Though flawed, the cornerstone of scholarship has always been the peer review. The cut-and-dry version goes like this: academics research and write a manuscript, and then send it to a journal. The editor first makes a decision about whether the manuscript is suitable for the journal, and meets some standard. If it does, s/he will send it to anywhere from 1-4 other experts in the field, who will read it, and provide their comments on the submission back to the editor, who will make a decision and inform the author(s).
Now, let’s look at it from the reviewers’ perspective. Potential reviewers are contacted by the journal and asked to assess the manuscript. They can either accept or decline. If they accept, they have some period of time (generally 3-4 weeks) to provide their review back to the editor.
Obviously, the quality of reviews varies A LOT. I’ve had reviews that were 5 lines, and others that were 8 pages. But length alone shouldn’t be an indicator of the quality of a review.
In my experience, I’ve received more good reviews than bad reviews (in terms of their quality, not their decision about whether the journal should accept my manuscript). And I try to pick out what I like from others’ reviews (techniques, format, etc) and incorporate it into my own style. I tend to write lengthy reviews, but many of the comments are usually relatively minor, and would take 1-2 minutes to fix (e.g., suggestions to improve readability, grammar, etc). But the bottom line is that I try to improve the manuscript by giving critical feedback.
Which is why it irks me when I see a manuscript I’ve reviewed (sometimes 2-3 times) finally appear in a journal, but fail to acknowledge the editor or reviewers. Did they not contribute to the manuscript (though not enough to merit authorship*)? It’s a simple one-liner in the acknowledgements:
We thank Person A, Person, B, and n anonymous reviewers for improving this manuscript.
Person A and Person B would be people that the authors asked to review the manuscript themselves before submitting (something everyone should do!), or the editor if they provided substantive feedback.
But perhaps this is just because most authors can’t stand my reviews, and purpously snub the reviewers in their acknowledgements by not mentioning them. So I decided to look at a recent issue of a couple of journals I haven’t reviewed for in the last 2 years: Ecology, Journal of Animal Ecology, and Oecologia, and see what proportion of published articles acknowledged those involved in the review process.
I’ll reveal the results in this week’s Friday Scribbles, so I’d like to know what you estimate:
*though I can think of a couple of reviews I’ve done where I contemplated asking, given the amount of time and effort I put in to them!
Andrew Dolman said:
Do you mean that you want to be aknowledged as an anonymous reviewer? I’ve always previously thought that the “we thank 2 anonymous reviewers” bit was a rather pointless, because no one knows who they are; it never really occured to me that the reviewers themselves know who they are, and so it is a reasonable courtesy.
Alex Bond said:
And the authors know that the reviewers contributed (even if they don’t know their identity). More so for editors or subject/associate editors, who aren’t necessarily anonymous.
I also think is pointless to acknowledge anonymous reviewers, as this gives no credit to anyone. If you are proud of your job as a reviewer, and you think you deserve to be acknowledged, why not signing? I gladly acknowledge anyone contributing to my papers, but I need to know how they are in order to thanks them appropriately.
Alex Bond said:
Why should one need to know the identity in order to thank them? We don’t thank members of granting committees, but the organisation itself without knowing who exactly made a funding decision. Similarly, I think it’s appropriate to recognize the time and effort put into one’s manuscript by others, without whom the manuscript wouldn’t see the light of day.
Since it’s an 8-word phrase in the acknowledgements (and takes less time to type than looking up all the various grant numbers that people insert, for reasons that are unknown to me), why not include it?
As for whether reviews should be anonymous or not, I’ll leave that to a future post.
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