This may sound strange, but I was recently very relieved to get a negative review of a manuscript. Although it is quite possible that I have lost my mind, there is another explanation for my actions and emotions regarding this manuscript.
First, I should explain that the manuscript is not of the research-based sort that describes results of an investigation of a problem or hypothesis. I can't explain more, but it's relevant to the story that the document in question is not the classical sort of paper. It is more like a review, but of the type that is useful for organizing a disorganized or out-of-date aspect of a topic.
The document was assembled over the course of a year, through discussion with a small group of colleagues. The project was my idea so I took the lead, but, owing to the topic and publication venue, I did not have a choice about the other participants. I could have decided to do the project by myself, but when I initiated the project I thought it would be best to involve the other obvious people. I came to regret this decision, but once made, it could not be undone (easily).
Once the project was underway, it quickly became clear that I was an Outlier. We all agreed that this project should be done and a document written, but that was about all we agreed on. As time went on and it became clear that my vision for the project was fundamentally different from those of the others, I found myself in the minority on most issues. My choices were to compromise (a lot) or quit. Each time, after much thought and attempts to find another way, I decided it was more important that the overall project move forward than that I get my way.
Some decisions were put to a vote, and I lost every vote.
Finally we produced something that the others liked and that I didn't but that I thought was better than nothing. There was enough in it that was still sort of useful and with which I could agree, even if there were some parts that I hated.
And I admit that I just wanted to finish the thing. The rest of the group was comprised of extraordinarily aggressive men who used an impressive arsenal of obnoxious tactics to get their way, even on the most minor of issues. My husband kept asking "Why don't you just quit?". He didn't think it was worth fighting these guys all the time, but I balked at the thought of quitting. However unpleasant the process of working with this group was, it would have upset me more to quit. This project did not bring out the best in any of us.
Since the document was not a 'real' research paper, we had the option of publishing it as a sort of letter or editorial without review, but I decided that I wanted it reviewed. Even though I am an outlier (for many reasons) in this particular group of colleagues, I hoped that others in the scientific community might agree with me, even if only on some issues. And if no one did, then it might be easier for me to accept that I was simply wrong.
The document was reviewed. I do not have the official reviews yet, but one of the reviewers sent me his review in an unofficial way because he wanted to prepare me for the shock of his extremely negative comments. He was apologetic and wanted to make sure I was not too upset about what he wrote.
In fact, I was thrilled. The problems he has with the document are the same problems I have with the document. The suggestions he makes for fixing the problems would turn the document into a form very close to what I want it to be.
I thanked the reviewer profusely and said that I hoped he would submit exactly that version of his negative review. I explained the situation briefly so that he wouldn't think I was insane, and also, I admit, so that he wouldn't think that I held some of the views expressed in the document.
We are still waiting for the other reviews, so the situation is unresolved. I am imaging all sorts of reasons my colleagues might give for dismissing the negative comments, despite the fact that the reviewer is famous for being wise, thorough, and kind, but I will try not to be too prematurely cynical. And I am hoping that the other reviews are just as negative.
Have I learned anything from this experience?
Don't work with other people? (if the other people are rude and aggressive). I've written about working with jerks before. If you categorically refuse to work with jerks, you will spend most of your career alone. I'm not sure that's a realistic or good option, at least not for me.
I am ineffective in the face of an aggressive onslaught of arguments (even when I am right)? Yes, obviously I was ineffective in this case.
I am stubborn? Yes, but I knew that. I probably should have quit this project long ago, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.
One thing I did learn is that, even when faced with people continually telling me that I am wrong and stupid about something, I never lost my core belief that at least some of my opinions were good and valid. That either means that I have confidence (typically a good thing to have) or that I refuse to believe I am wrong (not such a good thing).
5 months ago