Citing the Referees at the Journal that Rejected You


You may not like it when your article is rejected from a journal, but at least sometimes you get something good out of it: criticism. 

[John Richardson, self-portraits]

And so you figure out which problems or objections the referees raised are good ones, and you decide on the extent to which it makes sense to alter your manuscript, and you revise it and send it on to the next journal. Because of the improvements or luck or both, your paper is accepted. What do you owe the referees from the first journal?

I received an email about this which the author asked me to share for consideration here:

There should be a disciplinary norm that comments from journals that rejected your paper must be acknowledged if they contribute to the final published version. 

If you referee a lot, then this has happened to you: you read a submission for Journal One. You make a lot of comments, some encouragements, some objections, and eventually you recommend rejection.

Then you read the paper a year later in Journal Two, and you see that your comments made a material, sometimes decisive, difference to the new version. But they are not acknowledged. 

Publishing in Journal Y, the author thanks “the editors of Journal Two and their anonymous referees for helpful comments that saved me from many errors.”  If they are especially scrupulous then they may even have footnotes on particular points, saying e.g. “I was led to see this point by the helpful comments of the referee at Journal Two.”

But no one, so far as I have ever seen, ever writes “I was led to see this point by the helpful comments of the referee at Journal One, which rejected my paper.”

This is mighty galling for the author of those comments at Journal One. And it constitutes a flagrant violation of academic integrity.  There is no principle that can justify giving anonymous acknowledgement for intellectual assistance to the referees at the paper that published you, while withholding it from the referees at the paper that rejected you. 

I have sometimes seen my objections quoted near verbatim in the revised and published version, introduced by such evasions as, “Now someone might object….” This is dishonest. This author is making it look as though they themselves had thought up the objection as well as the answer to it. They would never do this if the objection had been put to them by a colleague, a commentator, or an audience-member. They do not even do it when the objection is put to them by an anonymous referee for Journal Two. But when the objection comes from Journal One, they pretend that it is their own.

This should stop. The new norm should be that you acknowledge the help of all referees, at all of the journals to which you have sent your paper, if their help was of the sort that you would acknowledge from the journal that published it. (So, general acknowledgements for general help, specific acknowledgements for specific help). 

Will this reveal that your paper was rejected by Journal One? Yes, it will. But there is no “embarrassment” clause in the academic integrity code. You owe it to yourself, as a person of honor, to claim credit for all and only those contributions that you yourself made. And you owe it to referees everywhere to give them credit for their contributions to your paper. Even if only anonymous credit. Even if they rejected your paper.

Readers?

guest
56 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jon Light
Jon Light
11 months ago

Why not: “I’d like to thank anonymous referees for…”, without specifying the journals? If that note in published in Journal 2, it’d still—accurately if not explicitly—acknowledge reviewer*s* who helped. This seems more parsimonious than line-iteming individual journals’ reviewers separately, right?Report

LeftyGrad
LeftyGrad
11 months ago

Journal refereeing is exploitative and we all know it. Referee’s should get more for their work.

In an ideal world, junior scholars should feel like they can cite journal refs like this. But I think it is deeply understandable, given the outrageous publication demands on junior scholars and the difficulty meeting those demands, that they do not. It might feel, correctly or not, like citing journal one refs could diminish publication chances. We would all like to believe that papers stand and fall entirely on their merits but we all know this is not true.

Until jr scholars aren’t expected to publish like factories, aim your ire at the academic publishers that exploit your referee labor and the unjust norms of publishing for jr philosophers. Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  LeftyGrad
11 months ago

This seems like the sort of thing that can easily be addressed in the same way as acknowledging ideas that came from personal communication. At the time of submission, you write “I’d like to thank [redacted for review] for this suggestion”, and then if the paper is accepted, you fix this to “I’d like to thank Jane Schmane for this suggestion” or “I’d like to thank an anonymous referee at Hotshot Journal for this suggestion”.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  LeftyGrad
11 months ago

Speaking personally, when I referee a paper I already know what my recommendation is going to be before I get to the acknowledgements section.Report

