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.


  1. Without understanding the science at issue, it is clear that the editor was predisposed to the nasty reviewer's perspective because s/he completely misrepresents the nature and conclusions of the two reviewers. It is the second, not the first, who references specifics of the paper. And it is the first, not the second, that makes sweeping judgments without any apparent basis. The two nasty reviews bear sufficient similarity in tone, language and content to suggest that if they are not the same reviewer, the two share extremely close (e.g., mentor/student) positions and views. The nasty reviews seem highly defensive, and I'm inclined to ask whose toes you are stepping on? Identify that "closely knitted and self-serving group" and you will have identified your reviewer(s), and I suspect it is in a field closely allied with that of the editor. Advice: Tackle it head on. Call the editor's bluff by naming the nasty reviewer (if you can) and by asking for specific scientific flaws that justify the rejection and the claim that your work is "wrong." I would NOT let that stand.

    1. I agree. Occasionally, an editor will review a paper. I would not be surprised if the editor and the reviewer are one and the same. The weird thing is that there is no name associated with the editor. The reviews were sent from the editorial offices without identifying the editor.

      I must have stepped on some toes. I'm still trying to figure out who it could be.

      I have already contacted the head editor and the publisher with a request for an investigation.

  2. The two bad reviews are quite similar, even using the same words, in the same way at times.
    The editor could be the same person as the bad reviewer, and based on the two reviews, it seems like everything the editor wrote is incorrect. There is no way that reviewer 2 could have written the review without reading the paper.
    I would ask if there is a different journal that you could publish in, but as this problem has come up with two different journals, that might not be a long term solution.

    1. I am not so much concerned about getting the paper published because I know it's good work and that eventually things will work out. At this point, I find it unconscionable that anyone would provide a rant without content as a review and that the paper would be rejected based on a rant. If this kind of thing is systemic, then we (meaning all of us) have a problem.

  3. Agreed with both of the above. It's an emotionally charged personal attack and I see a few fallacies in the conclusions reviewer #1 is drawing, including ad-hominem with sayings such as your "closely knitted self-serving group"

    Mostly the overly flowery vernacular and holier-than-thou attitude was was irked me the most about it.

    I would say it is out of line, and I would say its a reasonable conclusion that this reviewer has singled out your self-indulged close knitted group.

  4. not a physicist, so no clue what this is about. but the two reviews are very likely to be from the same person. the use of several identical low-frequency words is quite striking (e.g. 'cavalier', 'concoct', 'purportedly'). also, the accusation of excessive self citation is presented in very similar ways ('closely knitted group'). and there are other elements of style, like the use of the 'ms' abbreviation. same person, same sh*t.

    complaining with the journal seems to be a good idea - getting to know the identity of the editor might be a first step to at least gain some knowledge about what on earth is going on. good luck!

  5. I am curious how the editors will deal with this issue. I have sent both journals the evidence, and am sitting back to see how it all plays out.

  6. I think that I am in a position as to answer, at least partially question 4. Being an editor for PLoS ONE and Frontiers in Physiology, two well-ranked Open Access journals I may comment on the editorial policies followed there. In the case of the PLoS journals, all editorial correspondence (including every review of every paper) is archived in an electronic database linked to the corresponding file and is, indeed subject to "peer-review" by independent editors in any case of controversy.

    The case of Journals in the Frontiers group (now associated with NPG) is, in my opinion, even closer to the spirit of Open Science that may be a solution to the "Evil reviewer" conundrum.

    The name and adscription of EVERY reviewer of a paper appear printed in the FIRST PAGE of the article, both in the online version and on the PDF. Also all the editorial correspondence is "blogged" to all participants (authors, reviewers, editors) and subject to either publication or inspection by the authors.

    There are several advantages with this approach:

    1. People is discouraged from "evil-reviews" because they are not veiled in annonimity. Everybody would know who they are... thus affecting their credibility, and in the last instance their trustability as scholars.

    2. People is also discouraged from "superficial reviewing" (even in the positive), after all nobody wants his/her name associated with a low quality paper.

    3. Best of all, knowing who reviewed your paper (arguably, someone working in a close area of research to yours, that actually was able to critically comment on your ideas/findings/hypotheses and that, at the very least READ your work very carefully) opens the way for a number of collaboration oportunities. I mean, your reviewers may become your natural partners in research.

    My belief is that the Open Science/Open Access / Open Data paradigms will help to make scientific communication a more rewarding endeavor.


    Enrique Hernandez-Lemus, Ph.D.
    Computational Genomics
    National Institute of Genomic Medicine

    1. Thanks for the very thoughtful comments. There are many advantages to the system that you describe, including building collaborations.

      As in any system, there are downsides. There may be a tendency for young people to write nicer reviews of more senior researcher's papers. Also, when the reviewer's names are known, they will most certainly provide a better review. As a result, it will take longer to review a paper, therefore researchers will spend less time writing papers, so everyone wins!

      Thanks again for your input.