Funny referee quotes

In the spirit of Tim’s last post about rapid publication and review, I found a link to a journal, Environmental Microbiology, that publishes some of their favourite referee comments. Below is a smattering of some of the more humorous ones. The link is here for those of you wanting to read all of the 2010 posted comments.

Done! Difficult task, I don’t wish to think about constipation and faecal flora during my holidays! But, once a referee, always and anywhere a referee; we are good boy scouts in the research wilderness. Even under the sun and near a wonderful beach.   This paper is desperate. Please reject it completely and then block the author’s email ID so they can’t use the online system in future. It is sad to see so much enthusiasm and effort go into analyzing a dataset that is just not big enough. The biggest problem with this manuscript, which has nearly sucked the will to live out of me, is the terrible writing style. Reject – More holes than my grandad’s string vest!   The writing and data presentation are so bad that I had to leave work and go home early and then spend time to wonder what life is about.
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About Dilara Ally

Dilara Ally works as a Bioinformatics Scientist for one of the hottest biofuel companies in San Diego, CA called SG Biofuels.
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  • Brant Faircloth

    I’d say that many of these comments are anything but funny. Several of them are downright unprofessional. It’s one thing to suggest a paper be rejected… and, it’s another entirely to wallow in the enjoyment of doing so all the while making snide remarks about a manuscript or its authors… suggesting the authors of a manuscript be barred from submitting any more papers to the journal, for instance.

    It seems to me that pointing many of these comments out in any way – other than to emphasize that they are unprofessional and unacceptable – legitimizes their tone and content while giving the appearance that this behavior is acceptable in reviews or comments to the editor.

    Not so.

  • Dilara Ally

    I think that these quotes speak to the underlying issue of reviewer exhaustion. It is responsibility of the authors to communicate their science in a way that is understandable and clear. And not to expect the reviewers to do the work for them. One junior scientist, I spoke with told me he reviews an average of 30-40 papers a year. So I can understand when frustration is expressed in a telling comment.

    As scientists, we have plenty of opportunities to have our colleagues review and critique the manuscript before sending it out. I think that given the emphasis on having and getting publications, there is a rush to get manuscripts submitted and often they go out before they should. We would do ourselves and our field a great service if we spent the necessary time revising and then revising again before submitting.

    At the same time I understand that there are more constructive ways to offer criticism. That said, I did not read these comments as a personal attack, after all it is just science and not who we are.

  • Tim Vines

    I wonder if the journal just made a note of these and then asked the reviewer to soften their tone- we’d definitely feel bad if something like this appeared in something that made it to an author. The first quote is great though.

  • Nick Crawford

    I’m with Brant on this one. But, should probably explain that we (Brant and I and a few other people) just got back reviews of a manuscript that included a seriously nasty and underhanded review; one clearly designed to sink our paper. Needless to say nerves are a little sensitive here and Boston and in LA.

    Anyway, I do think it’s important for reviewers to write reviews as though the authors know who they are and for editors to step in when things get out of hand. Tim, do you see a lot of snarkiness in reviews or for the most part are reviewers professional? Oh, and number one is pretty funny!

  • Tim Vines

    I’m actually very impressed by the professionalism of our referees, as there’s almost never any comments that I ask them to revise. I do let through rude comments about specific aspects of the paper (e.g. “the application of program XXX to this data is nonsensical”) as these aren’t ad hominem and will ensure that the authors pay particular attention to this point, but these are moderately rare as well.

  • Dilara Ally

    Yes. I can see why one might be sensitive. I’ve had some pretty nasty criticism levied at my stuff, but in the end it helps to keep the science over there and separate from us. I am, however, in agreement that it is best to be constructive. And yes the journal never passed the comments along. My personal favourite is “..which has nearly sucked the will to live out of me, is the terrible writing style.” Only because I remember marking undergraduate student essays as a TA.

    Here’s a good retort from an author to a referee:

    WOW! You did ‘read it with interest’ in SEVEN MINUTES??!! [Ed.: this is an author contribution in response to an editorial decision (rejection) made within 7 min of submission]

    I’m wondering if any of you have read Rosie Redfield’s blogpost on the bacteria that putatively substitute As for P in some of their biomolecules? One interesting comment on all the criticism was the tone of her blogpost. Do you feel a blogpost should be just as tempered as reviewer comments on a manuscript?

  • Brant Faircloth

    Although my patience with these types of comments may be thinner than normal, my opinion would be the same had you asked me how I felt about most of these comments two weeks ago. Generally, I try to avoid “getting personal”. I sign all of my reviews (both positive and negative) for several reasons. One of the reasons I sign my reviews is because it forces me to think about what I say to the authors of any particular manuscript and how, exactly, I say it.

    I think the larger trend for science should be that all correspondence related to a published manuscript be provided alongside the manuscript as supplemental material – in many ways, I have the feeling that this would change the tone and content of reviews while providing a more open, honest, and professional forum for scientific discourse. It would also give a much better indication to the taxpaying public (provided they can access an article) of the extraordinary amount of work that goes into both submitting and refereeing manuscripts. In fact, it would be particularly useful if each review received it’s own DOI – accessible for access, review, and criticism, itself, and also to be incorporated into ones own body of work (e.g. for P & T review).

    In terms of blog posts – the message is always stronger when the tone is professional, particularly when being critical of the work of another group.

  • Dilara Ally

    I really like the idea of a manuscript review available as a public document. That’s a really cool idea for two reasons: first, it might make reviewers more accountable to what they write (as you suggest), but it would also show the contribution of the reviewer to the progress of the manuscript. So in the case where a reviewer contributed a really huge amount, their work is acknowledged. Plus, the evolution of a manuscript is more available.

    But Brant, you touch upon something that I really believe in too – either a fully open process of reviewing or a double blind one. Personally, I prefer the completely open process for the reasons you suggested. But I can see the merits of both.

    Tim, what are the reasons given for not having a completely open or completely blind process?

  • Tim Vines

    We did discuss having open peer review, but decided against it because a) the referees’ comments typically pertain to problems that have been dealt with in the published version and b) ESL reviewers may be less likely to review knowing that their names and sometimes poorly written comments would be visible to everyone. Knowing that people would read your comments would also lead to people taking longer over their reviews to ensure that the language was perfect, which really isn’t necessary.

    We’ve also pondered a double blind system in the past, but this would entail a colossal amount of work across both journals and I’m not convinced that the end result would be significantly fairer. I could probably be convinced by compelling data, but for now I’d rather expend effort on data archiving and preventing duplicate publication or plagiarism.

  • Brant Faircloth

    On the subject of publishing referee comments alongside published research, Biology Direct is a new(-ish) journal that operates along these lines:

  • Brant Faircloth

    Here is another journal promoting full transparency of the editorial process:

    it comes by way of an interesting blog post on the same (and additional) subjects: