Discusing papers during the review process…

For the last two-three years I’ve been signing my reviews. I find that I write better reviews when I’m not anonymous.

It shouldn’t be like that, but it is. I’m less likely to get lazy if I know that people will see who wrote the review.

It creates a dilemma, though: should I discuss manuscripts with authors before they are published? I am likely to run into them at meetings, and it is hard not to talk about the manuscripts there. If it is authors I’m frequently discussing with online the dilemma is there as well.

As a reviewer, you have two tasks: making sure that the science is solid and improving the presentation of the results (the manuscript). The second part is probably easier to do with a back-and-forth discussion, but the thing is, as a reviewer you are not really working for the authors but for the editor.

It is the editor who ultimately has to make a decision on the manuscript, and it is him or her you are assisting. This is why you really shouldn’t write your recommendations for acceptance or rejection in the review but only tell the editor. The editor needs to know what your concerns are and what the authors are doing to address them.

On the other hand, the paper is moving faster forward when you don’t have to wait weeks between each point and counter-point.

It gets even weirder when the manuscript is already out there on a preprint server, and you have already discussed it with the authors before you find yourself a reviewer of it, which has happened to me a couple of times recently.

How do you guys deal with these things?

Author: Thomas Mailund

My name is Thomas Mailund and I am a research associate professor at the Bioinformatics Research Center, Uni Aarhus. Before this I did a postdoc at the Dept of Statistics, Uni Oxford, and got my PhD from the Dept of Computer Science, Uni Aarhus.

2 thoughts on “Discusing papers during the review process…”

  1. Unless the paper is a disaster (in which case I generally remain anonymous), I usually contact the authors directly. Speeds up the process and enables a more efficient and responsive review.

  2. I would generally agree, but I think the issue of having the editor involved — after all he or she makes the final call — is also important.

    I do think, however, that you can’t just sign the review when you are positive about the manuscript. I really thought long and hard about it when I first wrote a really negative review, but if I sign the positive reviews I should also sign the negative ones, so to be honest I sign them all now, good or bad.

    I hope I don’t make a lot of enemies out of it, but I prefer to be honest about this, and so far I have not had any bad feedback, even for rejected manuscripts.

Leave a Reply