David Hyder
David Hyder
Reply to  David Wallace
11 months ago

Thanks for sharing.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  LeftyGrad
11 months ago

(With apologies for the double post)

On a slightly more serious level, I want to resist the idea that refereeing is inherently exploitative (which isn’t say there aren’t problems with it, or that it doesn’t interact with other corners of academia that are exploitative). I get paid perfectly well to referee, thanks, because I do it in working hours, on my employer’s dime. Refereeing papers is one of the things that research academics are paid to do, along with (e.g.) assessing grant applications, writing letters of reference, and assessing tenure dossiers. It’s not particularly good for one’s professional profile or CV, and refusal to do it doesn’t have particular negative effects, so that people mostly do it out of a sense of personal obligation, but that’s a different problem.Report

Will Behun
Will Behun
11 months ago

There are lots of contributions to scholarship that go unacknowledged. I know that I’ve read published articles that are the outgrowth of conference papers I’ve attended, and sometimes I see the concerns from questions I’ve raised (I am that annoying attendee who ALWAYS has a question) reflected in the final product. I find this rewarding. I sometimes boast about it to colleagues. I don’t feel like I’m being slighted by not being mentioned.

Of course, if someone makes a really substantive contribution they deserve credit for it, but I’m not sure where the line should be drawn for what constitutes a contribution that is sufficiently substantive. Report

Daniel Weltman
11 months ago

I guarantee I have seen at least one article cite reviewers from more than one journal. It was just in the generic acknowledgements footnote, something like “I thank X, Y, Z, and anonymous reviewers from Ethics [not the journal it was published in] and Philosophy and Public Affairs [the journal it was published in].” (I cannot even remotely recall which article or articles, though.) It’s uncommon to see such citations but I was hoping that these citations are the norm and that it’s just rare for people to get good feedback from anonymous reviewers that they then incorporate into a paper which eventually gets published elsewhere.

If the norm is in fact not to acknowledge reviewers who are not from the journal of publication then I agree with the person who originally wrote in. This is a bad norm. One ought to acknowledge everyone! This strikes me as so clearly right that I assumed it was already the norm! What would be the argument against doing this?Report

Kris McDaniel
Kris McDaniel
11 months ago

I have *always* credited anon. referees for helpful suggestions etc., even when those referees reffed it for a journal other than the one it was finally published in. I agree that this is the right thing to do, and to not do it is to be shamefully miserly with credit.

But I have never indicated what journal the referees reffed the paper for, and I can’t see any reason why there is even the slightest obligation to do this, or why it is extra praiseworthy to do this in addition. “I thank an anonymous referee for suggesting this argument” is warranted when true but “I thank an anonymous referee who refereed this paper for Not Journal Echh” is never required or even particularly praiseworthy, as far as I can tell.

Report

TT
TT
Reply to  Kris McDaniel
11 months ago

One potential reason to name the journal: it makes the referee in question more likely to know that you’re thanking *them*. After all, we don’t simply write “thanks to everyone who helped”. Part of the point of thanking is to give credit to those who helped. Another part is simply to thank them in a way that they know they’re being thanked. Naming the journal it was rejected at doesn’t do the former, but it does do the latter.Report

A. Paul O'Gee
A. Paul O'Gee
Reply to  TT
11 months ago

Suppose that I want to make sure that my referee at Analysis who rejected my paper knows that they are thanked in the published version of the paper in Thought. So I put the acknowledgement “thanks to the anonymous referee at Analysis” or whatever into the paper before it is published in Thought.

