my very first submission made it into a top-tier journal, but only after several back and forth revisions with reviewers, such patience and perseverance now long gone. With a huge increase of researchers, submissions, and backlog of accepted articles, a single round of review is more common, making it necessary and advisable to use a rejected review toward an improved submission elsewhere. Submitting the same manuscript elsewhere is wasteful, arrogant, and just wrong.

  10. I take a very similar approach to the one you have suggested. The main difference is that I do not write the Editor first about it as I don’t think there is any special reason why I shouldn’t be reviewing the manuscript again.
    What I will do, however, is to point out that I have reviewed the same manuscript before when I submit my review in my letter to the editor and, if necessary, also in the review. In fact, in the case where the authors have decided to ignore most/all of my comments (as it unfortunately happens), I can simply point that out to the authors, who can go back to the earlier review.

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