Monday, November 22, 2010

An annoying trend

Maybe this is just me and my luck of the draw, but I am noticing an increasing number of manuscripts coming back to me for a second review. I try to be a good citizen and all, and accept as many reviews as I can, but if each review ends up being 2 for 1, I will have to take this into consideration.

When I first started reviewing, it was really rare for me to see something a second time before publication. Now it seems to be happening for about 1 in 3 manuscripts I review, and most of them are completely unnecessary. Now, I don't mind if I get something back after saying "publishable with major revisions" as long as the authors have actually done some of the revisions! The last three manuscripts I've gotten back for a re-review have been:

1) something I said needed minor revisions. Isn't this something the editor or assistant editor can make a call on?

2) something I rejected for publication. I don't reject things lightly--I had major issues with the science and many of them are still there. If there ever is a time for adding reviewer 3 or 4, this is it, rather than sending it back to me. I don't think that papers that are rejected should go back to the original reviewers. If the editor thinks there is something the reviewer missed, it is time for a new review.

3) something I said needed major revisions to be accepted, and sent along 2 pages of suggestions. Almost none of them were implemented, and most were completely ignored. In their response, the authors pretty much said "The reviewer is wrong." without any additional evidence or support for their position. Why bother sending this back to me?

I find this particular trend really annoying. It is almost like editors don't want to make a call on anything anymore (and I can say that never having done it myself :-).

I've also had the situation where I get a manuscript from a big name group, and it is terrible. I reject it with lots of comments, and it comes back polished up after implementing all of the reviewer comments. I really resent that Professor Big Name has too many people to properly oversee/mentor their trainees in how to write papers and is farming it out to reviewers. It makes me not want to do such a thorough job.


Namnezia said...

In my field it's pretty much the norm that you see papers at least twice before they get published.

Bashir said...

reject it with lots of comments

huh. I don't think I'd spend that much time on comments if a paper was an outright rejection. I'd certainly explain why, but I wouldn't spend much time on why paragraph 2 of experiment 3 needs to be edited if the whole premise of the study has major issues.

GamesWithWords said...

In psych it's the norm for a paper to go through review *at least* twice. It would be interesting to know what the distribution across fields was like. I mean, is this just a cultural issue, or are there good reasons to have more or fewer reviews? Knowing that, one could then investigate whether there were changes in your subfield that naturally lead to more reviews, or whether in fact the editors were just being lazy/timid.

Female Computer Scientist said...

I agree! I just reviewed a paper today for the second time. It sucked the first time, it sucked the second time, and now it sucks even worse because reviewer #2 told them to add things that really hurt it.

My colleague says he is binary with journal papers - accept or reject. He said major revisions is the kiss of death, they'll just keep sending it back to you.

GMP said...

I just returned a paper after a 3rd review (major revisions after 1st, minor after 2nd). You'd think the editor could have just accepted it after the second resubmission, but no, I had to write back "I recommend publication of the manuscript in the present form."

Two reviews are pretty standard in my field, but it's expected that after the resubmission it's going to be in a pretty decent shape. If it happens that you asked for something and the authors didn't comply, that's the end of it.

And I totally agree about poor mentoring -- I am sometimes appalled at how poorly some postdocs write -- no idea how to structure a paper, how to tell a story, distill a point. It makes me want to go and spit in their PhD advisor's face for graduating someone so poorly trained in such an essential skill.

prodigal academic said...

Interesting. Thanks for all the comments. Maybe this is a case of field drift, and I am encountering a new field norm. I still think that the 3 examples I described are a waste of time to send back to the original referee. I don't object to re-reviewing manuscripts that require major revisions as long as I am not ignored!

In my field, it is common to have publications only go through one round of reviewing. If major revisions were requested, sometimes the manuscript goes back to one or more of the original reviewers, but sometimes it goes to a new reviewer and sometimes the editor makes the call.

I've not taken the suggestions of referees before, but I always address the comments with experimental or literature support for my arguments. I've never sent back a manuscript completely ignoring referee comments, and I was very surprised to get Paper#3 back in that condition.