Saturday, August 31, 2013

August 31, 2013 update on the nasty review saga

The short update to the saga of the nasty reviewer is that another member of the editorial board reviewed our paper and it got rejected.  The fact that the paper was rejected is of minor significance compared with how the process was handled as well as the implications to my former students as well as to all my readers.  You could be next!

In my case, a rejected paper is a small delay in a long career, and its marginal impact small.  However, I have an obligation to make sure that the system remains fair, especially when my former students are being targeted, placing them at a disadvantage.

My letter below speaks for itself.  After reading it, please take the two-question survey by selecting the link below.  I spent a couple minutes designing the survey, so apologies for its unscientific design.  I am interested in getting feedback, either by a quick click of the survey page or by leaving a comment here on my Blog.  Thanks for reading and giving me all your input as a sanity check.  It is gratifying to see that a couple thousand of you have read these posts.

If you are so inclined, please pass a link to this page along to coworkers and colleagues.

Happy Labor Day weekend.  Today my students are coming over for a cookout.  We are wishing three of them the best of luck as they move on in their careers with their newly minted PhD's.  Good luck to them!

Take a web survey by clicking here.

Previous post as background, click here.

Dear Editor-in-chief,

I thank you for your time and effort on the issue of our manuscript.  Now that email communications between various authors, editors and staff have settled down, this is the time to calmly focus on the important issues that go beyond the fate of any one manuscript.  As I made clear in my first email, I wanted to decouple our paper from my broader complaint, but the large volume of chatter distracted us from this goal.

First is the issue of reviewer integrity.  It is inexcusable for a reviewer to recommend rejection of a paper on the basis of personal attacks.  This behavior is even more egregious when it is found that the same reviewer may have recommended that the paper of my former student be rejected, also without basis.  This brings up the issue of the integrity of the editorial process.

In the case of my student's paper in THE OTHER JOURNAL (I was not a coauthor), the editors immediately recognized that the review was inflammatory and technically baseless.  As a result, the editor discounted the review as unreliable and sent it to another reviewer.  In contrast, your editor concluded that our paper was wrong based on the vitriolic reviewer's assessment, totally discounting the positive review.  Even upon casual reading, a non-expert will conclude that the positive review was based on the technical contents of the paper and the other one was personal.

I am grateful that you have offered to act as the editor of our future papers that are submitted to your journal to insure that the process is fair; but, don't all authors have the right to a fair process?  The editor is responsible for upholding the integrity of the review process by mediating the discussions between the two parties, and I do not believe that this is possible unless that editor can publicly stand behind his or her decision.  Keeping confidential the identity of an editor who is deciding the fate of a manuscript, which appears to be your policy, is a bad idea.  Based on the tone of the editor's decision, many of us are under the impression that the reviewer is the editor or someone closely associated with the editor.  A more transparent system would avoid such suspicions.

Finally, the review process that followed our complaint was not objective in its execution, though I am sure that the editor who supplied the review did make an honest effort reading and understanding the work.  Discounting the nasty review, we have one positive review that recommends publication and a review from a board member, who made positive technical comments but felt that the paper was not suitable for Your Journal.  In reality, then, there are two positive reviews but a split decision of the suitability criteria.  The paper should have been sent to an independent reviewer, giving the editor two reviews to use in rendering a judgment.

Several questions remain unanswered.  First, the editors of THE OTHER JOURNAL informed me that they had contacted you to determine if the same reviewer was involved in both papers.  If so, this is irrefutable evidence that this individual has hijacked the review process for a personal vendetta and should be censored.  In the present model used by many physics journals, the reviewer's identity remains anonymous.  I believe that an individual who has repeatedly shown such extreme unethical behavior loses his or her right to anonymity so that future problems in other journals can be avoided.

I have a moral obligation to assure fairness to my past students, and I would hope to all young people who are starting new careers.  A lunatic reviewer who is out to sabotage the publications, grant proposals, and tenure packages of past students associated with a particular research group could ruin the career of a young person in a tenure track position.  While placing this reviewer on a do-not-use list is a good first step, it does not go far enough.  Reviewers should know that they must stick to the science when reviewing a paper and that there are consequences if they don't.

