Among the most frustrating moments in the life of a scientist is when you get destructive feedback in the peer-review process. Since journals usually receive many more papers than they can ever publish, there is a tendency to look for killer-arguments for rejection. This creates an environment that promotes epsilon*-research, groundbreaking and slightly controversial findings are likely to be shot down at a very early stage while the “harmless” small additions to what’s already known are much more likely to pass. After all, the reviewers don’t feel threatened by a competitor that can only marginally improve on the current state of the field. Contributing to the ongoing debate, the following guidelines for constructive reviewing recently came to my attention, from both the biological/experimental and the computational/theoretical perspective:
David G. Drubin, Editor-in-Chief of Molecular Biology of the Cell, published this sharp and to-the-point editorial (Vol. 22, Issue 5, 525-527, March 1, 2011):
“Any jackass can trash a manuscript, but it takes good scholarship to create one” (how MBoC promotes civil and constructive peer review). The headline captures the painful experience of young researchers that it is so much easier for the established scientist to shoot something down by just asking silly additional experiments or stating that “it is not really convincing” (without saying what would be) rather than making the ideas fly. On top of analysing the existing problems in peer-review, it contains “10 rules for reviewing a manuscript”.
National Science Foundation: Conflict-of-Interest and Confidentiality Statement for NSF Panelists
Tips for Reviewing Conference Papers by Karen Markin
* disambiguation: epsilon here denotes an arbitrarily small positive quantity.