A quick one for Monday morning 🙂

I was unfortunate to receive this morning a negative review of one of the papers we have under review.  Now, this review is terrible.  It contains so many factual inaccuracies that the reviewer cannot possibly have read the paper, our software tutorial, the code nor the documentation.  It contains ridiculous, unsupported conjecture.  It is just a really terrible review, and I can only conclude the reviewer is trying to block the publication of our paper/software.

In a future blog post, I may dissect the review piece by piece, but I am giving the journal time to respond.  However, as an example, one of the criticisms is that our software may contain bugs.  They don’t actually identify any.  They simply state that our software may contain bugs, and it is therefore better for biologists to do it themselves as then they’d know exactly what they were doing.

I kid you not.

If “software may contain bugs” was a valid criticism, nothing would ever get published.

I am briefly reminded of a review I received for a paper when I was acting as editor for PLOS ONE.  The paper is published now: Evaluating de Bruijn Graph Assemblers on 454 Transcriptomic Data. The review, in its entirety, was:

It does not provide significant advance in the field

Again, I kid you not.

I really wish I could tell you the name of the reviewer, but I have ethics.  Needless to say I ignored them and asked other reviewers to help with the paper.  It is truly awful: the authors have spent months on this paper, they have written 9 pages of review and analysis, and that is the review they get?  Words fail me.  Don’t they deserve more?!

As any of my twitter followers know, I support open peer-review, and I sign reviews for both papers and grants.  I am also an editor for PLOS ONE and Frontiers in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology.  I am open, with a capital “O”.

Needless to say, the reviewer I mentioned above comments on our work from behind the wall of anonymity.  I really do not believe they would have the nerve to provide such an inaccurate, dishonest review if they had known that I would be able to see their name.

Frankly, reviews that are simply designed to block publication of papers border on scientific misconduct, and those who give them should be publicly identified.

Removing anonymity is important.  Open review is important.  It gives the reviewer a different perspective.  I know, because I practice it.  It makes you more constructive.  It makes you think “How can I help?” rather than “How can I criticise?”

So, I want to start to create “The reviewer’s oath”.  Here is a beginning:

I, the reviewer, promise:

  i) to not hide behind a screen of anonymity
 ii) to be open and honest with you (the authors) at all times
iii) to be constructive in my criticism
 iv) within the rules given to me by the journal, to assist you in every way 
     I ethically can to get your manuscript published,
     by providing criticism and praise that is valid and relevant

I am sure there are other things that we can come up with – what do you think?

And who wants to sign up to “The reviewer’s oath”?

Edit: 10:52 11th Feb 2013

Nick Loman had this to say on twitter.  I couldn’t agree more!