Secondly, we deserve closure on the actions of the first editor.  What steps have you taken to determine what failed in the editorial process and what safeguards are needed to prevent recurrence?  At minimum, I believe that the identity of the editor should be reveled and that his or her relationship with the reviewer disclosed.  In addition, we deserve an explanation from the editor of why he/she made the decision he/she made.  Assurances that all is well without disclosure perpetuates the problem.

This kind of behavior if ignored can seriously damage our field.  Unethical behavior by even a small number of individuals tarnishes our collective reputations, and being apathetic is inexcusable.  I have waited until the fate of our paper was determined to respond to your email to make it clear that I am not motivated by trying to get a paper published, but rather to contribute to the integrity of the process that I hope will benefit us all.  I was a topical editor at JOSA B for 5 years, and withstood the wrath of many angry authors and reviewers.  But in the end, I stood by my decisions not through a veil of secrecy, but through open discourse.  I would be comfortable if my editorial files were made public.  I hope that the editorial board at Your Journal can say the same in our case.

Please feel free to call upon me at any time.  I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.



The review below of the second board member is fair.  The individual clearly read the paper and knows about some to the topics.  Because the points are made clearly and logically, we would have been able to make a compelling case for publication.  Unfortunately, this review was not open for debate and was intended to close the door on this chapter of our paper.

I found this to be an interesting paper but I do not think it is suitable for Our Journal. Here is my full report.

The purpose of this paper is to compute the response to an applied electric field of electrons confined to connected one dimensional quantum wires under a wide variety of two dimensional geometries. The authors introduce the calculation in the context of nonlinear optics however it seems to me it would have been better to introduce the paper in the context of quantum chaos and periodic orbit quantisation.

The model is purely Hamiltonian. Real nonlinear optical  systems have dissipation and the approach of the paper ignores this entirely. Ignoring dissipation and dephasing assumes that the wires are in the ballistic regime in which only single particle states are excited in the conduction band.  This single particle regime ignores the possibility of Coulomb interactions resulting from multiple excitations and also phonon-electron scattering.   I assume this assumption is justified if the applied electric fields are kept weak? The authors should have made some comment on the physical applicability of the model.

Despite this idealisation the authors do obtain some highly non trivial results for optimal  second and third order susceptibilities using a novel methodology, he “star graph motif”.  I assume these optimal results must also bound what might be possible were dissipation included.

he analysis is very comprehensive, perhaps too comprehensive. One begins to loose sight of the key physical insights for example, that optimal response is usually associated with an effective three level structure. This is of course well known in nonlinear optics.  In the context of this paper I would have liked to have seen a connection made to the underlying periodic orbit quantisation: for example what are the conditions for which a three level model in quantum wires is appropriate?

There is also no attempt to link the results to possible experiments for example, the response of GaAs/AlGaAs confined wire structures to microwave driving.

In view of the rather restricted physical assumptions underpinning the model and the lack of any link to an experimental context, this paper is not suited to the Our Journal in my view. It is unlikely to be accessible to the broad readership of the physics community that Our Journal seeks to address. The authors should seek a more appropriate technical journal. Alternatively they could extract a  smaller more compact paper that addressed some key physical principles, such as links to periodic orbit quantisation or possible experiments in ballistic electronic systems with microwave driving.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The editors too like our weird paper

Shoresh forwarded this wonderful email to me this morning:
Re: AF10984

Paradox of the many-state catastrophe of fundamental limits and the three-state conjecture,

by Shoresh Shafei and Mark G. Kuzyk Dear Mr. Shafei, We are pleased to inform you that your paper has been selected by the editors of Physical Review A to be an Editors' Suggestion.

As a service to both our readers and authors, we are listing a small number of Physical Review A papers that the editors and referees find of particular interest, importance, or clarity.  These Editors' Suggestion papers are listed prominently on and marked with a special icon in the print and online Tables of Contents and in online searches.

See for a list of the most recently published Editors' Suggestions. A list of all published Editors' Suggestions can be obtained via a search of our journal content (

Congratulations and thank you for submitting your paper to Physical Review A.

Yours sincerely,
Frank Narducci
Associate Editor
Physical Review A

So it appears that not only the reviewers, but the editors also liked our paper enough to make the Editors' Suggestion list.  A nice way for me to finish the first week of classes and for Shoresh to end his days at WSU as he moves on to a postdoc position back east.

Perhaps I'll take a break to celebrate.

