Thursday, May 15, 2014

Review round-up: The good, the bad, and being helpful.

I've had some mixed experiences with peer review this month. The bad: a journal that held my paper for three months, then returned it saying it was "inappropriate" for the journal with absolutely no reviewer comments. Which is bullshit. It's not "inappropriate" (at least not as I understand that word) for the journal, as they happen to have a special issue coming out on the very same (general) topic. (There was no public CFP for that special issue: the papers included are really, really, really obviously invited, all bigwigs who write about it all the time.) Methinks inappropriate in this case means, "you were not invited to write a paper for our special issue, and we don't need your stinkin' anonymous nobody paper." Which, you know, they could have told me that in a lot less than three months, so I could have moved on with my stinkin' paper.

Which reminds me of a paper that got outright rejected seven times in seven days -- I appreciate that the journals were clearly not interested and said so in a timely manner. (It was finally accepted.)

The good: I got a paper back last week with some of the most helpful, most detailed comments and suggestions for revisions I've ever received, which I am quite sure will really make the paper better. In re-reading my paper, I can clearly see what the reviewers meant, and how their suggestions can be implemented. Plus, the reviewers understood what I was doing, and their suggestions were in the spirit of making that more effective. My sole complaint there is the journal's use of AMA style (numbered references), which is a total pain when you're making revisions that will require reordering and renumbering all the references. (Maybe there's a way to make that happen automatically, and maybe I need to finally learn how to use Scrivener, but I haven't yet had time to do that. Kinda busy trying to write papers.)

So, it made me think about my own reviews for papers, and how much time I spend on them, and how well I write them. I guess one issue for me is that I don't have a lot of time, but I do agree to review papers a few times a year because it is part of the process, and a contribution to the profession.  But maybe I haven't thought enough about how much my reviews might assist authors (rather than journals), especially authors like me, who are junior and having to crank out a lot of work for tenure, working in virtual isolation from peers, and without adequate support systems in place to get useful feedback on papers. (I mean, I have friends in philosophy, but there's only so much I want to impose on them. My colleagues would not be much help.) I've reviewed some really terrible papers, and some really pretty good ones, and I think really hard about my judgments on their publication-worthiness. But now I'm really thinking my reviews could use some improvement, and I should focus more than I have been on being helpful to the authors.