Peer review gets catty

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17 Responses to “Peer review gets catty”

  1. Anonymous says:

    @ anon, @ artaxerxes

    What makes you think Oscar Wilde is ‘flowery’? Indeed, what is wrong with ‘flowery’? Wilde is direct: skewering both imprecise language and cultural assumptions and revealing the kind of sloppy assumptions that lazy writers usually make, e.g. Wilde (gay + Irish) = flowery. Anyone keen on providing evidence of this dreaded flowery-ness caused by Irishness and gayness? Asserting that scientific writing ‘isn’t supposed to be prose’ is ludicrous. Charles Darwin? Carl Sagan?

  2. artaxerxes says:

    If someone made a positive comparison between my style and that of Oscar Wilde, I would treasure that comparison forever. That’s one hell of a compliment.

    Also, I have many friends who are scientists, so I’m not terribly surprised by the assertion that scientists are humans. That is often a vicious, back-biting field. They work hard like we all do and may even be more susceptible to the petty politics of their colleagues.

    Long live the dedicated scientists and I thank you all for slogging through the political shit. I wish you all good, easily-documented results and an absence of petty vindictive bitches (of all genders).

    • Anonymous says:

      That comment regarding Oscar Wilde is not a positive one.
      Scientific and technical writing is supposed to be direct not flowery. Articles are limited in length so the more flowery the writing the less substance is actually there. It also makes it harder to determine the actual point. It isn’t supposed to be prose.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Our referees, the Editorial Board Members and ad hoc reviewers, are busy, serious individuals who give selflessly of their precious time to improve manuscripts submitted to Environmental Microbiology. But, once in a while, their humour (or admiration) gets the better of them. Here are some quotes from reviews made over the past year, just in time for the Season of Goodwill and Merriment.

    * • 
    Done! Difficult task, I don’t wish to think about constipation and faecal flora during my holidays! But, once a referee, always and anywhere a referee; we are good boy scouts in the research wilderness. Even under the sun and near a wonderful beach.
    * • 
    This paper is desperate. Please reject it completely and then block the author’s email ID so they can’t use the online system in future.
    * • 
    The type of lava vs. diversity has no meaning if only one of each sample is analyzed; multiple samples are required for generality. This controls provenance (e.g. maybe some beetle took a pee on one or the other of the samples, seriously skewing relevance to lava composition).
    * • 
    Very much enjoyed reading this one, and do not have any significant comments. Wish I had thought of this one.
    * • 
    It is sad to see so much enthusiasm and effort go into analyzing a dataset that is just not big enough.
    * • 
    You call the sample fresh water, this is confusing as it is saline water.
    * • 
    The biggest problem with this manuscript, which has nearly sucked the will to live out of me, is the terrible writing style.
    * • 
    The abstract and results read much like a laundry list.
    * • 
    The information in the tree figs. is pretty inscrutable.
    * • 
    There was little I could think of to improve this nice paper.
    * • 
    Ken, I would suggest that EM is setting up a fund that pays for the red wine reviewers may need to digest manuscripts like this one. (Ed.: this excellent suggestion was duly proposed to the Publisher. However, given the logistical difficulties of problem-solving within narrow time frames, combined with the known deleterious effect of transport on good wine, a modification of the remedy was adopted, namely that Editors would act as proxies for reviewers with said digestive complaints.)
    * • 
    The statement that glycolipids and phospholipids ‘may play an important role in stabilising the outer membrane’ is odd because this they definitely do in all Eubacteria.
    * • 
    Merry X-mas! First, my recommendation was reject with new submission, because it is necessary to investigate further, but reading a well written manuscript before X-mas makes me feel like Santa Claus.
    * • 
    Alfachetoglutarate.
    * • 
    I have to admit that I would have liked to reject this paper because I found the tone in the Reply to the Reviewers so annoying. It may be irritating to deal with reviewer’s comments (believe me, I know!) but it is not wise to let your irritation seep through every line you write!
    * • 
    The authors still confuse relative abundance of a transcript in a community transcript pool (which is what they are measuring) with upregulation or downregulation of genes (which they are not measuring).
    * • 
    One might call this not only a skillfully executed paper but also well-rounded and thorough, with unique aspects of microbial systematics and biochemistry The experimental work with chemostats is excellent. I have little to offer other than praise and a few minor comments.
    * • 
    Season’s Greetings! I apologise for my slow response but a roast goose prevented me from answering emails for a few days.
    * • 
    I started to review this but could not get much past the abstract.
    * • 
    Hopeless – Seems like they have been asleep and are not up on recent work on metagenomics.
    * • 
    This paper is awfully written. There is no adequate objective and no reasonable conclusion. The literature is quoted at random and not in the context of argument. I have doubts about the methods and whether the effort of data gathering is sufficient to arrive at a useful conclusion.
    * • 
    Stating that the study is confirmative is not a good start for the Discussion. Rephrasing the first sentence of the Discussion would seem to be a good idea.
    * • 
    The main emphasis in the title is the use of a widely used method. This is not very exciting news. The authors are not to be blamed here. Based on titles seen in journals, many authors seem to be more fascinated these days by their methods than by their science. The authors should be encouraged to abstract the main scientific (i.e., novel) finding into the title.
    * • 
    A weak paper, poor experimental design, comparison of sequences using different primers, no statistical analysis possible, carelessly written, poorly thought through.
    * • 
    There is a great deal of freely available genomic data in the world and the authors would be much better off training themselves on that while waiting for genomic data to be generated for their system.
    * • 
    This is a long, but excellent report. I had considered asking for EMSAs, but these will not significantly improve the study. It hurts me a little to have so little criticism of a manuscript.
    * • 
    Always dear EMI takes care of its referees, providing them with entertainment for the holiday time in between Xmas and New Year. Plus the server shows, as usual, its inhuman nature and continues to send reminding messages. Well, between playing tennis on the Wii, eating and drinking, I found time and some strength of mind to do this work.
    * • 
    At the risk of appearing unkind, the authors’ main selling point for this paper seems to be that it is the biggest soil pyrosequencing project so far. I fear we are entering a phase of repeating all of the studies carried out over the past 15 years, but now using pyrosequencing.
    * • 
    I agreed to review this Ms whilst answering e-mails in the golden glow of a balmy evening on the terrace of our holiday hotel on Lake Como. Back in the harsh light of reality in Belfast I realize that it’s just on the limit of my comfort zone and that it would probably have been better not to have volunteered.
    * • 
    I suppose that I should be happy that I don’t have to spend a lot of time reviewing this dreadful paper; however I am depressed that people are performing such bad science.
    * • 
    The presentation is of a standard that I would reject from an undergraduate student. Take Table 1: none of the data has units or an explanation. Negative controls gave a positive signal, but there is no explanation of why and how this was dealt with; just that it was different.
    * • 
    This is as solid a write up as I have seen, many spend much more time and space to say considerably less. It is a perfect example of a compact report.
    * • 
    The ecological theory invoked appears more as an afterthought than the true driving ambition of the study.
    * • 
    This paper is afflicted by the same problem of many others re omics: one mutant is made in gene X, authors compare the corresponding transcriptomes and produce a list of genes that go up or down, plus various pages of discussion. Period. Nice, but a bit insufficient, I am afraid. Authors may be invited to go beyond a mere description and document experimentally at least some of their predictions.
    * • 
    I found the manuscript to be well performed in all aspects, from the experimental design to the writing of the manuscript. I wish all manuscripts I review were of this quality.
    * • 
    I usually try to nice but this paper has got to be one of the worst I have read in a long time.
    * • 
    Well, I did some of the work the authors should have done!
    * • 
    To my knowledge the most comprehensive IVET analysis ever done; huge workload, meticulously executed research, concisely presented.
    * • 
    I feel like a curmudgeon, but I still have problems with this paper.
    * • 
    Sorry for the overdue, it seems to me that ‘overdue’ is my constant, persistent and chronic EMI status. Good that the reviewers are not getting red cards! The editors could create, in addition to the referees quotes, a ranking for ‘on-time’ referees. I would get the bottom place. But fast is not equal to good (I am consoling myself!).
    * • 
    I have accepted to see this one, but I still have 2 EM manuscripts whose reviews I have to complete (they will be done by tomorrow). Please be a bit benevolent with the deadline!
    * • 
    landmark paper on P. putida physiology.
    * • 
    The lack of negative controls. . . . results in the authors being lost in the funhouse. Unfortunately, I do not think they even realize this.
    * • 
    Preliminary and intriguing results that should be published elsewhere.
    * • 
    It is always a joy to review manuscripts such as this. Well-conceived, well executed, well edited. Clean. Pristine. From start to finish.
    * • 
    Reject – More holes than my grandad’s string vest!
    * • 
    The writing and data presentation are so bad that I had to leave work and go home early and then spend time to wonder what life is about.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Why not use the DOI for the link rather than the URL?