The only way my Analysis referee knows that I am thinking him or her is if (i) the referee read *again* a paper that they already refereed after it was published in a different journal; (ii) read the paper’s acknowledgements; and (iii) was able to determine that *they* were the *particular referee from Analysis* that was thanked in the paper

I feel like that doesn’t happen a lot. This is why it seems supererogatory to use such acknowledgements.
Report

TT
TT
Reply to  A. Paul O'Gee
11 months ago

1) It happens (I’ve looked, for instance).
2) Kris was denying it was even supererogatoryReport

A Paul O'Gee
A Paul O'Gee
Reply to  TT
11 months ago

1) I grant that it does happen happen. I said it does not seem to happen *a lot*.
2) I was not trying to justify Kris’s claim. I was trying to give a few reasons to justify my own (weaker). Report

TT
TT
Reply to  A Paul O'Gee
11 months ago

1) If it does happen, it seems to make my original claim true then: ” it makes the referee in question more likely to know that you’re thanking *them*.”
2) OKReport

PK
PK
Reply to  TT
11 months ago

One way to let the referee know you’re thanking *them* is to ask the staff at the rejecting journal to pass along a note of thanks to Reviewer N (saying this was very helpful, I’m thankful for their being constructive despite the number of flaws they spotted, etc.). I’ve done that when I’ve received particularly helpful comments. For sure, this doesn’t amount to public credit, but I like to think it may have been heartwarming.

Of course, it’s not public credit, but like others have pointed out, public credit “to anonymous referees” may well suffice for that aim.Report

Tyler Hildebrand
11 months ago

I’ve done the very thing the author of the email suggests (short of explicitly saying that the journal in question rejected my paper, since I’m pretty sure that readers will make that inference on their own). It’s a nice way to thank a referee who has provided feedback that helped to reshape or significantly improve the paper.

That said, I’ve never been bothered when my feedback has gone unacknowledged in these sorts of circumstances. Report

OP Author
OP Author
11 months ago

“It might feel, correctly or not, like citing journal one refs could diminish publication chances.”

If you are worried about diminishing the chance of your paper getting accepted, then the solution is easy: all of your acknowledgements in a submission should be anonymized in any case, to be replaced with real names only on acceptance and publication.

In your submissions, anonymizing the acknowledgements is an important part of making your submission fully blind — if you acknowledge all of your friends, then referees are more likely to figure out who you are. So it’s just a generally good habit. Plus, it avoids name-dropping as a means of attempting to get published.Report

OP Author
OP Author
Reply to  OP Author
11 months ago

Or what Kenny said.Report

Marcus Arvan
11 months ago

I wholeheartedly agree with the OP that this should be a disciplinary norm, as a matter of intellectual integrity. I am less convinced that few people recognize or conform to the norm. Like Kris McDaniel and some other commenters here, I have often implicitly thanked reviewers from journals that rejected my paper either in the acknowledgements section or in footnotes where I discuss an issue they raised. I just haven’t said what journal the reviewer was from, or that the journal rejected the paper.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Marcus Arvan
11 months ago

wow, we’re all sure bored during quarantine aren’t weReport

grad student
grad student
Reply to  grad student
11 months ago

sorry, this wasn’t intended to single out your comment! I was on my phone and hit the wrong button.Report

E
E
11 months ago

“But no one, so far as I have ever seen, ever writes “I was led to see this point by the helpful comments of the referee at Journal One, which rejected my paper.”

Sure, but when a paper of mine is rejected at Journal 1 and then accepted at Journal 2, I now make a point of singling out and dunking on those anonymous refs from Journal 1 who provided unjustifiably cruel feedback. Report

Chris Tucker
11 months ago

Like others, I prefer the acknowledgement to the anonymous referees where it simply isn’t stipulated what journal(s) the referees are from. If you list by name every journal that provided comments on your paper, you are essentially listing the number of times the paper has been rejected (without comments). This could prejudice people’s reading of your paper, especially if you are a junior scholar who has little track record. And i don’t see that the public scholarly community has a right to know how many times a paper received comments before getting rejected.

Even if the “Someone might object…” language is always intended to take responsibility for thinking of the objection, it may be truthful, even if the author included the discussion only to satisfy a given referee. Sometimes referees raise objections that the author has already considered. On a rare occasion, it is already considered in the paper being refereed, the referee just missed it, and the author just changes the placement or emphasis of the anticipated objection. In my case, referees raise objections to my papers that I’ve already thought of and may even have a well developed response to (in one case had an entire paper that addressed it). I don’t always know which particular points I need to raise in a paper or which particular worries will be most salient in the minds of referees, and inevitably stuff gets left out. A referee’s objection can change what I put in the paper or how i frame the paper without informing me of a worry I hadn’t already thought of.