Friday, August 16, 2013

One of my strangest papers

Regardless of whether or not its conclusions turn out to be true, this is a very interesting thought provoking paper...

 "We are pleased to inform you that your manuscript has been accepted for publication as a Regular Article in Physical Review A."  Even after decades of research, these words never cease to brighten my spirits.

I admit that a recent paper by Shoresh Shafei and me, "The paradox of the many-state catastrophe of fundamental limits and the three-state conjecture," is a bit odd.  We submitted it to Physical Review A, the premier physics journal, with the attitude, "heck, what have we got to loose by submitting it to a journal that will most likely reject it?"  Papers that are so far off the beaten path usually don't fare well.  That's why it is so satisfying that it got accepted so enthusiastically with no resistance.

The paper was reviewed by two individuals, who both liked it.  In the words Reviewer 1, "I really enjoyed reading this manuscript, which is well written and reads well. It is the last (for the time being I guess) of a long series of papers on the subject by the main author, who knows the subject perfectly well. In spite of some length, and a tendency to repeat concepts which have been already made clear, I must say, again, that I find the manuscript agreeable." The reviewer is right that this paper might be the end of one particular line of work, at least for the time being, which seeks to understand certain fundamental issues in what has become an applied research field.  The reviewer was also right that the paper was a bit wordy.  I have developed this bad habit from a continuous misunderstanding of our work by many of my colleagues.  Perhaps this wordiness served its purpose.

The second reviewer, opened his/her review with, "Regardless of whether or not its conclusions turn out to be true, this is a very interesting thought provoking paper on fundamental limits of nonlinear susceptibilities.  It should be useful for those seeking to design optimal nonlinear optical materials.  It is well thought out and has computer-modeling evidence to support it."  Reviewer 2 captures my thoughts on the paper.  The work brings up ideas that challenge our past results and leads us into unknown territory.  This type of work is not so common these days in mainstream fields such as mine.

The reviews go on to suggest changes, which we diligently implemented, leading to the paper being accepted for publication.  A copy of the pre-edited version can be found on the physics archives.  We will post the final version on the archives when the paper appears for publication.

So what's so strange about this research?  An answer requires a short introduction.

There is a quantity called the hyperpolarizability, which quantifies the strength of interaction between light and materials.  For those of you interested in a more in-depth explanation, please check out the tutorial on

The concept of a hyperpolarizability was originally applied to molecules, but it also applies to quantum dots, multiple quantum wells, quantum wires -- pretty much anything.  Since practical devices are based on it, making it as big as possible is often the goal.  Since the hyperpolarizability is fundamental to nonlinear light-matter interactions, it can give insights into basic science.

Given the importance of the hyperpolarizability, I calculated its fundamental limits back in 1999 and published the results in Physics Review Letters.  Aside from a few early emails expressing mild interest, the work remained largely un-noticed until a critical comment was penned by Champagne and Kirtman that appeared a few years later in PRL along with my response.  The process of writing my response got me thinking again about limits, which gave me ideas that led to a series of papers that both vindicated my approach but raised additional questions.

Any quantum system is represented by a spectrum of states, each having a characteristic energy.  Based on intuition, I guessed that at the limit, only three states contribute to the hyperpolarizability.  This was later called the three-level ansatz (the German for a guess).  There were still too many parameters remaining, and if they could have arbitrary values, there would be no limit.  Next, I used the sum rules, which relate these parameters to each other, to further simplify the equations.  The sum rules are neat because they come directly from the Schrodinger Equation without any approximations; and, they must hold for any system.

The combination of sum rules and the three-level ansatz lead to a limit, which turned out not to be a single number, but a function of the number of electrons in the system, N, and the energy of the first excited state E10.  This too made lots of sense because the limit must depend on the size of the system, which is related to N and E10.  The hyperpolarizability is like an area.  It is nonsensical to ask for the limit of area, but determining the largest possible area as a function of perimeter leads to insights about geometry.

Luckily, I had just edited a book on nonlinear optical materials, which contained a tabulation of all the molecules that had been measured before the book appeared in print.  A plot of a comparison of these molecules with the limit showed that they all obeyed the theory.  So far so good.  However, the best molecules were  a factor of 30 below the limit.  Molecules are hard to make, and they come in many shapes and flavors.  This gap suggested that there may be whole classes of molecules that are yet to be discovered that could fill the void.  Alternatively, it might be that no stable molecules with the required structure exist.  This set off an explosion of work in my group that was funded by the National Science Foundation for almost a decade, and still going strong.

