Saturday / Sunday Ramble – Peer Reviews

In another part of my life I occasionally write articles for publication in scientific journals. In reality these days I tend to be a co-author but that is just a technicality that demonstrates an enjoyable data collecting partnership somewhere close to the cutting edge. At least I am far enough away from the cutting edge that the risk to fingers is small.

Fingers is a segway to me playing the part of Frank Finger in “It’s Only A Play” by Terrance McNally (I hope I recall the name correctly). It is a fun play and at its heart the review of the prodigy director’s (Frank’s) latest Broadway offering.

Scientific journals have a process of peer review before publication. For those who have been lucky enough to avoid peer review, the process goes something like this: the authors write and submit a piece of work to a journal editor who then asks two or three people who know something about the subject of your piece to review and critique it. The fate of your publication is in their hands.

So Friday I had my Frank Finger moment as the second reviewer absolutely canned an article that we had written. Ouch! What a breakthrough. We all go through this and it is not the first time for me either. I have a decent collection of ones that made it through so I can spare myself psychological counselling. The first author is perhaps not so fortunate and I feel for him.

Was the criticism correct you may ask: no I answer. What good does my denial do: none whatsoever. Can we whine to the editor: sure we can and he/she will tell us what we already know: take it elsewhere it is fine work but not for this journal.

My biggest reaction was to consider the amount of human endeavour that is sunk into this circus. How many people spend how many years of their productive lives trying to get a simple message out there. In our case the message (the data in fact) will get out there, it will just take some more good old persistence.

So like Frank Finger: Its Only An Article, but it is also an effort that must be made.

So in a round about way I come to the point: good reviews are splendid and clearly the reviewer is a fine person; bad reviews are rubbish to receive and clearly the reviewer needs to …. but I suppose all feedback is a gift and we absorb what is useful, discard what is useless, pick ourselves up and carry on continuously improving!


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