Furthermore, I doubt that language is always intended to be read as a note to the effect that “I came up with this possible objection all on my own!” The best single authored papers are usually the product of a social effort (comments from friends, referees, conference attendees, off hand discussions with colleagues, etc.), and the ways in which other people contribute to the paper are many, varied, and in many cases hard to identify exactly what is “solely” the work of the author and what is partly due to his/her interactions with others. It takes a village to write a really good single authored paper. We should all try hard to list everyone who made a noticeable contribution to the paper, and we should acknowledge those who have tried hard to improve the paper but didn’t as though they did improve it. But we should also try not to get our feelings hurt when our own contributions aren’t acknowledged to the degree we think is fair. Chances are, you have failed to acknowledge someone else’s help enough and you didn’t even recognize it. The person may have even noticed the oversight but chose not to raise the issue with you. We generally are more aware of how others fail us than how we fail others.Report

JTD
JTD
Reply to  Chris Tucker
11 months ago

Yes, authors should definitely acknowledge all substantial contributions to their paper, no matter where they come from. However, Reviewers should not arrogantly assume that just because they raised a point in their report which was address in a latter version of the paper that they deserve intellectual credit for that point. It is actually very common for the author to have already thought of that point (and possibly a reply) or to have already heard that point from several other people but decided for some reason not to include it in the original version of the paper. In circumstances where multiple people, including perhaps the author, have independently thought of the objection, acknowledgement of anyone is unnecessary. “Some might object that…” is perfectly fine.

In fact, I would say that commentators (including referees) who over-estimate their intellectual contribution to a paper and then go around claiming credit that they don’t really deserve are just as common as, and just as annoying as authors who do not properly acknowledge the intellectual contributions of others to their work. Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Chris Tucker
11 months ago

Thanks Chris, this is a better-put version of what I was trying to say below.Report

APC
APC
11 months ago

Hofweber’s “Innocent Statements and Their Metaphysically Loaded Counterparts” contains what must be one of the best acknowledgements to an anonymous referee for another journal: “I would also like to acknowledge a number of helpful comments from one of the several referees for the journal *Mind*, where this paper was under review for a record-breaking three years.”Report

Torgeir Fjeld
11 months ago

Today many peer-reviewed journals experiment with an open review process, allowing the author to know who has reviewed their work. The author can then write “Prof X [who anonymously submitted the questions above] objected that…” etc. This approach has the additional upside that reviewers are more inclined to kindness in their commentary. To be fair our journal, *Inscriptions* (https://inscriptions.tankebanen.no/), still practices double-blind peer review. Report

David Enoch
David Enoch
11 months ago

I included some such acknowledgment in my book – thanking both the referees in journals where papers were accepted, and also helpful referees that recommended rejection.
Once, though – very early on – I tried to do more. One of my very first papers was rejected, and the (very strongly critical) comments of one of the referees were very helpful for revising. Then the paper was accepted by another journal. I wrote to the office of the first journal, asking them to see if the referee is willing to identify themselves so that I can thank them properly. This ended up very badly: They let me know her name, but when I wrote to her it turned up they hadn’t asked her whether it was ok to give me her name, etc. So I’ve never done it again…Report

Jen
Jen
11 months ago

In my experience, such acknowledgments should be more like: Thanks to an anonymous referee at JOURNAL X whose confusions, misunderstandings, or incompetence resulted in this “objection.”Report

Peter
11 months ago

I may need to apologize in advance for my comment, but I can hardly see the point of thanking anonymous referees at all. Since the expression of gratitude is anonymous, it is unlikely to have any positive impact on the reputation of the referee; and since the referee cannot be sure that they are the person being thanked – it may have been another referee who made the same point more clearly or helpfully or what have you who is being thanked after all – it shouldn’t yield any personal satisfaction. Perhaps it is a requirement of virtue, but given that it is unlikely to have any genuine impact on the referee her- or himself, it is not clear – to me at least – why virtue in this context would require the expression of gratitude rather than simply gratitude itself. So maybe the point is to signal to others that one is virtuous …
Report

