Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Take Out

Summer is not a great time for editors of journals to find reviewers for manuscripts. At least, that is my experience. In the summer, many academic scientists (and others) are extremely busy trying to get as much research done as possible before the beginning of the academic year. Many of us travel (conferences, research visits etc.). Some even take a vacation.

And yet, many people submit manuscripts for review in the summer, when they have time to complete projects, so the peer review process cannot take the summer off.

With effort, I have been able to find a sufficient number of reviewers for most submitted manuscripts that I have to handle as editor, but I have also received a large number of excuses from people explaining why they can't accept my request to review a manuscript.

Of course, no one has to give a reason, but many choose to do so, no doubt feeling the invisible sting of my editorial frustration and fearing my wrath the next time they submit a manuscript to the journal I edit. Or something.

Most excuses are routine and uncreative:
  • I have too many other reviews to do at this time (in fact, that's the one I use the most when declining review requests from editors of other journals).
  • I am traveling non-stop for the next n weeks (further admission: I've used that one as well, but only when it's true).
  • The subject of this manuscript is beyond my expertise. etc.
Boring.

This summer, I got this one from a potential reviewer:

My wife made me take her on vacation.

Shall we parse that? It's summer, we have nothing better to do, let's do it:

My wife.. It's her fault! Not mine! I really really wanted to do this review but..

made me.. I had no choice! I was coerced! She was going to refuse to make my dinner and wash my socks if I didn't accede to her demand..

take her.. ugh, this is the part I dislike the most in this sentence. Why did she need to be taken on vacation? Did he carry her? Strap her to the car roof? Does "take" mean that he paid, drove, or both, and she sat passively while he took her places?

on vacation.. because of course, given his druthers, as a serious scientists, he would not go on vacation, he would do the review. But, alas, he was not allowed to have druthers. His wife took them.

Surely we can come up with better excuses than the boring ones and the wife-made-me one. They need not even be true, as long as they are not boring.

I am requesting that each of you provide a creative, entertaining excuse for declining a request to review. Do not decline this request even though it is summer. I am quite sure that you do not have any other similar requests at this time, you can easily type one in the comment box even if you are traveling non-stop for the next n weeks, and I happen to know that your wife (or whoever) wants you to take this challenge and entertain the readers of FSP.






54 comments:

EngineeringGradStudent said...

I'd love to give you an excuse why I couldn't review a paper. Unfortunately, I'm too busy teaching my first class and writing solutions to homework problems that you assigned because they seemed like a good idea at the time takes much longer than I'd anticipated. Also, I have to finish collecting data for the paper I need to finish, so I can submit to the major conference coming up soon.

Anonymous said...

Try the southern hemisphere for reviewers during your summer. It's work as usual down here.

Sharon said...

I'm sorry I cannot review this manuscript, but I'm extremely busy fortifying my anti-zombie fortress. Safety first!

michiexile said...

I have to comment on this one, because your chief example of a horrible excuse is so close to one I am actually using this summer, namely “My wife made me take a vacation” (or maybe rather “My wife made me stop working when my paychecks stopped coming”)

Background: my last postdoc ended in May, my next doesn't start until September. During the summer, I'm in fact living off of my wife's salary, and she has made it clear that she expects me to spend the time doing vacation-y things (while she works), since I never tune out otherwise.

So I am, in fact, avoiding work all summer long in order to play saxophone and piano, watch TV-series and movies, and play egregious amounts of Fallout New Vegas. And in return, she keeps me with pocket money, a roof over my head and food.

It's probably all good, but the temptation to sit down and work on that book, and those few articles, and that one research project, and those reviews (due in October, so I can do them after the summer ends too), and so on, and so forth, is in fact strong enough that she regularly has to remind me not to work.

In my defense, she's doing it because she's the closest we have to a voice of sanity in my family, and I could at least as well phrase the excuse (and do when talking to others) as “I'm unemployed right now, so I'm trying not to work.” which is far less wife-blaming.

Pagan Topologist said...

I was planning to accept your request to referee this articel, but, as the old saying goes, discretion is the better part of valour.

Anonymous said...

