Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Peer review, tone, and common courtesy

I'm back, though now I'm in the writing-six-things-before-the-term mode, so blogging will likely continue to be sparse.   Several of my friends pointed out this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education regarding the tone of correspondence in the peer review process.  In short, some fraction (from my own experience, I'd say maybe 15%) of "negative" reviews go beyond pointing out issues that need to be corrected to improve the paper and instead are genuinely hostile and nasty - basically tone and phrasing that the reviewer would very likely never have the nerve to use face to face.  Interestingly, those of us who experience the peer review process beat the rest of the world to the observation of a behavior pattern that is now realized to be common on the internet.

I wish I knew the solution to this.  Removing the blindness of the review process is one possibility, though I do worry that the same petty, vindictive people who write reviews like this will then engage in additional unprofessional behaviors toward people that they perceive as slighting them. 

The point of the review process in science is to make sure that correct, clear, original science results get disseminated in the literature.  We are all (allegedly) on the same side.  If people would just adhere to that, then reviews could be much more constructive in tone (e.g., instead of "The authors are just plain wrong", wouldn't it be better to say "I'm concerned that there are some problems with steps 1 through 4"?).

I am worried that there is a general erosion in common courtesy as well.  I know this makes me sound like a grumpy old man, but again there are some people who use electronic communications in general as an excuse for rudeness.  Taking the time to say "please" and "thank you" is never time poorly spent.

1 comment:

Drug Noodleman said...

For real tho, making the review process even less anonymous is a step in the wrong direction. You shouldn't be allowed to see the names of the authors on the paper you are reviewing. Impoliteness is way less detrimental to science than the cronyism and appeal to authority that currently bias the review process in favor of presitigious, well-connected people that continue to oversell their "breakthroughs". Nawmean?