Monday, February 27, 2012

On reviewers and reviewing

"As an editor, I observed that sometimes otherwise congenial/collegial individuals would become rather brutal (Blackwell, 2004) in their role as manuscript reviewer. This is somewhat akin to the person who is usually quite considerate and polite until he/she gets behind the wheel of a car.  This is the kind of reviewer who makes personal, snide comments about the author, is sarcastic, and tends to be quite destructive in tone.  Such behavior is a blatant violation of the ethic of reciprocity and sabotages the goal of  adding value to the manuscript by offering ways to improve it."
Charles C. Fischer

Everyone is familiar with the reviewer who writes unfairly aggressive reviews, something which often prompts (and the reviewer knows this will be the outcome) the editor to tell the authors: never show your face again in this journal with this paper. Why do reviewers do this kind of reviewing? I have some guesses:

1. It's a blood-sport. It's always fun to draw blood, and we are trained to do it in grad school. See my earlier blog entry citing the article on pit-bull reviewers.
2. It's an easy way to eliminate perceived competitors. This motivation drives researchers who firmly believe that the perceived scientific importance of researchers is a zero-sum game: for one person to become more important, the nearest neighbors have to be brought down. Result: reject all papers from the competitors.
3. Eliminating ideas that the reviewer does not believe in or does not support must be prevented from entering the public domain. Reject.

Here's a much more comprehensive document than mine on this topic:

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