There are plenty of people around who are very negative about the peer review system, some of whom want change because it is clearly needed, and others because they have a vested interest in it changing. The main driving force has to be good science, and it mostly is, though politics, profitability and moral crusades are clearly evident.
There are blog posts abound that relay horrifying stories of peer review gone bad (I published one of my own here), but the point of this blog post is to relay a couple of stories where it worked.
My own work
The first example is from my own work, an applications note that was published in Bioinformatics earlier this year. This is a perfectly good piece of software that has enough novelty, advantage and applicability to deserve publication. In fact, when we submitted it, we had already used the software in two published papers, so we knew we were on solid ground.
To cut a long story short, it went out for review and was rejected; the first reviewer was awful and clearly hadn’t read the paper, but thought they knew enough to eliminate any chance of publication (fortunately, they didn’t!); the second reviewer was more constructive, but was a bit “Meh!”.
Anyway, I don’t take rejection very well (?!), so one seven-page rebuttal later (bear in mind the paper itself is only two pages long), plus plenty of changes to the manuscript and the software, and the next two reviews were positive and the paper was published within weeks.
From rejection to publication in just a few short months. Rather than be angry with the initial decision, I think this is an example of the system working and working well.
I won’t name the paper, but many of you will know that I act as associate editor for a number of journals. I was asked by one of them to oversee the reviews of a paper that had, like mine, been rejected after the first round, with complaints of poor peer review and a poor editorial decision. The paper had flaws (show me a paper that doesn’t?) but it was novel and exciting and, in my opinion, deserved to be out there. A few rounds of peer review later, it’s now been accepted and it’s out for all of you to read. Again, from rejection to acceptance, an example of the review, editorial and appeals processes working.
That’s all I have to say really. As this blog post contains no vitriolic opinion or conflict I suspect it won’t even hit three figures in terms of page views, but it’s important we don’t forget that (i) the current peer review system does work, and it works in the majority of cases; (ii) there are faults with the peer review system, for sure, but there are also great things about it.
Let’s make sure we keep the great features of peer review – the features that work!