This one is true, if you substitute "doing the vast majority of my administrative-type university job" for "review a manuscript" (in all honesty, they aren't all that different). (and this is why I'm posting anonymously).

I would seriously love to review your manuscript but I cannot because I volunteered to teach a couple of class sessions for a new program, and this small commitment has evolved into developing a budget and a syllabus for the entire course, scheduling guest speakers, and other sorts of new-program organization, all of which seems to come with last-minute requests. This is on top of my real full-time job of reviewing manuscripts, and it's making me insane. My deepest apologies.

apparently said...

I've reviewed papers by these authors in the past. They are not so smart. I'd rather poke my eyes out than spend my time detailing the flaws in their logic, methods, and conclusions.

MamaRox said...

Unfortunately, I've had so many manuscripts rejected by your journal that I would be incapable of a thorough and thoughtful review at this time.

Susan said...

I am sorry I will be unable to complete a review for you this summer. My cat has taken my laptop keyboard hostage, and refuses to relienquish this position until there has been sufficient adoration heaped upon her. I hope to be able to help you at some future date.

Anonymous said...

I will not be able to review this manuscript because I have been kidnapped by ninjas who are threatening to feed my brains to zombies. I will be happy to accept further requests for manuscript reviews if and when I return to my home with brains intact.

Anonymous said...

Last time I accepted a manuscript to review, the last two pages were chewed to oblivion by my toddler before I could read them. As it turns out, her assessment of the quality of the writing was fairly spot on, and she was simply trying to save me much pain. As such I am not reviewing any more manuscripts unless they have survived a battery of test toddlers. Feel free to call me when your journal has implemented this procedure.

John Vidale said...

My actual response more often than not, which I can't use, is

I know what the authors are trying to say, and it is not worth arguing about, no matter whether it is right or wrong. Please reject.

One potential reviewer when I was an editor declined to review a paper with this comment about 20 years ago, and I went to some length to extract a paragraph to that effect that I could use to reject the paper.

If I don't care about the paper, I certainly don't care enough to spend an hour or more trying to show that nobody cares.

Another problematic but honest possible response, which I didn't use just two days ago

The abstract indicates the famously contentious authors are likely crazy, and probably used arcane and opaque math enough that proving it will be impossible. Can I have the paper to pin on my bulletin board but not have to review it?

Aisling said...

Reviewer pools are stretched thin in the summer! So that might explain the review invitation I received a couple of days ago. I will take your blog post as an opportunity to write the sadly accurate refusal justification I did *not* send for fear of editor's wrath... Humor is in the eye of the beholder...

Dear Editor,
Thank you for your invitation to review this manuscript by Dr. NextDoorOffice. As evidenced by a recent (2 weeks!) submission to your journal co-authored by myself and Dr. NextDoorOffice, in addition to being affiliated with the same department, we work in close collaboration. Therefore, I have to decline your kind offer to review due to a conflict of interest.

Klaas said...

My apologies but I will not be able to review your manuscript as I am too busy looting the shops in my local high street.

Anonymous said...

I must decline. At the moment, I do not have any capable grad students I can have do the review for me.

Anonymous said...

Surf's up! (Sorry to hear that you're working.)

a physicist said...

I'm sorry, I don't have time to referee this paper. I am too busy responding to commenters on my blog who tell me that I must not spend enough time reviewing papers if I have time to write my blog and respond to their comments.

Anonymous said...

I am an editor and have no better luck in the summer with southern hemisphere people than with northern hemi-people.

Saying 'my wife made me take a vacation' is very different from saying 'my wife made me take her on vacation'. In my opinion.

Alex said...

I would review this paper, but I'm too busy commenting on blogs.

Alex said...

On a related note, I just submitted a paper to a journal that lets me see how many reviewers have agreed to review. So far 3 requests have been made, two have said "Too busy", one hasn't yet responded. I assume that, much like me, these reviewers are rushing to get manuscripts out before classes start again.

I'm not quite sure why we all tell ourselves that it will be easier to review papers once classes start, unless it's because we'll have finished our manuscripts by then.

Female Science Professor said...