To make a long story short, it is possible to "make" all sorts of quantum systems as theoretical models.  We can be like gods, holding the nuclei in positions that they would normally refuse to occupy in the real world.  This allows us to see how electrons would behave in all sorts of weird configurations.  We designed "electromagnetic bottles" that coax the electrons into highly peculiar orbits by simply adjusting a couple parameters.  No matter that the parameters we need might exceed the energy capacity of the world over the next decade.  We can know the result.  We even allowed electrons to interact with each other in the most bizarre ways that would make them blush.  Quantum mechanics and electromagnetic theory can predict the behavior of nature to unprecedented accuracies of many decimal places, so we can be confident that our musings correspond to a reality, however unpractical.

These investigations found that the best systems, independent of the approach in making them, yield a hyperpolarizability of 0.70899, where the limit is 1.  In every case, when the quantum system is at this extreme, we find that it is described by only three states.  Somehow, the three-level asnatz is always obeyed.  We also did what are called Monte Carlo studies, where instead of calculating the hyperpolarizability from the Schrodinger Equation, we determine all the parameters by randomly picking them under the constraint that they obey the sum rules.  Trying millions of runs, the largest values that we got  were 1, consistent with the prediction of our limit theory, and the three-level ansatz continued to be verified when the hyperpolarizability was 1.

All quantum systems must obey the sum rules, but, these equations are obeyed by more general systems than are described by the Schrodinger Equation.  We therefore hypothesized that the values between 0.7089 and 1 were the domain of exotic Hamiltonians governing phenomena that have not yet been discovered. We are busily pursuing this idea, but more on that later.

Aside from this curious 30% gap, the theory seems to correctly predict an upper bound and the calculations verify the three-level ansatz.  This state of affairs left many questions unanswered, but things looked to be self consistent.

The three-level ansatz is the key.  It is a guess that always seems to hold, but has never been rigorously proven.  Our attempts to prove the three-level ansatz basically boiled down to showing that when an M-level model is reduced to an (M-1)-level model, the hyperpolarizability gets larger.  Since the two-level model was previously proven to be unphysical, by induction, the three-level model would remain standing as the model that yields the maximum.

Shoresh took a different approach.  He started with a four-level model and varied the parameters using sliders in a popular program called Mathematica.  Like an audiophile adjusting the levels on an equalizer, he watched how the hyperpolarizability ebbed and waned with various choices of parameters.  He demanded that the equations obey the sum rules, but did not restrict the number of states. To his surprise, he found that when the second and third states become degenerate (of the same energy), the hyperpolarizability is 1.28, breaking the limit.  He continued to add states and found a pattern that for a system with M states, if all the states save the ground state and highest-energy state are degenerate, the hyperpolarizability is bigger than 1 and gets bigger and bigger as more states are added.  For a system with an infinite number of states, the hyperpolarizability becomes infinite.  This behavior, we dubbed, the many-state catastrophe.

The many-state catastrophe has many implications.  First, it invalidates the three-level ansatz by counterexample; the larges hyperpolarizability is not given by a three-state system.  Secondly, it shows that there is no limit. However, both of these results run counter to all observations.  As we have seen over and over, there is an observed limit and three-states always dominate the response at the limit.  Granted, we have sampled less than 1,000,000,000 systems, so perhaps we have missed the cases that invalidate our theory.

Having an infinitely-degenerate system that leads to infinite hyperpolarizability is clearly unphysical.  It appears that the three-level ansatz, though quite simple, somehow acts to restrict the space of all possible quantum systems that obey the sum rules to the ones that are physical.  How it can possibly do this blows my mind.

The three-level ansatz has problems because it leads to a 30% overestimate to what is observed, but that's pretty close for a guess.  There are also other mathematical issues with the theory that I will not explain here; but nevertheless, the theory appears to be highly predicative and has been successfully applied to many studies.  For example, the theory has found a new paradigm for making better molecules. 

In a sense, we have been spending lots of time coloring, but can't tell what fraction of the page we've covered.

