Friday, March 18, 2011

Two extremes from the same paper

I recently received a follow up email from a journal for which I regularly perform reviews asking me to review and comment on a revised manuscript from a previous review. This is not something unusual in my experience and since I reviewed the article once, going over a revised manuscript on the same topic is par for the course.

The first thing I did is review my comments to the authors and then I looked at the comments from the second reviewer. What I saw actually shocked me. I had extensive comments, particularly about basing their entire support for their method on a non-peer reviewed white paper, and it was clear (to me) several things needed correction prior to acceptance. Scientifically, the article was actually very good. But the presentation, references, and supporting discussion needed work. The second reviewer just had a stirring recommendation to accept because this was the greatest engineered piece of work since the machine that slices bread. The second reviewer had no other comments.

In my experience, I have never seen an article 100% perfect for publication and neither have the other reviewers (from the review reports I've seen). Also, I've co-authored enough articles to know there are always things you can make better, either by better graphs and figures or by improving the discussion. And, in fact, when I submit an article, I freely expect the "once these changes are made, I expect this article will be suitable for publication" comment. There are a few reasons for this.
  1. No one does anything perfect the first time, at least not me (or I? my grammatical skills are terrible!). I have a colleague who has, along with his 5 co-authors and 2 reviewers, missed a misspelling in the article title and it was only caught during typesetting.
  2. Fresh eyes always bring new things to the fore.
  3. You're going to have a stupid mistake. Everyone does.
  4. Reviewers, and by reviewers I mean Everyone, likes to nit-pick at other peoples' work.
That brings me to a couple of questions I have on the subject. When you submit an article for publication, do you expect minor revisions or do you expect it to be 100% accepted? When you review an article, do you ever accept without any changes? What should be the normal amount for both?

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