Is it just me, or is the quality and speed of refereeing deteriorating lately?
I know that everybody's busy. I know that for many professors, class sizes are getting bigger and take more time. But I've had three papers out for refereeing now where two have no decisions after 10 months and 12 months, respectively, and the other -- a paper of only 6 pages -- got reports only after 6 months.
Editors should be more diligent about pursuing reports. In the journal I edit, if we don't get a report after 2 months, we send a reminder, and if we don't get any response after 3 months, we start looking for another referee. The result is that it is extremely rare that a paper takes longer than 6 months to get a decision. A year is unheard of.
Speaking of that 6-page paper, we had submitted it earlier to another journal -- I'll call it "Journal A". After 4 ½ months, we got two reports, one of which I excerpt below:
"This trivial observation is claimed to be the main result of the submitted paper..."
"Although the simple argument provided in the paper is wrong... it could be easily corrected."
"However, the "proof" given there does not even contain any correct idea, which could be used to prove this claim..."
"In conclusion, the paper does not contain any original results..."
This report went on to claim that one of our results was a simple consequence of a known theorem, and then proceeded to outline a wildly incorrect argument supporting this.
Needless to say, on this basis of this report, the paper was rejected, even though all the assertions about the proofs being incorrect or that the last result easily followed from known results, were wrong.
In fact, I think this is a good model of how not to write a report. If you, as a referee, claim that an argument is wrong, it is definitely your responsibility to be specific about what is wrong, not make vague assertions like those above. And you also need to be a little more modest! If something appears wrong in a paper, maybe it is wrong. Or maybe, just maybe, you have simply misunderstood it.
We then resubmitted our paper to "Journal B". After 6 months we got two reports, one of which I excerpt below:
"These results are very interesting and the proofs are correct..."
"I think the construction of the Thm 6 is really brilliant..."
The experts disagree, I guess.