Given that the many-state catastrophe invalidates the three-level ansatz, but is found to always hold brings up the possibility that it is true for all real systems, but unprovable unless we can find a different general constraint that limits systems to being real ones.  Such an additional constraint would then allow us to prove the three-level ansatz as its consequence.  However, given the generality of the problem, finding such a constraint may not be possible.  We have been testing various classes of quantum systems, so in some ways, we have been coloring in the regions corresponding to real systems.  If we can somehow show that we have colored in the whole region corresponding to all possible REAL systems, and the three-level ansatz always holds, that would also constitute a proof.  In a sense, we have been spending lots of time coloring, but can't tell what fraction of the page we've covered.

Our work stirs up mathematical inconsistencies and proposes ideas that are unproven and might even be wrong; but the  implications are tantalizing.  Mathematicians most likely can point to defects that invalidate much of what we have done, while technologist may complain that we have not really made a practical advance.  The fact that nature seems to behave according to the predictions of our theory is an indication that we are at least on the right path and the fact that the theory may not be derivable by deduction from known physics is thrilling.

In summary, the many-state catastrophe leads us to propose that the three-level ansatz is the correct constraint to enforce nature's will by restricting the sum rules to the realm of the real world.  If the three-level ansatz, which has so far been observed to be correct in the real world is not provable, then it may be a fundamental principle.  The chances of this being the case is highly improbably, but the quest for trying to find the proof will undoubtedly uncover many treasures.

I agree with the reviewer that this stuff is interesting even if it is wrong.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Managing a big project

As I mentioned in a previous post, we were awarded a team grant to study smart morphing materials.  This project, once in full swing, will most likely bring together a couple dozen people, including scientists, engineers, materials scientists, mathematicians, artists, educators, and teachers.  There are several overlapping subgroups of people working on various aspects of this project, and I need to be involved in it all.

I am dedicating all day today to getting this project up and running.  First, I need to get everyone connected so that each person sees his or her individual role in the project and how each person's work fits in with the whole.  Each team member must learn the expertise available to them from other team members and outside collaborators.  A bottom up approach is the most effective, but for this to effectively come together, the initial conditions need to be set.

This morning, I sent out an email to team members that read,

Dear All,

 I am writing here to the full team in preparation for our meeting on Thursday at 10:00am PDT.  I am asking that all co-PIs add to the "Team Members and Responsibilities" file in the shared DropBox folder BY THIS FRIDAY AFTERNOON.  Being on the East coast, [Member 1], perhaps you can start the process since your day is almost over.  After you are done, please let  [Member 2] and  [Member 3] know it is their turn.  If you have not yet identified students/postdocs, you can pass on this step for now.  We can add them as they join the project.

Next is the more tricky part.  After the team member file is done, I would like everyone, at least on the technical part of the project - including student/postdocs, to invite each other to their "Circles" on Google+.  To do so, all of you will need to open a (free) Google+ account first.  I want to get this over with ASAP.  For the technical meetings, we may need to run two parallel Google Hangouts (one for video) and one for slides/documents.  If all team members have an account, this will allow us the flexibility of having at least two available accounts and computers at each site.  It also will help us to deal with computer problems.  And since we want to encourage lots of interactions between various subsets of the full team, getting us all interconnected is a good start.

I'll send out a an agenda well before the meeting.


There are lots of  individual issues that come up with each team member.  This morning, the well-known wire artist and team member Elizabeth Berrian brought up several ideas and had additional administrative questions.  The excerpt, below, from my email response shows all of the wonderful ideas that this project is generating.

Hi, Elizabeth,

No need to apologize for making contact with me.  I enjoy new ideas, perhaps to excess!  I apologize for my tardy response.  My emails tend to back up as I work on absolute deadlines, so sometimes it may take a day or two for me to respond.

Glad to hear that you are getting back to thinking about hinges and making wire structures that have the capability of motion.  You bring up several interesting points.

 Your musings remind me of how recent developments in Oragami have taken off exponentially when the constraints of the process were translated into mathematical terms.  Rather than showing its limitations, the mathematics revealed huge new realms of what was possible; and perhaps most significantly, provided a guide as to how to implement new structures, unleashing a new wave of creativity.

