Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Letters to the Editor

Peer review lives, and has sharp teeth and claws. By way of Medical Writing, Editing and Grantsmanship, the Editors of Environmental Microbiology, select their best reviewers comments of the year, of which Eli posts a few -

  • The biggest problem with this manuscript, which has nearly sucked the will to live out of me, is the terrible writing style.
  • The lack of negative controls. . . . results in the authors being lost in the funhouse. Unfortunately, I do not think they even realize this.
  • Well, I did some of the work the authors should have done!
  • I suppose that I should be happy that I don't have to spend a lot of time reviewing this dreadful paper; however I am depressed that people are performing such bad science.
  • This is a long, but excellent report. I had considered asking for EMSAs, but these will not significantly improve the study. It hurts me a little to have so little criticism of a manuscript.
  • Season's Greetings! I apologise for my slow response but a roast goose prevented me from answering emails for a few days.
and the winner
This paper is desperate. Please reject it completely and then block the author's email ID so they can't use the online system in future.
Happy New Year


David B. Benson said...

Is it just my advancing age, or has the quality of both submitted and published papers, across many disciplines, declined noticably this century?

Marion Diabolito said...

Ha ha, laugh it up, Eli. My paper on how cosmic rays cause sunspots will one day be right up there with Galileo and Copernicus, and I have more email IDs where that came from.

guthrie said...

DAvid Benson - I don't work in academia, but get the impression that, here in the UK at least, since funding and patronage etc depends to some extent on how many papers you publish, people are rushing out many more papers in a shorter time period, and thus the quality is lower. Add that to perhaps there being less blue sky's research and more focused commercial research, and you end up with more papers reporting the bleedin' obvious and research which is of poor quality. And there's never enough money either.

BillD said...

As someone who has edited or reviewed nearly a thousand manuscripts for about 40 scientific journals in the last 30 years, my view is that the quality of submitted manuscripts has not changed. Generally, journals with weaker reputations get poorer quality submissions. There has been a large increase in submissions from developing countries and this often leads to weak writing/problems with English. However, since I believe that we should encourage science in developing countries, I think that reviewers and editors need to be patient and to provide extra help in this situation.

Of course, there is the occasional very weak paper that can and should be rejected with only brief comments. The papers that require more effort are ones generally submitted to second and third tier journals that combine some combination of weakness in writing or analysis and good scientific merit. Again, my view is that reviewers should be more patient and willing to help when the authors are from developing countries. Graduate students and recent PhD's should also be given breaks (more opportunity for revisions) than established scientists.

EliRabett said...

Bill, IEHE, the big difference today is that the effort and cost needed to produce a graph or line drawing is two orders of magnitude lower. Eli fondly remembers (not) being tossed into a closet with a Leroy lettering set, a bottle of india ink and a ruler in his first week of graduate school when his doctor father needed a couple of drawings for a proposal. Black Bunny.

The shift from typewriter to word processor has not had as large an effect, because now we spend a huge amount of time going through myriad drafts. What it has done is to allow large scale collaborations where the drafts are circulated.

Pangolin said...

It occurs to me as a non-scientist who tries to stay informed on general scientific news that the occasional publishing of a marked-up, total-reject paper might be informative to those of us to whom peer-review is a magic black box.

Somewhere there is a person holding a PhD from a credible institution that has submitted a paper that should have his/her education rescinded back to their eighth grade graduation. Mark that paper up and show it to us.

Anonymous said...

If you follow the links, you can go to the original paper, which has a surprising number of positive comments as well (surprising to me, at least - I wish I saw more of them in my reviews...). I'll try and bear them in mind as I finish reviewing this weekend. And Alfachetoglutarate? Explain?

David B. Benson said...

BillD --- Thank you.

Pangolin --- Well, G&T should never have been published and Eli can probably point you to the review paper which shreds it.