In the not-so-distant past, I wrote about a hostile reviewer who afflicted one of my students with anonymous rude comments that, without basis, called into question the ethics, intelligence, and writing ability of the student and his co-authors (including me). We revised the manuscript and resubmitted it with a strongly worded rebuttal letter.
In this case, "strongly worded" refers to the fact that the rebuttal letter clearly stated where we disagreed with the hostile reviewer, but at no point did we descend to his level of being hostile or rude.
Today this formerly anonymous reviewer identified himself to me and one other senior co-author in an email message. He did not include the Ph.D. student in the email, although the student is first author on the manuscript. This reviewer had seen the rebuttal letter and revised manuscript, and although he admitted that the revised manuscript was good and should be published, he was incensed by the rebuttal letter. He wrote that he "did not appreciate" the fact that the letter essentially accused him of being critical of our research (!).
It takes no imagination or inference to think that someone who writes in a review that the results/interpretations are "nonsense" and includes many pages of hostile comments is critical of the work.
I think it is at the same time bizarre and strangely understandable that this person's delicate feelings were hurt by our rebuttal letter, which refuted some of his more serious criticisms. I think that an apology by this reviewer to the student would have been in order, but instead the reviewer wrote to the Professors who are co-authors, saying that, although he respects our distinguished professorial selves, he has grave doubts about the integrity of the student author. It is a cheap shot to convert a scientific disagreement into doubt about someone's integrity, exploiting that person's lack of power.
Perhaps more disturbing than the reviewer's aggression and over-sensitivity is his lack of respect for the student. Why didn't the reviewer write directly to the student? Do we really have to wait until the degree is printed and framed before treating a student like a professional colleague? I think the very act of writing and submitting a manuscript should be a strong signal that the author is a serious scientist who is responsible for the content of the paper. There are exceptions to this (e.g., when the first author is not the communicating author listed as the main contact), but the default assumption, unless one is informed otherwise, should be that the communicating author on a manuscript is capable of discussions regarding the content of the manuscript, even if he/she is still a student.
6 months ago