 Your activities and proposals give me several ideas of how we can proceed.  It may be interesting to get a mathematician or theorist to be involved in the process.  First is the question of the basic elements.  They appear to be what I would call a "knot" which can't move, a loop around a wire which can slide, etc.  In more complex structures, the way things are arranged, even without "knots" can make it rigid and immovable.  It may be interesting to try to break the problem into basic elements.  There is lots of work in topology that does exactly this, so bringing this to bare on the problem might be quite fruitful and fascinating.

 Origami works under the constraint of using a single sheet.  Similarly, our technology requires a single strand of fiber that caries light without interruption.  As such, it would be interesting to try to understand how this constraint plays out in the kinds of structures that can be made.  Optical fibers have the additional constraint that bends radii must exceed some minimum value.   Finally, there is the connection between origami and wire art.  For our purposes, we need to understand how sheets can be folded onto a wire structure so that the underlying support, when activated photo-mechanically, can make the whole structure move in interesting and useful ways.

I would like to start working with the simplest structures to develop a better intuition about the important ingredients for various functions.  It might be useful if you could make some rudimentary wire structures on a small scale that exhibit the basic elements, and then combine elements to see how they work together.  This could guide us in the types of fiber that we make in the future and the types of applications that we target.  Also, these activities could directly impact the development of educational modules that teach both simple concepts, such as coordinates in 3D space and geometry, to more sophisticated concepts such as topology.  It is thus important that we document everything as meticulously as possible.  I will try to set up several dropbox folders so that we can share this information seamlessly.
I will eventually set up individual meetings with the three of us, then larger meetings with various subsets of the full group.  I prefer Google hangout, so in addition to Skype, it would be useful if you could join Google+ (its free).  Note that my priority this week is to get the technical collaboration running, which involves coordinating about a dozen people.  This needs to be set in motion before our new semester starts next week, which will add additional burdens.  So, it may be a few more days before I get around to contacting you again.  Of course, never hesitate to contact me.  I always welcome ideas.
Looking forward to experiencing all the great things that this collaboration will generate.

Below is an example of the exquisite wire art of Elizabeth Berrian.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Update on Nasty Review

My last post focused on the nasty reviews of our manuscript and my former student's paper at another journal.  Thanks for all of your comments.  The consensus is that the two nasty reviews were written by the same person and that the editor may indeed be the same reviewer.

I sent a letter on 8/1/13 to the journal editors of our paper, which is reproduced below, with all names removed, except mine:

Dear Editors,

I am writing to you in your capacity as editors of the JOURNAL X.  This communication is not an appeal of an editorial decision, but to report what I believe to be gross misconduct of an anonymous reviewer and an endorsement of this review by what appears to be an anonymous member of the editorial board.  I request that this complaint be kept separate from our manuscript file, which we are appealing through the normal channels.

One of the reviews borders on libel, stating "...they bend and distort basic procedures in perturbation theory and throw in out-of-context concepts and other spicy statements without the slightest concern for the basics and in fact the ethics," without supporting evidence for this serious allegation. All statements by this reviewer that are specific are totally off the mark and oblivious to the actual contents of the paper. More egregious is the statement from the anonymous editor that (s)he agrees with a review filled with personal attacks, flippant comments and unfounded accusations; and, chooses to ignore the positive review that accurately describes the technical details of the work.

A review should focus on pointing out specific scientific issues in a manuscript rather than being a ranting blog that attacks the reputation of the authors; and, the editors are responsible for upholding the integrity of the process. Shame on the editors and JOURNAL X for this unprofessional behavior.

I look forward to hearing the results of your investigation of this incident and the actions that you plan to take to avoid this unacceptable outcome in the future.

Mark G. Kuzyk

As of the date of writing this post, I have not heard from the editors of this journal.  I next sent a letter to the editors of both journals on 8/5/13, shown below:

Dear Editors,

A potentially serious issue with the review process has come to my attention in which the evidence shows that a referee is rejecting papers based on the associations of the authors, independent of the quality of the science.  This does not appear to be an isolated incident, but is an intentional and systematic campaign to undermine the work of any researcher that is or has been associated with my research group.  Such inexcusable behavior undermines the integrity of the peer review process.

