Category Archives: peer review

Peer review, CVs, and what is Publons for?

Something a bit different today: this post is mostly just a link to a piece I’ve just published on jobs.ac.uk. There, I ask why early-career folks might get involved in peer reviewing, given that they aren’t paid to review (unlike many, if not most, more senior academics, for whom reviewing is part of the service component of the job). There are clear benefits to reviewing (which you can read about in the piece I linked to above*) but I don’t think one of them is giving you something you can list to good effect on your CV. Which raises the question: what is Publons for? Continue reading

Should peer reviewers comment on writing style?

There seems to be a pretty widespread agreement that peer review should (even if it can’t always) identify flawed reasoning, improper statistical tests, and other serious issues with the inferences a manuscript makes. But should reviewers also make suggestions about writing style? About use of the active voice vs. the passive; about the use of contractions and other informality; about metaphors or even (gasp) humour? A lot of authors seem to think they shouldn’t, arguing that writing style is a personal decision that should be left up to a writer. Actually, I have some sympathy for that argument – the role of reviewers in crushing individual style is one reason that our literature lacks much individual voice, and pushback against beauty and humour is one reason it’s (mostly) so tedious. But in matters of style, should reviewers mind their own business? Continue reading

Weird things scientists believe: that paying reviewers won’t cost us

Warning: a little ranty.

I’m fascinated by the weird things some scientists believe, in the face of what seems to me common sense and obvious constraints. There are many examples (like the common disdain for “nearly significant”), but the one I’ve chosen to offend people with today is a surprisingly common belief: that we could have journals pay their peer reviewers out of their profit margins without additional cost to authors. I see this claim frequently, most often on Twitter (although I’m not going to link to any particular exemplar, because the claim is too common to make it sensible to dunk on any one individual).

To get one thing out of the way immediately: I’m talking here about the notion that a journal could pay its reviewers. Continue reading

Why I don’t want to be part of “open peer review”

Warning: header image captures this post pretty well.

Should peer review be open and transparent?  Sounds appealing, doesn’t it?  Who’d want to go on record as saying anything shouldn’t be made more open and transparent? Well, I’ll give it a go, because I’ve recently declined to review two manuscripts that looked interesting, for a reason that’s entirely new to me.* In both cases, the journals specified that by agreeing to review, I was consenting for my reviewer comments, and the authors’ response, to be published as a supplementary file with the paper. Sorry – I’m not having any part of that. Continue reading

How to review an NSERC Discovery Grant

This is a guest post by Jeannette Whitton, Group Chair for Group 1503 (Ecology & Evolution) of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (Canada) (and Professor of Botany, University of British Columbia). She has extensive experience with the review and evaluation of NSERC Discovery Grants (among other things!) While Jeannette writes here specifically about reviewing proposals for Discovery Grants, much of her advice will serve you well in reviewing other kinds of grants, or grants for other agencies*. It will also serve you well in writing grants – because if you know what reviewers and evaluation panels are looking for, you can deliver just what they need.  Dig in!

Some weeks ago, you graciously agreed to review an NSERC Discovery Grant (DG) proposal, or possibly two or three**, which makes you an awesome person, especially in 2020. Because of confidentiality issues, we don’t get much training with reviewing grants – but just as for manuscript reviews, it takes time and care to provide a thoughtful grant review. How I review DGs changed after I served on the evaluation panel and got to see what was most useful, so I thought I would write down some thoughts about what to focus on. I hope this helps those who are new to NSERC DG reviews – or to reviewing grants more generally.  Comments are most welcome! Continue reading

The list of disfavoured reviewers: who should be on yours? And will an editor heed it?

Last week, I wrote about lists of suggested reviewers (for manuscripts).  Most journals require them, although authors sometimes resent it; as an editor I use them and appreciate them very much..  But there’s another list that puzzles some authors: the list of disfavoured reviewers.  This is a list of people that you’re requesting not be asked to review your manuscript.  As an editor, how do I use that list?  And who (if anyone) should you put on yours? Continue reading

Do editors really use those lists of “recommended reviewers”? And who should you suggest?

You know the feeling: you’ve spent many hours painstakingly massaging your manuscript into compliance with a journal’s idiosyncratic formatting requirements. You’ve spent another two hours battling its online submission system*.  You’re almost there – ready to hit “submit” and go for a well-deserved beer or cinnamon bun – but there’s One More Screen.  The system wants your list of five recommended reviewers.  Does this really matter?  What does an editor do with it?

Well, I can’t speak for every editor (and I hope some others will add their own thoughts in the Replies).  But I can tell you what I do with them, and perhaps that can guide you when you get asked for that list. Continue reading

What should you do when Reviewer #2 says “Cite my papers”?

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for rose coloured glasses in biology. There’s the unfolding saga of paper retractions in social behaviour; and then there’s cite-my-paper-gate.  I don’t have much to say about the former (beyond expressing my admiration for the many scientists who are handling their unintended involvement with grace and integrity).  But the latter made me think.

If you didn’t hear about cite-my-paper-gate: someone (yet to be publicly identified) has been busted over all kinds of reviewing and editing malpractice. Continue reading

Turning our scientific lens on our scientific enterprise: a randomized experiment on double-blinding at Functional Ecology

Image: Experiment, © Nick Youngson via picpedia.org, CC BY-SA 3.0

I’m often puzzled by the reluctance of scientists to think scientifically and do science.  “Wait”, you say, “that’s a bizarre claim – we do science all the time, that’s why we’re called scientists”.  Well, yes, and no.

We love doing science on nature – the observations and experiments and theoretical work we deploy in discovering how the universe works.  What we don’t seem to love nearly as much is doing science on ourselves. Continue reading

Reconciling the two functions of peer review

Image: Gandalf the Gatekeeper, CC 0 via goodfreephotos.com

Peer review is arguably central to what we do as scientists – to a considerable extent it’s what lets us recognize an authentic scientific enterprise.  Consider, for instance, the distinction between peer-reviewed publications and hack pieces in predatory journals; or think about how peer-reviewed grant proposals differ from pork-barrel politics.  Given this key role, it’s rather surprising to find a great deal of disagreement about what peer review is for, how it works best, or even whether it works at all.

Along these lines, I was very surprised a couple of weeks ago to see a flurry of tweets from some folks who wanted journals to give them a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down on their manuscripts.  No comments, please, and no suggestions for improvement, thanks, just a writ of execution or an ennoblement. Continue reading