Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Yo, Dr. Editor, WTF?

Along with my blogging, I've been way behind on my blog reading and just finished reading a "recent" post by Dr. Jekyll and Mrs Hyde about a paper she just had soft rejected. What caught my attention was the following statement: "I sort of wish that GradAdvisor would call the editor for a chat, just to get more information (did the normal reviewers vote for revise/resubmit? were there other comments we should be aware of? does the editor realize how insane a few of Crazy Reviewer's comments were?) but that doesn't seem to be the plan."

Whoa. Can we do that? Can we call up editors and ask WTF? I mean, I've joked about calling up editors and suggesting they send an ambulance to Reviewer 1's office because their review is a clear diagnostic of a brain aneurysm, but I never thought about seriously contacting them. This is totally news to me, so I really am asking if that's legit. And if so, is this a biomed/cell/molec thing? Do you need to be "friends" with the editor? Is this only a viable route for serious bigwigs? My advisor was a serious bigwig and not once in all my years did he ever do such a thing - for anyone, not even himself. Now, he is also not good at "playing the game" or whatever you want to call it. I don't think I've ever seen him wield whatever Jedi power is bestowed on bigwigs. (I have to admit while I suspect this has hampered his career in some ways, it has also given me some hope that serious science skills alone can get you pretty damn far). So, perhaps he's not a good indication of whether or not this is acceptable in my field.

But now that the possibility presents itself, my head is full of conversations I could have. Questions I've been burning to ask, like: Do you seriously want me to revise in the light of reviewer 1's wackaloon belief that a core concept in my field - that has been tested and used for decades and frequently published on in the Glamour Magz - doesn't actually exist ? Or do you secretly want me to knee cap this deluded jackass in my reviewer response, causing you to hail me as your intellectual hero? Inquiring minds want to know....

EDIT: Whoops, forgot to link to DJMH's post, which is here

11 comments:

Ambivalent Academic said...

I don't have a good answer to your question. But my advisor does this on a regular basis. Caveat: He is a BigWig biomed/molec friend of editors everywhere, so I have no idea if these "privileges" are exclusive to people in his position. I really hope not because it seems to me that this would just further undermine the whole point of having a peer-review process if only certain important people could get the editor's ear.

yolio said...

When I got a truly wackaloon review followed by the editor suggesting I "respond" to the crazy, I was encouraged by my advisor to write an email the editor asking for clarification. Said email was extremely polite and stuck to the facts. Basically I needed to know whether or not I was seriously going to be held to the review.

Seems to me, that the way this is taken depends on the personality of the editor. My feeling was, that I was making a very reasonable inquiry. If the editor couldn't appreciate the reasonableness of what I was asking, then maybe I was better off going elsewhere anyway.

Odyssey said...

Yes, you absolutely can contact the editor, but Yolio hit the nail on the head - you must be polite and respectful, and stick to the facts. If you start by describing a reviewer as having a maggot-infested brain the editor is likely to go immediately on the defensive.

qaz said...

You can absolutely contact the editor. Particularly for clarification. I suggest sending an email and asking when would be a good time to call. Then be polite on the phone. In my experience, editors are very interested in helping. (I have had an editor tell me once that I had to "respond to all reviews" but that I did not have to "accommodate all reviewers". [One of the reviewers had made obvious mistakes in statements about statistics.]) Remember that many times there are confidential comments sent to editors by reviewers that you don't see. An editor can give you a sense of that. Also, editors can clarify what are the important issues and what aren't.

The big question is when an editor rejects your paper, can you call them up and say "how can you reject this paper? this is the most important thing since the Copernicus!" ? I've personally never had any success in doing that (I'm not a BigWig in any sense of the word). But I know several BigWigs who have. In my field, I know many cases of papers that were rejected from Science, and then un-rejected when the PI (a very persuasive BigWig) called them up to argue.

Prof-like Substance said...

Yeah, I have written emails to editors to clarify what I should do in response to a braindead review and it has worked out well. Often they see where you are coming from if you have a reasonable argument and suggest that you acknowledge what the reviewer is suggesting, but not in a detailed way. It is a good idea to get the clarification before you write the review response (obviously), because the editor might actually side with the reviewer on certain contentious points and you can save yourself a re-review if you figure that out ahead of time.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Of course you can contact editors! Just behave politely and professionally.

EcoGeoFemme said...

My advisor had a paper rejected from a Glamourmag, contacted the editor, and got it reviewed a second time after some revision. It was ultimately rejected, but still. So yes, I think it does happen in your field. :)

Anonymous said...

qaz, that's exactly right about responding but not accommodating all reviewers. Some responses (like to reviewers on crack) should be kept in the reply letter to the editor, not in the main text of the paper.

Don't be afraid to call the editor - don't be hysterical or mad. Just lay out the dealio. One on one with the Editor is not just for ProfBigWig - lots of YoungGun and DrWho call editors.

The first thing I thought of reading your post was a bunch of the scenarios in the book "Women Don't Ask"... for fear of being pushy or not thinking in terms of 'everything is negotiable.' Go for it.

madscientist said...

I have published a many papers in my field. I have also had a few rejected. I have contacted the editor on multiple occasions to discuss the reviews. One of the nice things about contacting the editor is that you can feel them out about how much revision work they are actually expecting. I don't do this very often at all, but if the review is sort on the insane side, I may contact the editor to feel them out on this.

One of the problems with e-mail is that you can come off (or the editor can come off) in a way that you don't expect. So, you have to be ultra-polite in explaining why the reviewer is a moron. That is hard for me.

chall said...

I've usually written the editor but in recent time (last tw oyears) been tempted and actually called one editor ;)

(more likely my PI calls the editor since s/he knows them sometimes. Or at least PI is more known than mere postdoc me...)

As long as you are polite the editor might actually like having a conversation/email correspondance since they too know that reviewers mighth be subjective in a "non professional" matter sometimes.

Prof-like Substance said...

River Tam, a search party has been dispatched to determine whether or not you still have a pulse. Results hopefully to follow...