Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Constructive trashing

I very much wanted to like the first paper I peer-reviewed. Having gotten some negative peer reviews on my own papers, I didn't want to inflict the same upon whoever the authors might be. So when the journal sent me the manuscript, I was eager to see the good in it. I wasn't able to find much. The analysis was poorly designed, the questions not clearly framed and the writing somewhat loose and hard to follow. The topic was interesting, and the authors had the data to address it well, but failed to do so. I decided that if I couldn't write a positive review I could at least give detailed criticisms, so that if the authors do rewrite the paper they will have some guidance on what needs to be fixed. To the authors this will look like two pages of dumping, at least at first. I hope they do rewrite, as it has the potential to be a useful paper, and I hope that if they do, they find my comments helpful.

I had decided beforehand that whatever I wrote, I would keep the review anonymous. This means that the journal editors know who wrote it, but the authors do not. They give reviewers the option of signing their reviews, but I'm not sure why. The temptation of course is to sign the positive reviews only, but this is considered something akin to slimy. I prefer to be able to give my opinion without considering what the authors might think of me, or how they will review my papers in the future. Unlike online forums where people can be as abusive as they want because they are entirely anonymous, here the editors of the journal know who wrote what and can respond accordingly.

I'm happy to have been asked, by a well-respected journal, to be a reviewer. I've learned from the experience. Perhaps I should request that next time they send me a paper I'll like?

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