My former PhD student, Great Student, and I have noticed similarities between a reviewer's comments (attached) on one of his manuscripts, submitted to JOURNAL 1, and our paper (below), submitted to JOURNAL 2.  In particular, the referee(s) uses the same wording and makes similar complaints, attacking the character of the researchers without evidence.   Comments about the science are nonspecific, using colorful language and ranting rather than well reasoned arguments.  I have attached both reviews so that you can form your own conclusions.  At minimum, I would hope that the editors of both journals will share the identity of the reviewer(s) to determine if they are the same individual or related individuals, and if so, to take appropriate action to prevent recurrence.

A referee that systematically undermines the review process needs to be censured to ensure that this type of behavior does not become common practice.  I am deeply disturbed that such reviews passed through the editorial process.  I await the results of your investigation.

Note that I sent a letter to the editors of the JOURNAL 2 on Friday before Dr. Great Student alerted me to the review of his JOURNAL 1 paper.

Mark G. Kuzyk

On 8/9/13, I got a letter from the editors of the journal that is considering the paper of my former student and junior colleague.

Dear Dr. Kuzyk,

I am writing in response to your recent email regarding the referee report on XXXXXXX "Great Paper" by Great Student et al.

Let me first thank you for bringing this issue to my attention. Of course you know, the referee process can only really function if editors, authors and referees all act professionally and in good faith. A breakdown of that professionalism is of course very disturbing and warrants our immediate attention.

I feel strongly that an author has the right to see all reports on his/her manuscript. Regardless of what an editor might think of a report, it is still information that plays into the editor's decision on a manuscript, whether consciously or subconsciously. Therefore, I do feel very strongly that no report should be suppressed 100%, although I have edited reports in the past to remove inflammatory statements. In this particular case, there was no way to edit the
report. However, the quasi-form letter I sent that accompanied the referee report did indicate that a new referee would be consulted. As you hopefully appreciate, editors are not "vote counters" but try to carefully weigh all evidence before rendering judgment on a manuscript and will often essentially discount a report (as I am willing to say I will in this case).

With regards to this particular report, I am in agreement with you that the tone of the reports are similar, as well as the language. I have written an email to be sent to the editors of the OTHER JOURNAL, sharing the referee report on XXXXX and your recent email, and requesting the name of that referee. Please rest assured that I will investigate this situation and, if I suspect unethical behavior, I will pass this up to the appropriate people within ORGANIZATION XXX.

Again, thank you for bringing this unpleasant situation to my attention.

Reasonable Editor

I responded that same day, as reproduced below:

Dear Dr. Editor,
I fully agree with your analysis and the course of action that you are taking.  This gives me complete confidence that  JOURNAL 1 will continue to be a journal that I can trust will treat all manuscripts fairly and make decisions based on the science.

I thank you for taking quick action in this matter and look forward to its resolution.

Mark G. Kuzyk

I believe that the silence of the of the journal that rejected our paper based on the nasty reviewer speaks volumes about that organization.  Rather than immediately acknowledging that there is a problem and to let us know that they are investigating the procedure that lead to this unacceptable outcome, they appear to be stalling while deciding how to save face.  I hope that I am wrong.

As usual, I welcome your opinions.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Libelous Reviewer's Report?

I am writing to get your opinion about a nasty review of a recent paper bordering on what I believe to be libel.  I am hoping that people will leave their thoughts here on my Blog page so that your comments will be more generally available to anyone on the internet rather than just my friends on Facebook.

After getting this nasty review, I recalled one of my former students complaining about a nasty review he got a couple months back on a paper submitted to a different journal.  So, I contacted him and asked him to send me a copy of the report.  He gave me permission to reproduce his report here, along with the report to our recent paper.  Note that I have deleted all references to the identity of the authors and journals involved.

Here are my questions

1.  Do you think that the nasty report crosses the line?

2.  Do you think that this reviewer is intentionally trying to sabotage our work and the work of my past students?

3.  Do you think that both nasty reviews are by the same reviewer?

4.  What course of action should be taken in this case, and in similar cases that come up in the future?

5.  Was the editor of our paper within reason to conclude that our paper is "wrong"?

Before proceeding, I'd like to make a couple of comments.  Most of the nasty reviewer's comments, though appearing specific, have nothing to do with the contents of our paper.  For example, nowhere in our paper do we imply that the perturbation changes anything; we are not discussing molecules but rather quantum wires; and our paper has nothing to do with ionization.  Interesting that all the hyperbole mentions no specific examples of how or where we "exaggerate", "misquote", etc. This whole thing is so bizarre!  The nasty review reads almost like the Sokal Hoax.

