Explanatory note: Although many manuscript reviews in my field are anonymous, in most cases I choose to add my name to reviews, so authors of the reviewed manuscripts know that I was a reviewer. There would be little reason to be anonymous anyway, as the nature of my comments and the style in which I write them identifies me in most cases.
When I am at a conference, I have come to dread the statement "You reviewed my paper." I don't dread it because I am a nasty reviewer and have created a trail of hostility and loathing owing to negative reviews. Even when my review is overall negative, I try to keep the comments constructive and polite. No, I dread it because I review a lot of papers and I edit a lot of papers, and my aging brain does not have a compartment from which I can readily access information about which papers I have reviewed over the years. When someone tells me that I reviewed their paper, sometimes I remember the paper and review, and sometimes I don't.
In some cases, I don't remember because the review was many years ago. Reviews may be memorable to an author, but after 3 (or 7 or 12) years, my memories of reviews I have done are typically faint to non-existent. Recently, people I was conversing with expected me to remember reviews I did in 2002 and 1995. These people did not initially provide me with information about the date or paper topic, but simply said "You reviewed my paper", and expected me to be able to discuss this.
If I can get away with making a vague and ambiguous sound in response to this statement, that's fine. Maybe the author is thanking me for my constructive and positive review? Maybe they want me to apologize for being so misguided as to think their results or interpretations were in error? Sometimes it is difficult to tell.
If the author wants to discuss an ancient review and paper, then I'm in trouble. I have to admit I don't remember, and one interpretation of my failure to remember is that I am arrogant or careless. Saying "I review so many papers.." isn't very effective because it implies that the reviewed paper was unmemorable, pedestrian, too boring to make a lasting impression.
FSP's Guide to Academic Etiquette now has a new entry. If you ever say to someone: "You reviewed my paper", assume that they might not remember this event as well as you do. Provide some supplementary information to help your former reviewer evaluate your statement; for example, ".. and I want to thank you for your useful comments." or ".. and I want you to know that the ignorance displayed by your review is truly staggering." [note: in FSP's Guide to Academic Etiquette, it is permitted to tell someone that they display staggering ignorance, as long as this is said politely and in context.]
Information about the approximate review date and manuscript topic should also be provided if you wish to elicit anything more than a vague and ambiguous sound from your former reviewer. The following statement is therefore highly preferred over the vague "You reviewed my paper":
You reviewed my paper on Topic X in 1995, and I just wanted you to know that you were wrong to doubt my data and interpretations and I have recently been awarded the Nobel Prize for this work.
Once the context is clear, a more substantive, interesting, and lucid conversation can proceed, or not, depending on other factors (duration of conference, alcohol intake of conversants etc.).
7 months ago