I have been turned down by the last 4 southern hemisphere people I requested to review. Perhaps they are too busy because it is 'work as usual' down there.

Anonymous said...

For UK journals:

Ordinarily, I would love to review this paper, but at this point in time, I have decided I cannot be arsed.

John Vidale said...

I think number of review declinations should be listed and considered in paper reviewing and even promotion cases. People's time is precious, and whether a review or recommendation is considered worthwhile is a statement of enthusiasm or lack thereof.

bonnie said...

I must decline to review this manuscript, as I am spending a year dead for tax purposes.

Andrea said...

"I will be unable to review this paper because my brain has been eaten by Zombies. I have ordered a new brain from Amazon but it is on back order. I will let you know when it arives." I saw several Zombie related comments and thought I would join the crowd.

GMP said...

A real excuse I used recently with a society journal for which I review often: Just had a baby, won't be accepting new referrals till [month of coming back to work].

As for faux excuses, how's this:

Can't review at the time, got heat stroke from too much fun in the sun.

Can't review as I am taking a 6-month full immersion course in [insert language other than English] and my teacher forbids me to read anything longer than a few sentences in English, as it will mess up with my studies.

Can't review as I consider the lead senior author to be a blithering idiot/maniacal slave driver/simply an asshole/[insert pejorative here], so in all fairness someone more favorably disposed towards the authors should be solicited.

And to add onto the idiocy that is "My wife made me take her on vacation," here's the guy's likely excuse in a few years: "I cannot review because I am lonely and depressed -- my wife left me and took the kids, since I repeatedly showed that I cared more about my work than my family.

Anonymous said...

I seem to have misplaced my red pen. I will let you know when and if I locate it, but until then I am unavailable to review papers.

William said...

Unfortunately I don't have time to review this paper, as my wife made me take her on vacation. Specifically, to North Korea, where we are seeking asylum from the embezzlement charges.

Anonymous said...

Would you believe, one of my PhD students submitted a manuscript on July 1 this year, and precisely four weeks later received a total of FOUR referee reports - not one-liners either, but proper reports.
So somebody is still working, and has enough time to read our manuscript...

A colleague of mine used the real excuse just two weeks ago: "Unfortunately I must decline this request to review, because as the third author on the manuscript, I believe it would be a conflict of interest..."

Anonymous said...

I once got the following reply from an editor after e-mailing him for the fourth time asking him a question about my pending submission: "My apologies. My house was flooded (broken water filter) several weeks ago." (sic)
I had never met or had any previous contact with this person before.

Maybe not as creative as the ones being made up here, but sadly true.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry that I cannot review this paper. I threw myself off a cliff and broke several bones.

(true story)

Anonymous said...

This excuse has been true for a manuscript I've kept receiving lately. I've not had the nerve to actually use it, but it is true:
"I am sorry, but I have reviewed and rejected this paper at 2 other journals, most recently rejecting it from Journal X last week. In the intervening one week, the authors could not possibily have had time to make the major revisions and conduct the additional experiments needed to support their conclusions and I cannot possibily come up with new ways of saying the same things regarding this flawed manuscript over and over again."

Anonymous said...

Too bad that humor/irony/sarcasm is easily lost in writing. The 'my wife made me take her on vacation' could easily be read as "I was finally made to realize that I need to take a much deserved break and focus on my personal life". I read it as a joke. Not as a male chauvinist comment.

Anonymous said...

A real excuse that was used:
I cannot review this paper. You might want to check who the authors of the paper before sending it to one of them for review. Or you can just accept the paper since I wrote it and I think it's fabulous!

An excuse I want to use:
I have reviewed papers for your journal previously, and even though I have each time recommended Reject, you accepted them each time. So why don't you save us both the trouble and Accept the damn thing this time. You don't need my review anyway.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, this one is true until the last sentence, and that is simply the logical conclusion of the rest

Our Office of Research Services has ruled that because I decided not to take any summer salary from my grant this summer to save money in tight NIH times, I CANNOT claim to be devoting any effort to either of my NIH funded projects. This manuscript is in one of those fields, and thus I am forbidden from reviewing it.

Mark P

Alex said...

