Sunday, February 21, 2016

Dear Reviewer 2...

Dear Reviewer 2:
I thank you for the review of my manuscript, though it was rather brief. I understand you think this "isn't the strength of advance necessary to publish" in the journal to which I submitted, but why did you take 6 weeks to decide this when the advance was described in the abstract, which you saw before agreeing to review? I would have been happier with more feedback on why you think this is "obvious" since I could not find other papers saying it, at least in this context. Could you please point me to some examples? With more detail, I could have discussed this with the grad student first-author, when she sat across the table from me with eyes puffy, red, and watery and tried to think about whether academia is a good fit for her in the long-term after receiving such a snippy review. I guess you were busy.

Dear Reviewer 2:
I thank you for the review of my manuscript. I appreciate that you think my conclusion is not yet rock-solid, and there are more experiments to be done. I agree-- I said this myself in the manuscript, too. On the other hand, this already took 3 years of work by multiple people, and the inference is quite strong, far more likely than the alternatives. I did send this to a discipline-specific journal rather than a broad journal, too. Might there be some value to disseminating this idea and the support garnered so far now (as well as appropriate qualifiers), so others can learn of it and think about it? My grant is up for renewal, my collaborator is up for tenure, and the postdoc who did the work is on the job market. The next experiment that you say is needed requires another 3+ years and hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it may not even work. I guess none of that matters more than only 100% rock-solid interpretations getting published.

Dear Reviewer 2:
I thank you for the review of my grant proposal. I see you have lots of concerns. You say you think my approach won't work, but people use it all the time for studies like this-- I cite many such papers in the Methods. I thought I listed the potential outcomes and interpretations, too, but you didn't comment on that table-- did you see it? You also note that it's unclear how well results in my system will extend to other systems. Is that not true for any experimental study in any system? Isn't that the value of having many studies on any phenomenon, and then doing a meta-analysis later? I wish you had elaborated on these facets before submitting your review--  I could then relay them to the people I'm laying off so they know why they're losing their jobs.

Dear Reviewer 2:
I thank you for the review of my grant proposal. Your comment that the advances from it would be "incremental" stung a little. No one has tested this hypothesis before, ever. What hurt even more was that you described why it's incremental in such vague terms-- did you actually read what I proposed, or did you write your review based on the Aims page? Those things you said are "well known" are indeed well known, but that's not what I proposed to examine-- I was digging much deeper assuming those to be true. You also criticized my proposed data analyses as "simplistic" but did not elaborate what you mean-- are they failing to test the hypothesis merely because they are simple? I worked on this proposal for months, even missing out on a vacation with my wife & kids, but I confess, I feel like you flipped through the proposal in minutes before writing this review. I guess I'll miss the next vacation, too, as I try prepare a new proposal and divine what went wrong with the last one.

Dear Reviewer 2:
I know you feel you are doing your duty to improve science. I know reviewing is a thankless task and takes away from more visible progress, like doing your own science. I know other reviewer 2's have stabbed you from behind their cloaks of anonymity, and perhaps you even think one of them was me (and you may be right). I know you think your science is better than how it's evaluated and better than some science that gets published/ funded. Perhaps you think that your lab's science is better than mine. Maybe. But please know this. Some of my results may seem "obvious" to you, and some may still be incomplete/ in-progress. I will try some risky projects, and some of my results may not extrapolate. I'm merely human, just like you. And I have been reviewer 2. But I'm going to try to remember all of these experiences so as to try to not be "just like you" in the review process. In that regard, I thank you for reminding me of the human face behind scientific products.


(Note: These are all based on experiences over many years, not very recent events.)

3 comments:

  1. Great post! I get so frustrated reading reviews of my work that reflect an obvious lack of careful consideration. It's good for folks to be reminded that 'Pay it Forward' only applies to positivity!

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  2. Indeed great post ! Thanks for expressing so clearly an overwhelmingly shared bitterness regarding inconsiderate reviewers. Your gentle way to denunciate them is very elegant.

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  3. Thanks! I think this is pretty much copy-pasteable!

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