2015: The year in reviews

Reviewing is part of an academic’s workload, part of our service to the community. I think it tends to make papers better, even if only by finding out which aspects of a manuscript might confuse someone who is reading too last and thinking too little.

I am not the best reviewer: I am often late, occasionally woefully so; I hate reviewing manuscripts for a second (third, fourth, …) time, and I tend to focus on the methods and results. But I do the job. I nearly always accept invitations to review unless the manuscript is outside my area of competence (for example, I twice declined to review a manuscript on heart attack risks in sub-Saharan women – perhaps another Richard Telford was the intended reviewer), there are serious conflicts of interest (I was once asked to review a manuscript where my name had accidentally been omitted from the author list), or I know I have no time to do it within the set deadline. I hear rumours of scientists who somehow never have time to review. They are freeloaders (unless they do other service). I am sure they would rapidly complain if their manuscripts were not reviewed by others (this is not a practical suggestion – innocent parties like PhD students would be harmed).

Last year was a fairly busy year for reviews:

• Atmospheric Terrestrial and Solar Physics (1)
• Boreas (1)
• Climate of the Past (3)
• Environmental Science and Pollution Research (1)
• Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution (1 seven times)
• Global Ecology and Biogeography (1)
• Journal of Biogeography (1)
• Journal of Paleolimnology (2; got a certificate as a “top 25” reviewer)
• Journal of Quaternary Science (1 twice)
• Quaternary Science Reviews (3)
• Scientific data (1)

Yes, I know that some people review (or at least asked to review) more manuscripts in a month than I do in a year. I don’t know how they do it. I’m doing well if I can write a review in half a day. It often takes longer if I need to check some literature or think about the implications of a strange method or unexpected result.

I appreciate it when the editor informs me of their decisions about a manuscript (not that I always agree). Seeing the other reviewers’ reviews is also useful and can be reassuring that I am not being too harsh or missing major problems. One manuscript I reviewed recently had four reviewers, we concurred on every substantive point.

I appreciate it less when I spend time pointing out problems in a manuscript and suggesting how it can be improved, only to see the original version published in another journal. Certain scientists seem to this repeatedly.

Once, I was angrily accosted at a conference and accused of writing a harsh review of someone’s manuscript. In this particular case, the accusation was unfounded, but my reviews are often critical. I try to be constructive, even for those manuscripts that are so misconceived that nothing can save them. My reviews don’t read like a typical blog post here (but some reviews for Climate of the Past were based on material posted here first).

I find the way manuscripts are laid out for review can be irksome. I understand why printers wanted figure captions separate from the figures when manuscripts were submitted on paper. Now this just serves to make the reviewer’s job more difficult, having to scroll back and forth to read the caption of a complex, multi-part figure – in the last manuscript I reviewed, the figure caption for the last figure was 15 pages away from the figure. Ideally the figure would be near the text that refers to it. Some journals manage at least to get the figure and caption on the same, or adjacent, page. Please can the rest make it their New Year’s resolution to fix this? And while they are at it, please make the line numbers tally with the lines of text.

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About richard telford

Ecologist with interests in quantitative methods and palaeoenvironments
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3 Responses to 2015: The year in reviews

  1. I thought of a good title, and had to write a post to go with it.

  2. Damian Moran says:

    Right on! It sucks how the figure legends are separated from the figure, and how the figures are at the end of the manuscript. And the line numbers, what’s up with that? C’mon journals, this is 2016, year of the future! Remove these obstacles and let us review without fury.

  3. Pingback: The year in stoats: 2015 – Stoat

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