    http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1462-2920.2010.02394.x

    It will point to where the article is now and in the future should Wiley change their hosting platform or the journal moves to a new publisher.

  5. Anonymous says:

    They do this every year and with a library card – OK, with my New York Public library card which has amazing online resources – I was able to just get a PDF of the 2009 Referees’ quotes. The current year is embargoed until the end of 2011… but you can go to the library for that.

    Libraries rock.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Before Isaac Asimov could support himself as a popular-science writer he was an actual scientist (a chemist or something) and readers would complain that his research papers read like “mystery stories.” I guess in the science world you’re supposed to give away the ending right up front.

  7. Anonymous says:

    My god, this is an awesome article.

  8. derkarner says:

    In case you don’t have access to a library carrying the Journal, here are Mediafire links to both PDFs.

    2009: http://www.mediafire.com/?0x1tscajmtsew2t
    2010: http://www.mediafire.com/?llm49vax82166h6

  9. Calimecita says:

    Hilarious… unless you’ve been on the receiving end of some of those, hehe.

    The journal is available at my university so I’m already distributing the URLs to my colleagues :-P

  10. Glenn Fleishman says:

    Were any comments “tl;dr”?

  11. Anonymous says:

    The sentence, “Twisted Bacteria will probably be more useful to you,” fills me with joy.

  12. Tom Fury says:

    I used to think academia was this wonderful place full of deep intellectual discussions, mutual support, and a passion for knowledge – the model of an ideal society to me – until my son with his newly awarded PhD (paleontology, if anybody’s hiring) started trying to get a job. “I won’t hire you because you worked with that guy, and he got funding for something I wanted.” “I was rejected by the university you went to, so I don’t hire anyone from there.” I was stunned to hear how petty, mean spirited, and narrow minded that world can be – almost like normal people. About the only saving grace is that if you’re in his field you can at least go home at night and say “I got to play with dinosaurs today!”

  13. Anonymous says:

    What’s wrong with Oscar Wilde?

  14. Anonymous says:

    Just to point out, that if you register – at no charge – you can access the full PDF free of charge.

    At least I was able to without any attempt to trick or circumvent any paywall.

  15. NatWu says:

    If you access this from a university that has a subscription to the Wiley database, you can get it for free. Some public libraries might subscribe too. There’s a couple more I thought were truly hilarious:

    “Season’s Greetings! I apologise for my slow response
    but a roast goose prevented me from answering emails
    for a few days”

    “Reject – More holes than my grandad’s string vest”

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