I look forward to getting your comments.



The authors in the present ms concoct a mixture of the most diverse ingredients to purportedly derive the “ultimate behavior and limits” of the dipolar hyperpolarizabilities.  In this process they bend and distort basic procedures in perturbation theory and throw in out-of-context concepts and other spicy statements without the slightest concern for the basics and in fact the ethics. The authors seem completely unaware of basic tenets  of perturbation theory and its range of validity (for instance Kato’s theorems) which in particular implies that the external perturbation (the dipole interaction in the present case) does not  irreversibly and significantly modify the molecular potential, structure and  spectrum. The graph approach , they freely borrow from the existing literature in a cavalier manner,  is an attempt  to incorporate topological features in  the molecular potential and structure and  has been tentatively used for the description of the spectrum in particular in the dissociation or ionization limit of the molecules where purportedly the spectrum should exhibit chaotic behavior.  In this regime the hyper-polarizability concept however makes no sense and definitely not in the dipolar approximation which in the non-resonant regime is only set up to describe induced reversible  modifications.  The reference list, quite long, besides a couple of general references and some few ones  related to the graph approach in quantum chemistry which are blatantly misquoted and misused,  exclusively contains  references to members of a  closely knitted and self serving group where the present authors belong too.

The content of the present ms is of doubtful validity contains exaggerated and adjustable assumptions and at the very end the drawn conclusions are useless for any purpose in the search of nonlinear optical materials and effects. I do not recommend its acceptance for publication in the xxxxxxxx.

NICE REVIEW (Reviewer 2)

In this paper, the authors has presented a detailed investigation of the nonlinear optical properties of quantum graphs using the star vertex topology.  They made a complete and versatile review of quantum graphs, including the computation of the hyperpolarizability tensors for graphs of different geometries, such as stars and barbell, and described the solution for the eigenstate and energy spectrum of the graphs. Then the authors introduce a new method of using motifs, the element graphs that constructs the composite graphs, to solve quantum graph problems. By using this method, star, lollipop and bull could be easily and nicely solved. A set of rules for calculating general graphs have also been provided. Furthermore, the authors discussed the intrinsic limits and scaling properties of different graphs, which are determined by the characteristics of the dominating motifs. They showed that the confinement equations for those motifs provides information of the tunability of the level spacing, which indicates great intrinsic nonlinearities. In addition, the authors provided a detailed analysis of the scaling properties of the graph tensors when they are approaching the optimum geometries for maximum response. Such quantum graph model would be useful for multiple electron dynamics.

In summary, this manuscript is well-organized, clearly-explained, and scientifically rigorous. It contains novel and original ideas that would bring significant influence in the physical society. Therefore, I believe this manuscript merit publication in xxxxxxxxx.


I recommend a rejection. The positive report of reviewer 2 is highly
superficial and could have been written without reading the paper. The
criticism of reviewer 1 is substantial and shows that this work is wrong.


The authors supposedly develop a model for off resonant microscopic
cascading of scalar polarizabilities using a self-consistent field
approach and apply it to purportedly extract their behavior in
mesoscopic thin films and guest-host molecular systems.

The work is of very poor quality and content. The authors, under the
cover of fancy semantics concoct a very disappointing presentation
void of any originality and substance, and formulate vague conclusions
with an utterly complicated and useless formalism.

For the purpose they reprocess self-indulged references of a close
knitted group they belong.

To give some apparent respectability and credence to their approach
the authors included here and there some basic references (refs 11,
21-25) which however are unrelated to the issues supposedly addressed
in the ms and in fact are misquoted and mistreated as the present work
transpires a profound confusion regarding local field corrections and
depolarization field, a disturbing ignorance of cage and boundary
effects to say nothing about the supposed self consistency of their
approach and the inclusion of the cascading processes. Indeed the
authors distort and disregard in a very cavalier manner more
appropriate references which is useless to point out here and in fact
would’t be of any service to their authors.

The discussion is also ill constructed with unsubstantiated general
statements here and there and “narrow” remarks laid side by side
without serving any particular purpose and connection other than
filling the vacuity of the present work.

On the basis of the above remarks I do not recommend the acceptance of
the present ms for publication in the xxxxxxxx.