Peter
Reply to  Peter
11 months ago

… and don’t get me started on the vice – yes I said it – of searching through papers you refereed to see whether you’ve been anonymously thanked. And yes, grad student, apparently I am quite bored.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Peter
11 months ago

JJ Rousseau: ‘gratitude is a duty to be paid, but not a right to be exacted’Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Peter
11 months ago

I think it’s just a duty of scholarship: if there’s an idea in my paper that didn’t originate with me, I have an intellectual obligation to say where it did originate,

(Though I think “from an anonymous referee” is entirely sufficient to discharge this obligation: it would never have occurred to me to say which journal(s) they were refereeing for,)Report

Peter
Peter
Reply to  David Wallace
11 months ago

I agree with David Wallace that an author has a duty of scholarship to cite an anonymous referee when s/he is the source of an idea that didn’t originate with the author. But I don’t think this duty requires an author to thank everyone s/he cites. Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Peter
11 months ago

Absolutely. Citation is what’s academically obligatory. Offering thanks is another, and much more personal, matter. Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  David Wallace
11 months ago

Well, this sort of situation happens to me somewhat often, and I guess I feel hypothetically irked that referees might feel irked about not being thanked or cited in such situations: the idea *didn’t* originate with the referee. It’s a relatively obvious objection that I had decided wasn’t worth including in the paper–often something I thought the inclusion of which would make the paper worse. But at the request of the referee I’m now including it. (Either because it’s an R&R, or because the comments I got in the course of a rejection made me realize that referees would get hung up on the issue.) The honest thing for me to say would be, “Thank you to an anonymous referee for making me realize that I should kill the flow of the paper since some people are too obtuse to see the response to this objection for themselves.” But that seems unkind, and probably professionally inappropriate, and certainly professionally unwise. So I say nothing at all. Is there a better option?Report

Shane Glackin
Shane Glackin
Reply to  JDRox
11 months ago

I usually take it that that’s the implicature of such thanks anyway.Report

Avalonian
Avalonian
Reply to  Peter
11 months ago

Amazed that I had to scroll this far to find Peter’s comment. I can’t imagine feeling *better* if I found that someone had used my idea in their paper but had appended “Thanks reviewer one at a previous journal!” to the paper. The idea is gone. I still am not getting credit for it, in any remotely reasonable sense of the word “credit”. Nor have I been “thanked” in any ordinary sense of that term, for reasons others have enumerated. What is the point? It cannot be to prevent people from stealing ideas, since ex hypothesi that is already happening. What justifies this alleged duty of scholarship? Is it just supposed to be self-evident?Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Avalonian
11 months ago

Your idea isn’t ‘stolen’ if someone else discusses it and acknowledges where it came from.Report

Julia
Julia
Reply to  Peter
11 months ago

I agree with David Wallace and the second Peter. Think of it this way: when we acknowledge owing an idea to a long-dead author (e.g. Aristotle), we clearly don’t do it to make that author feel better. Instead, we do it because it would be intellectually dishonest to suggest that we came up with the idea ourselves. Exactly the same is true for acknowledging the help of an anonymous referee. Report

Anca Gheaus
11 months ago

I did exactly that, in a footnote (or was it only part of a footnote?), in an article I published about a decade ago. During the copy-editing that (part of the) footnote disappeared. I was too intimidated to fight this battle.Report

