An acquaintance of mine, despite receiving what appear to be very enthusiastic reviews on one of her manuscripts, including language like this:
I found the results interesting and intriguing. They represent one of the first serious attempts to understand poogly-plugs at the cellular level. Thus, the work is of great importance and interest to the poogly-plug field. In addition, I believe that these findings are also of broad interest to researchers outside the poogly-plug field.
This is typical boilerplate language meant to convey "publish this motherfucker!" So what's the fucking problem?
Turns out that the reviewer who wrote the above also--and one of the other reviewers who also made very enthusiastic noises in the Comments to Authors--selected this as the confidential recommendation to the editor:
Appropriate for a more specialized journal.
On the basis of these confidential reviewer recommendations, the editors have declined to make a decision "At This Time", which has my acquaintance fucking pissed off.
I have two thoughts about this situation.
(1) The editor handling this manuscript is a complete fuck-up. It is the responsibility of the editor to call out reviewers on inconsistency between their Comments to Authors and confidential Comments to Editor and Recommendation. The editor should have contacted these reviewers and said, "Yo, fuckwit! What's the fucking dealio with this shit? Make up your fucking mind!"
(2) This kind of shit is exactly the reason why I am starting to get on board with the notion that there should be *no* confidential reviewer comments to the editors or secret reviewer "recommendations" for a manuscript's disposition.
In fact, I have ceased giving confidential reviewer comments when I review papers except in the rare circumstances where something looks "fishy" to me. Unfortunately, the secret "recommendations" cannot really be avoided, because refusal to provide one is generally interpreted as a ding against the paper, rather than as neutral.