Following up on the last post, and an older one, I'm going to rant a little bit about the reviews I've gotten on two papers recently.
I'm not complaining about the reviews I've gotten for the Bioinformatics paper I mentioned in the previous post. Those are detailed, thoughtful, relevant and all reasonable. There my only problem is that I have a page limit that keeps me from adressing all the comments.
What I am a bit miffed about is two papers submitted to BMC Bioinformatics. Do not take it as a critisism of that journal, though, I have also gotten nice reviews there. I have another paper submitted there, that is getting nice reviews (in the sense that there are lots of suggestions to consider, not that they are just positive). Not so for the last two papers.
First of all, the review reports are very short. Maybe 15-20 sentences. Secondly, there aren't really any constructive criticism. Not surprising with less than 20 sentences, of course. Thirdly, and this is the most annoying, they haven't made any decision!
The "positive" reviews are just summaries of the paper (essentially paraphrasing the abstract). The "negative" reviews are saying things like: "I do not really like this / I do not find it interesting" or "other people are doing something similar".
Of course reviewers are permitted to not like a paper and to not find it interesting. They shouldn't make their decision on this, but on whether the results are novel and sound. If they think that the results are too small an increment on existing work -- and there will always be similar work out there, if I submit it to BMC; it it was truly novel I would go for higher impact -- in that case they should say so, justify it, and reject the paper!
Telling me that they do not find the results interesting, and then telling me to resubmit is just crazy! How can I make any improvements if that is all the criticism I get?
If I resubmit, the paper will end up with the same reviewers, and they still won't like it.
The form letter from the editor just asks us to resubmit and include a cover letter "addressing the reviewer concerns". That is of no help at all! "To make the paper more interesting, we have included a Dilbert strip and a picture of a clown." Is that going to work? I doubt it.
This is really pissing me off.
If, as a reviewer, you do not have any constructive criticism -- good or bad -- just make your decision and let us get on with our lives. If the paper is rejected, it would probably also be rejected after a resubmission, but now I know that so I can decide on whether to abandon the paper or try somewhere else.
It is not just the reviewers that are the problem here, though. In a situation like this, I think the editor has a lot of the responsibility. The final decision is his, so he should get involved at some point. By now, he should a good idea about whether the papers will get accepted or rejected. After all, there are no additional experiments or improvements suggested, so the content of the papers are not going to change.
As a side note, BMC isn't that bad in this regard. We once had a paper at European J of Hum Gen in review for more than a year, where each iteration consisted of very minor changes but the form letter kept telling us that no decision was made yet.
We all want our papers as good as we can get them, so if you have made your decision then let us know! If it gets rejected, we wont waste any more time on it, and if it gets accepted we will still address reasonable comments to improve the final version.
You are no more "unable to make a decision" at this point than you will be after a resubmission, if the reviews do not ask for any actual additional work!