Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Rabid Reviewer

Reading Female Science Professor's post this morning about inappropriate reviewing behavior, I was inspired to muse about a common type of review I receive on my submitted manuscripts: the rabid review. If you are lucky enough to not know what I am talking about (and yes, I mean rabid and not rapid), I envy you a great deal. The past couple of papers I've submitted have attracted the rabid reviewer like a lightening rod.

I have learned that there are a variety of review types out there: The dumb review: a review so lacking in basic logic and knowledge that you wonder how that person has enough brain cells to coordinate breathing, much less breathe and type at the same time...which come to think of it might explain the review.

The "Why didn't you cite me" review: my favorite example of this is a review I received that was riddled with citations like: Reviewer (1990), Reviewer et al (1992,1993,1994), Random person, Random person, Random Person, Reviewer, et al (2000). This is always particularly entertaining when the review is "anonymous".

The "obviously didn't read the paper review": often identifiable from the numerous critiques of things that the reviewer argues should be dealt with that are actually already in the manuscript.

The rabid review is a completely different beast. It is angry. It is often LONG. It implies that you should have your Ph.D stripped (at best), or be tarred, feathered and/or run naked through the streets (at worst). It is riddled with angry rants about things that are either not in your manuscript, or are pulled out of context in a disturbing political spin sort of way. And EVERYTHING is blown out of proportion. A comma in the wrong place is used as evidence that your science is sloppy. A citation with the wrong year is taken as deliberately misleading. Sometimes there are directly snide comments about you personally (though this is fortunately rarer).

When I was younger, the rabid reviewer would make me cry. After a week or so of waiting for me to get back on the horse, my advisor would take me aside and tell me that my science actually didn't suck and that the rabid reviewer was actually a good sign for the quality of the ideas. With age and maturity I have been able to reduce the time from the crying phase to returning to the manuscript to 24 hours (also, minus calling my advisor for a pep talk, which I often want to do but feel like I should be past by now). The other big difference is that now at the end of those 24 hours I AM PISSED. I am pissed because the rabid review means that someone let something personal interfere with the objective review of my work . There are a variety of reasons for the rabid review. The list is long and runs the gamut from competing labs to people who hate your guts. I don't know if I get the rabid reviewer more than my colleagues, I've never really asked around. However, if my advisor's right that it's a sign I'm on to something good, then my research program is on fire right now....and surely that's a good thing.

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