Can you believe this is the fifth year of Peer Review Week?!
There’s a great post about the history of PRW on the Scholarly Kitchen if you’re keen to learn more about how it started and what it’s grown into. Most years have had a theme, from transparency to diversity, and the topic chosen for 2019 is…
‘Quality in Peer Review’
So we’re asking:
What’s the best (or worst) review you’ve ever received? And why
We’d love to hear from you so please do take the opportunity to share your thoughts and experiences on Peer Review! Simply use the comment box at the bottom of this post to share your answers.
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Best: many luckily. Constructive and thorough comments that help to improve the manuscript even if that means a lot of work.
Worst: fewer, still some. No or few comments are usually not that great; if accepted it is nice but still feels not fair and you are taken the chance to improve the work. But worse is when you get the comments that "all is bad", "key references are missing" (when you are at the reference limit), "the manuscript is obviously poorly written" (while 2 other reviewers mention it is well written) and other vague or even insulting comments that do not help to improve the manuscript at all. Personal attacks are the worst and should be forbidden ;)
Reviewer added comments with handwriting to one of our manuscripts. When discussing collapse of division of labor in the text of our review manuscript, Reviewer simply wrote a short comment on the side of the page: "sounds like no deal BREXIT!"
The worst review I was on the receiving end was back in 1999: a major point of our story about activation in a signalling protein was linked to a conformational change in a widely conserved residue. The reviewer killed our paper with a comment about how this discussion was misleading as the role of this amino acid in signalling has "not held up over time" and then cited an abstract to poster at a meeting that none of us had attended and for which the text of the abstract was not available on-line. I just checked pubmed and the authors of said poster have still not published their paper presumably because it's their story and not ours that did not hold up over time.
Hi Rick, did you get the paper published in the end?
Hi Ruth, yes we did, but in a much lower ranked journal than the 'magazine' we had targeted. Though this particular paper became quite well cited I wonder if I was at the same stage of my career now as I was then, would I still have been competitive for Fellowships? The CVs I see these days from ambitious folk looking to take that next career step upwards are far stronger than mine was, 20 years ago.
As a coda I should also add that I doubt the authors of the meeting abstract referred to above did not review our manuscript.
Oops, my mistake, I meant I doubt the authors of the meeting abstract reviewed our manuscript!
It was a long time ago now, but when I was in the lab, my first paper was about fatal cases of influenza in children. It was a mix of post-mortem reports and new influenza sequence data (still a novelty back then!). All the medical journals we sent it to gave us positive peer review reports and were enthusiastic about the research, but editor after editor told us that "it was a great study, but isn't quite right for our readership". I assumed this was something to do with scope or impact, but never really understood what this meant!
In desperation, we tried a new journal with a broad scope, without an impact factor, called PLOS ONE (which we had never heard of!) - it was published with minor revisions and the rest, as they say, is history.
For me, this shows the value of broad scope / multidisciplinary journals where the paper is assessed based on its value to science, not scope, "impact" or "interest to our readers...!"
The best review : The referee raises constructive comments based on the manuscript that can really improve the quality of the manuscript.
The worst review: The referee forces to cite her/his work that is actually not strongly related to our work, although the reference space is limited. When his/her work is cited, the referee is satisfied and accepts the work.
My most frustrating review was in October 2013 when I submitted a paper to Science that rapidly declined to send it out for review … only to publish an enthusiastic one-page comment (Vol. 343, Issue 6175, pp. 1058) on it after its publication in PNAS! (doi: 10.1073/pnas.1320670111).
The best one, is when the same journal (Science) selected us for its cover (Vol. 341; Issue 6143) on a previous occasion (doi: 10.1126/science.1239181)!
Conclusion: publishing is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you gonna get! (Forrest Gump).