Monday, February 14, 2011

Editorial Soul Searching

A post last week dealt with a topic related to my work as an editor of a journal. Some commenters raised issues about editors and reviewers, and I decided to discuss at least one more editor-related topic this week.

But first, here are some links to previous posts about editors and reviewers:

Musings on the topic of rejecting manuscripts without review (2009, 2010 posts)

What do I look for in a review? (a post for those lacking confidence in their reviews)

What do editors do? (an introduction to different types of editorial work for journals, and musing about the role of editors in the peer review and publication process)

If you click on the "editor" tag in the frame to the right (you have to scroll down a bit), you can find other assorted editor-related posts, some of them stranger than others.

Now on to the new topics:

From the comments in last week's editor-themed post:

When I review papers for journals where I usually publish, I always wonder if the fact that I'm a good reviewer (on time and constructive) helps me with the editors whenever I make my own submissions. I am not implying I am expecting a freebie, but I always wonder if editors are more patient with authors that are good reviewers for the journal and less patient with people like the one you described in your comment.

In the comments last week, I described more specifically a case involving a delinquent reviewer who strung me along with promises for turning in his review, and then never did the review. In the situation involving the delinquent reviewer (with whom I communicated mostly by e-mail but also by phone, at least until he stopped communicating with me), I was (and am) so annoyed by this person's behavior that I would not be able to be objective about any manuscript he submitted to the journal; someone else would have to deal with his manuscripts. This does not place him at any disadvantage relative to any other author; his work would be evaluated on its own merits by other qualified editors. Even if he is a jerk (says me), he and his co-authors (some of whom are likely to be students) have a right to a fair evaluation of their work.

Do constructive and punctual reviewers have any advantage? Sort of, but maybe not directly. I do try to provide speedy and useful editorial assistance with the submitted manuscripts of hard-working reviewers, but there is of course no preference in terms of the decision about publication. However, even if conscientious reviewers don't derive any obvious direct benefit from being diligent, I think that there is some cosmic credit and long-term benefit from being respected for their work and professionalism. Many journals are edited by people who write a lot of external letters from tenure and promotion and who organize sessions at conferences (and therefore make decisions about invited speakers and so on). You can't build a career on being a diligent reviewer, but it is a good thing overall be considered a respected colleague who provides insightful comments in reviews.

Other examples of possible long-term consequences:

I can think of at least one person whose annoying behavior as a reviewer has meant that I have been unreceptive when he has expressed interest in working with me on various projects. If I think someone is uncommunicative and unprofessional in their work as reviewer, why would I want to work with them in any other capacity?

Furthermore, the delinquent reviewer described in the anecdote mentioned above (and in more details in the comments in last week's post) is an assistant professor. If asked to write an external letter for his tenure and promotion, I could probably set aside my annoyance with him and focus on his research record, but I hope I am not asked to do so. No one should be denied tenure (or receive tenure) because they are a bad (or excellent) reviewer, but it one small but important aspect of professional service.

Question for my readers, especially those who have served in some editorial capacity: Do you let your opinion of someone as a reviewer affect your interactions (direct or indirect) and opinions of them as a researcher?


Anonymous said...

No one should be denied tenure for for being a bad reviewer? I TOTALLY disagree. Reviewing is 100% tied to being a good researcher. Being able to give constructive feedback is 100% tied to being a good researcher. Giving respect to the journal/other scientists should go into the tenure/promotion decision.

I could see the same person not giving timely constuctive feedback to students writing chapters of their thesis.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the quality of a review absolutely affects my opinion of the reviewer as a researcher. I don't mind if someone sits on the fence. And, I don't mind if someone says that they don't have the expertise to review parts of the manuscript. And I even don't mind late, very late, or the rare never-got-it-done review (maybe they are too busy giving feedback to their students, who should have priority anyway). But, when I get a review that makes me wonder if the reviewer even read the paper? Or understands the most basic concepts? Or has no writing skills whatsoever? That affects my opinion, without a doubt.

inBetween said...

On a somewhat different note, I am pretty that being a diligent panel member for a granting agency for a couple of years helped me get a grant from this agency right towards the end of my service.

Anonymous said...

A person's quality and helpfulness as a reviewer absolutely affect their treatment as an author. For example, when I have two equally qualified people who could serve as reviewers but their timeliness differs, I will choose the more efficient reviewer for the author who is an exceptional reviewer but would weigh the number of recent requests to the efficient reviewer for the author who is not, likely choosing the less efficient reviewer to limit the burden on an efficient and careful reviewer. While this is subtle and would not affect the ultimate decision to accept or reject the ms, it could still have significant consequences for the author's career, especially for a young researcher.

Alex said...

A few months ago I reviewed something and said that the authors need to mention a certain effect or variable. It's an effect or variable that a lot of people address, and I published the theory showing some key aspects of it. The authors cited me in the revised paper, and since then I haven't been invited to review another paper for this journal. I worry that I've gotten a reputation for fishing for cites (even though I never told them to cite me, I just told them to address this effect in their data because it's something important that everybody else is addressing).

On the other hand, I've also been getting requests to review revised and resubmitted papers that I didn't review on the first round. I wonder what it says about me that authors want me for the hard cases but don't think of me as their first choice.

Anonymous said...

I know one editor who sends papers written by slow reviewers to other slow reviewers and papers written by fast conscientious reviewers to other fast conscientious reviewers.

Unknown said...

Absolutely agree with first anonymous. Reviewing is so absolutely crucial for scientific progress, it is about listening(reading) and constructively, productively criticising a work, so that everybody learns something about that issue at hand. There are far too many tenure track people who are absolutely incompetent at participating at the scientific process, which at least for me entails to a big part the discussion of each other's work. Only a competent opponent will find the subtle flaws in my work, but only if (s)he's willing to. And I need her to find the flaws, so I can improve. Reviewing is just plain in the middle of this!

Anonymous said...

Especially as my career progresses, I get better and better at recognizing that people have strengths & weaknesses, and occasionally we fall down on the job but then rise for others. I try not to judge based on past performance--basically I try for a clean slate each interaction. (I also hope that my colleagues are forgiving of my own occasional lapses).

That being said, as an editor I have learned *a lot* about my colleagues as authors and reviewers. It definitely makes me more confident about my own abilities.