A call for statistical editors in ecology

Pop quiz for all you potential “statistical editors” out there: What’s this?

A new article in TREE wants to add a specialized reviewer to the peer review process. von Wehrden, Schultner, and Abson suggest that a statistical editor would expedite* the peer review process:

“The review process of a manuscript with imperfect statistics typically takes several months, while a statistical editor could return the manuscript to authors within days or weeks”

It’s a noble idea, but I don’t think that it will work.

The authors bring up one potential risk:

Adding another layer to the review process potentially creates a new set of ‘knowledge gatekeepers’.

So these statistical editors will be able to ding the statistics of a paper just because they don’t like the findings. The authors suggest that we could circumvent this problem by only allowing the statistical editors to review the statistics. This isn’t possible or appropriate. No one reads a paper in a vacuum. And you can’t assess the quality of the statistics without the surrounding questions, approach, and conclusions.

Another possible risk is that no one will want to be a statistical editor! Editors have a hard enough time finding reviewers. Despite my love for statistics, I know that I would not want to be a statistical editor. I got into science because I love the science, which is why I am almost always happy to review a paper. I’d be less inclined to agree to review a paper if I was only allowed to comment on the statistics.

So I propose a call for all ecologists to know (or learn!) statistics. The benefits of are twofold: 1) the statistics and analysis will be honed and corrected during the pre-peer review process (i.e., when you’re analyzing the data and writing the paper); and 2) The reviewers, themselves statistically savvy ecologists, will be able to assess the statistical rigor of manuscripts.

What do you think?

*But is this a statistically significant decrease in the review process? Looks like we’ll need a statistical editor for this call for statistical editors…

REFERENCES
Von Wehrden H, Schultner J & Abson DJ (2015) A call for statistical editors in ecology. Trends Ecol. Evol.

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About Noah Snyder-Mackler

I'm a postdoctoral fellow in the department of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University. Broadly, I study non-human primate genetics and genomics. More specifically, I'm interested in the interaction between behavior, genotype, and gene expression in response to social stress.
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