Morning coffee: reviewing

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(It was a long time since I did one of these posts. I’d better get going!)

One fun thing that happened after I received my PhD is that I started getting requests to review papers, four so far. Four papers (plus re-reviews of revised versions) in about a year probably isn’t that much, but it is strictly greater than zero. I’m sure the entertainment value in reviewing wears off quite fast, but so far it’s been fun, and feels good to pay off some of the sizeable review debt I’ve accumulated while publishing papers from my PhD. Maybe I’m just too naïve and haven’t seen the worst parts of the system yet, but I don’t feel that I’ve had any upsetting revelations from seeing the process from the reviewer’s perspective.

Of course, peer review, like any human endeavour, has components of politics, ego and irrationality. Maybe one could do more to quell those tendencies. I note that different journals have quite different instructions to reviewers. Some provide detailed directions, laying out things that the reviewer should and shouldn’t do, while others just tell you how to use their web form. I’m sure editorial practices also differ.

One thing that did surprise me was when an editor changed the text of a review I wrote. It was nothing major, not a case of removing something inappropriate, but rewording a recommendation to make it stronger. I don’t mind, but I feel that the edit changed the tone of the review. I’ve also heard that this particular kind of comment (when a reviewer states that something is required for a paper to be acceptable for publication) rubs some people the wrong way, because that is up to the editor to decide. In this case, the editor must have felt that a more strongly worded review was the best way to get the author to pay attention, or something like that. I wonder how often this happens. That may be a reason to be even more apprehensive about signing reviews (I did not sign).

So far, I’ve never experienced anything else than single-blind review, but I would be curious to review double-blinded. I doubt the process would differ much: I haven’t reviewed any papers from people I know about, and I haven’t spent any time trying to learn more about them, except in some cases checking out previous work that they’ve referenced. I don’t expect that I’d feel any urge to undertake search engine detective work to figure out who the authors were.

Sometimes, there is the tendency among scientists and non-scientists alike to elevate review to something more than a couple of colleagues reading your paper and commenting on it. I’m pretty convinced peer review and editorial comments improve papers. And as such, the fact that a paper has been accepted by an editor after being reviewed is some evidence of quality. But peer review cannot be a guarantee of correctness. I’m sure I’ve missed and misunderstood things. But still, I promise that I’ll do my best, and I will not have the conscience to turn down a request for peer review for a long time. So if you need a reviewer for a paper on domestication, genetic mapping, chickens or related topics, keep me in mind.

One thought on “Morning coffee: reviewing

  1. Pingback: Reviewing, postscript | On unicorns and genes

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