Amy Reed-Sandoval
Amy Reed-Sandoval
11 months ago

In the past, I have reached out to the editor at Journal One to ask if their referees would like to “reveal” their identities and be referenced by name in my article published in Journal Two. This approach is not without it’s problems, of course. It’s just something that I previously tried when confronted with this challenge.Report

harvardpro
harvardpro
11 months ago

I always just include this sentence. “I’d like to thank Timothy Williamson, Judith Jarvis Thompson, John McDowell, Saul Kripke and Martha Nussbaum for extensive written feedback on multiple versions of this manuscript, which I believe have improved it considerably.”Report

r
r
Reply to  harvardpro
11 months ago

Less tongue-in-cheek, this comment leads me to wonder whether a change in professional norms toward less acknowledgements might be better than the reverse. In my experience, no one has ever used acknowledgements for their ostensible purpose of credit allocation. I have been acknowledged, but it isn’t on my CV and I doubt anyone cares. Similarly, I have never seen anyone react to a paper’s acknowledgements by downgrading their assessment of the author’s personal contribution (‘oh, I bet so-and-so really had the ideas’).

Rather, acknowledgements usually strike me as humblebrag central for how many conferences one has spoken at and the circles of famous friends in which one swims. That may be an overly jaundiced view. But if no one actually makes credit adjustments, as I suspect, then what other point is there? Would anything be lost by moving to a disciplinary norm where it’s just assumed that papers are developed through conversation with interlocutors and there’s no need for specific acknowledgements?Report

Dom
Dom
11 months ago

In these situations I include a footnote with the lyrics from Ariana Grande’s hit song about peer review, ‘thank u, next’ —

Thought I’d end up with Nous
But he wasn’t a match
Wrote some songs about Ethics
Now I listen and laugh
Even almost got married
And for PPR, I’m so thankful
Wish I could say, “Thank you” to Mind
‘Cause he was an angel

One taught me love
One taught me patience
And one taught me pain
Now, I’m so amazing
Say I’ve loved and I’ve lost
But that’s not what I see
So, look what I got
Look what you taught me
And for that, I say

Thank you, next (next)
Thank you, next (next)
Thank you, next
I’m so f***in’ grateful for REJECTsReport

G.D.
G.D.
11 months ago

This has happened to me. And you know what? It’s fine.

Perhaps I am a naive tool, but I actually get some satisfaction out of helping improve a contribution to the field, even if I don’t get any credit for doing it (which I wouldn’t really have gotten anyways, being anonymous). Indeed, come to think of it, I have actually helped people with different kinds of stuff in various situations without receiving or expecting to receive credit for it, and I still find it satisfying to do so. Refereeing papers is one of my professional duties, and if carrying out that duty actually helps someone, so much the better.

Of course, if I help X do something without being credited, I suppose it might happen that others could end up inaccurately thinking that X did it all by themselves, thus forming an opinion of X that is slightly more favorable than the facts warrant. But i) I cannot get myself to I view this consequence as particularly appalling, and ii) if you think about it, there will always have been a lot of people who played seminal roles in helping you achieve your results who will go uncredited anyways – if you think any X at any point achieved their results completely in a vacuum, the joke’s on you.

There are lots of problems in our discipline – not to mention in the world at large – that require our attention and concern. This is not one of them.Report

Juan Sebastián Piñeros Glasscock
Juan Sebastián Piñeros Glasscock
11 months ago

Hm, like others, this doesn’t bother me at all. It bothers me a bit if I’m unacknowledged for e.g. something said in person when the author knows my name; but mostly I’m just glad that to learn that my comments were helpful and the author thought it important to address the concerns I raised. And I wouldn’t want a journal to get credit for something that I see as service to the profession; so I certainly wouldn’t want to be acknowledged as ‘referee from journal X’.

(There are exceptions: e.g. it would have been wrong for Fitch to not acknowledge that the idea of the paradox came from a referee, had it come from a previous journal submission).

It bothers me a lot more when I point something out that is *clearly* an important problem that never gets addressed, regardless of whether I’m acknowledged.
Report

Bryan Frances
Bryan Frances
11 months ago

Does anyone want to complain about a hangnail or stubbed toe? Or perhaps something really serious like a cold sore that has had the audacity of not going away for three whole days?

Of all the challenges to our profession. ffs.Report

Tim
Tim
11 months ago

I am just surprised there isn’t a convention about this. But the solution seems obvious, without deep reflection at least; it should be to thank an anonymous referee and no need to name a specific journal. Report

Joona Räsänen
11 months ago

I am a corresponding author of a study that argues precisely what is suggested in the post.