FSP,

A question about picking reviewers: Do you generally send papers to the people that the authors recommended? Do you over-ride recommendations to go with people whose work you know? If the paper is a bit remote from your expertise (certainly some of my papers have been sent to editors who weren't working on what I do) do you browse reviewer databases for keywords?

Also, does your journal have "Rate your reviewers" options for editors? Will the database say that somebody submits reviews on time, or that the person writes insightful reviews, or whatever?

Old Biddy said...

I cannot review this manuscript because my husband made me make him take me on vacation.

Kate said...

I am sorry to not be able to review this paper. I am potty training my daughter, which involves numerous trips to and from the bathroom, interspersed with extra loads of laundry and floor scrubbing and carpet cleaning. If she is anything like her older sister, this process will go on for 5-6 weeks and therefore I will not be able to fit in time to review the manuscript.

TheHyperbolicRxn said...

I must decline this invitation to review as I am very far behind schedule. In my nap schedule. Many Regrets.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

My dicke hurts because it is so fucken hotte out, and I therefore cannot review this manuscript.

Anonymous said...

I've never said no. Seriously. I haven't. The closest I've come is to say I couldn't get it done within the timeframe the editor wants it, but they've always said that's ok in response.

Anonymous said...

If my lab's annual excursion had gone differently, my PI could have used this excuse:

I went paintballing with the lab, and my graduate students took out all their pent up aggression on me. As a result, I am in the hospital with broken bones and thus will not be able to review this manuscript.

Anonymous said...

I cannot review this paper because you are a wishy-washy editor.

inBetween said...

I actually had a very successful and prolific academic scientist at an R1 very prestigious university (and a member of the NAS as well) tell me that they couldn't review because they have a learning disability. I am not kidding.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Thanks for the help! I have 3 pending requests to referee papers, and I don't want to do all of them. Truthfully, since I'm in the process of changing fields, I don't want to do any of them, but I feel obligated to do at least one.


Here are some real reasons I have used, though I don't remember exactly how I phrased them:

The last time I was a referee for your journal, you sent me a 70-page manuscript (that happened to be complete crap). I will not referee for your journal again unless the request clearly states the size of the paper. You may not have page limits, but I do.


I will not referee for PNAS until they eliminate the old-boy network for accepting papers with sham refereeing. I will not assist in the pretense the PNAS is a referreed journal.

Cherish said...

I cannot review this paper because the author recently was the third reviewer on one of my papers, making me feel like his prose are more appropriate for the dartboard. Feel free to contact me if you have papers that aren't written by obnoxious jerks.

aj said...

true story: As I am going away for a year, I wanted to get one last paper out. My research group submitted a paper at the end of may, we received detailed reviewers comments in 3-4 weeks, spent 6 weeks doing massive experiments and rewrote the whole thing, got it out the door in late july, and it just appeared online.

logical conclusion: Therefore, I did not have time to review any manuscripts. Did you send me any? Are they in my inbox backlog? Oh no.....

Anonymous said...

Once upon a time, I really did decline by saying, "I am sorry, but this paper is boring."

Whenever I decline, I do suggest the names of other possible reviewers.

Anonymous said...

I told an editor once that I couldn't do the review in the requested time frame. Instead, I asked if I could have an extra few days due to other obligations (which happened to be getting a grant submitted). The editor didn't go for that. oh well.

Epiphron said...

I am a follower of Harold Camping and will be raptured on May 21st, so I will not be able to complete the review, thank you for the offer.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I have to decline reading this manuscript. I'm currently still reading Orwell's 1984, and I am incapable of reading two works of fiction at the same time.

michiexile said...

A colleague of mine used the real excuse just two weeks ago: "Unfortunately I must decline this request to review, because as the third author on the manuscript, I believe it would be a conflict of interest..."

My first big paper during my PhD studies showed up again a few weeks after submission — in my Advisor's mailbox, with a request for him to review it.

He declined, stating conflict of interest, seeing as the author was his own student.

Anonymous said...

My water broke 10 minutes ago.

Anonymous said...

You have to give a reason? I just say I am "unable" and that's that.