We argue that when an author’s work is published, the author should thank the reviewers whose comments improved the quality of the paper regardless whether the comments came from reviewers who reviewed for journals that rejected or accepted the work.

We also conducted a survey related to this and asked prominent scholars familiar with research ethics (editors and editorial board members of 18 journals in the field of bioethics) what they think about this practice. We received 107 responses – most thought it would be a good idea.

In the paper, we consider objections raised against this practice (similar to what readers raise here). The paper is currently under review but you can look at the abstract here:

https://www.hf.uio.no/ifikk/english/research/groups/practical-philosophy-group/events/practical-philosophy-seminar-joona-rasanen–tba-.htmlReport

Diana
Diana
11 months ago

Some disciplines started to open to the idea of de-anonymizing referees, once a final decision has been made regarding the manuscript. This allows for an explicit acknowledgment to a reviewer who made an influential contribution to her/his comments, and in some cases, even to adding the reviewer among the coauthors. Report

Not me
Not me
11 months ago

In my paper in Journal Two I anonymously thank a reviewer from rejecting Journal One for a comment that I think improved it.
But it turns out that that anonymous reviewer didn’t come up with the idea for that comment on her own! She got it from a grad student paper she read on that topic.
Now the crucial distribution of published acknowledgements will be unjust and inequitable, unless the anonymous reviewer publicly but anonymously thanks the grad student for the idea leading to the comment for which she was anonymously thanked in my paper.
But wait, what if that grad student …Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Not me
11 months ago

Not that this is desperately important, but: referees’ reports are also supposed to adhere to norms of scholarly attribution (in a somewhat more informal sense than published papers, to be sure, but still: if the reviewer got an idea from a grad student paper, they should say so).Report

David Beard
David Beard
11 months ago

“And it constitutes a flagrant violation of academic integrity. There is no principle that can justify giving anonymous acknowledgement for intellectual assistance to the referees at the paper that published you, while withholding it from the referees at the paper that rejected you.”

I’ve been thanked for hallway chats that I don’t remember. It was pleasant. There was nothing about these acknowledgements that conformed or violated academic integrity.
Acknowledgements are courtesies, and courtesies are not required, nor are they essential components of satisfying the need to demonstrate “academic integrity.”

And I find it massively arrogant to presume that anyone’s criticisms of a paper are so unique that the reviewers assigned by the subsequent journal might never have reached them, independently, either. Your feedback must be both amazing and idiosyncratic.

Mine is not, I guess. Peer review is part of the job.

Report

Polaris Koi
Reply to  David Beard
11 months ago

I’m in the courtesy camp, too, but I believe there is something of a duty (even if not a firm requirement) to be courteous.

Furthermore, I don’t even think that being in the acknowledgments section means that the person being mentioned improved the paper in any way. An author might also thank audiences at seminar S or a colleague C who read the paper, even if these did not help improve the paper. Having given their time to the work in progress is reason enough to thank them. Neglecting to thank a colleague who read the manuscript and commented it would strike me as something of a discourtesy — even if their comments did not result in changes in the manuscript.

As for anonymous referees, again, their being thanked does not necessarily mean the author thinks they contributed. The author could be simply thanking them for their time (unless, of course, the author explicitly indicates otherwise).

The one strange exception is dissertation advisors, for junior academics. Dissertation advisors, unlike others, are obligated to read and comment on the work of their students, and I’ve heard some say that this means they ought not be thanked.Report

Mark walker
Mark walker
11 months ago

Here’s how I handled the problem in the acknowledgements in a paper published last year: “I owe a special debt of gratitude to the supererogatory efforts of
an anonymous referee at this journal. Thanks also to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of
anonymous referees at other journals.” (Walker, Mark. “Hinge propositions, skeptical dogmatism, and external world disjunctivism.” International Journal for the Study of Skepticism 9.2 (2019): 134-167.)
Report