Sciencewomen

The Tao of Revisions (for a Young Author)

Back at the beginning of the month, I boldly announced my intentions to finish all the reviewer comments on a revise-and-resubmit paper. In that post, I calculated that with ~25 comments to address ” if I just average one a day, it should be easily manageable.”

Now look over at the left hand column where the InaDWriMo button is displaying my status. (For the record, as 11/13/2007 it says “1 of 21 completed.”) By the count of my ticker, I have hardly made any progress. But I swear I have been working on the revisions. I spent a couple of hours yesterday, and worked on things off and on last week. And as soon as I finish this post, I’ll use what remains of my workday to tackle some more things.

The problem is that I’ve been working on the “one big thing” that stands between the current document and its publication in this journal. To make a long story short, a reviewer didn’t buy our surprising conclusions and was convinced that if we just analyzed a few more datasets we’d see things his/her way. I’m convinced that my results are robust and I liked the way the study was structured, but I am afraid that if I don’t bow to the will of the reviewer, my paper won’t be published in the journal.

So I’ve been scouting out other data sets, doing some analyses, drafting some graphs, and writing a new paragraph for the methodology. Before I can count this comment addressed, I need to add a couple paragraphs to the results and discussion, make a final version of the new figure, update another figure, and add a few words to the abstract and conclusions. As I suspected, the additional analyses don’t change my conclusions one whit (actually, they strengthen them), and hopefully they will be enough to convince the editors to give my paper the green light.

I know that the review process serves as a necessary screening tool to ensure the quality of published science, and for young investigators and writers like myself, the reviews are tremendous learning experience and chance to greatly improve the paper. But dealing with those comments can be hard on the ego. Sometimes I look at the reviewers comments (especially the one about not buying our conclusions) and I curse under my breath. It is difficult to internally sort out criticisms of the work from criticisms of the author (me!) when I spent so long laboring over the project. Maybe as I get more experienced with paper writing and revising, the process will feel less personal. I look forward to the day when I read a review and think only “OK, I’ll get right on that” and not “Oh, crap, I’ll never be sophisticated enough to get this stuff right.”

I also look forward to the day that I get a review that says: “Even though I haven’t done any research myself (or cited any papers) to prove it, I know that I am right and the authors who have done the research are wrong” and I have the confidence in myself and my results to write back to the editor telling him to tell the reviewer to shove it, and not to spend weeks of research time duplicating the original results.

But for now, I’ve got to get back to those revisions. That ticker will bump up by one in a few days time (I hope), and then it should be smoother sailing through those remaining 19 reviewer comments. I know there’s a few “you should change ‘will’ to ‘may’” -type comments in there somewhere.

Comments

  1. #1 Jennie
    November 13, 2007

    I def. know how you feel. I have a data set collected during 2003 that we have been trying to publish since 2004. Right before we were going to submit another student got her master’s and so my adviser said we should include her model in the paper since it modeled my data, so I spent a lot of time trying to incorporate that. We submitted to a journal that eventually said we weren’t in the scope of their content, but we took the time to revise according to their suggestions and resubmitted to another journal. We got an acceptance with major revisions back from that journal about 3-4 month ago.
    Due to a lot of their comments we’ve decided to write a new paper which includes the data collected between 2004-2007 as part of the ongoing project, i.e. my dissertation. Yet, I feel our results change slightly and our error increased with this new data set. Same general conclusion but slightly less confidence in the conclusion with the higher uncertainty. And it’s almost impossible to try to rerun the model from the other student since she is long gone and doesn’t answer e-mails anymore. I actually mailed a letter today to her!

    So good to hear with increased data you come to the same conclusion.
    And yes, I also have to remember that the comments aren’t personal.

    My husband published 7 publication during his PhD work and in his post doc has now published a few more and from what I’ve heard the comments have gotten better the more he has written. This last one accepted didn’t need any revisions.
    I imagine one learns what reviewer are looking for, and the more you review papers the better you can look at your own work and see any flaws before submitting.

    Good luck!

  2. #2 John S. Wilkins
    November 13, 2007

    Although I’m not a scientist, I have had a paper returned with comments like yours:

    I also look forward to the day that I get a review that says: “Even though I haven’t done any research myself (or cited any papers) to prove it, I know that I am right and the authors who have done the research are wrong” and I have the confidence in myself and my results to write back to the editor telling him to tell the reviewer to shove it, and not to spend weeks of research time duplicating the original results.

    I immediately wrote back to the editor with a snarky response in which I stated that (i) the reviewer hadn’t actually read the paper, because I had anticipated that criticism, (ii) the reviewer was saying little more than “I disagree”, and (iii) the reviewer clearly didn’t know the material well enough to comment. I failed to say (iv) I knew who the reviewer was and he is a self-aggrandising prig. But I thought it.

    The paper was published. But maybe things are different outside of philosophy.

  3. #3 Drugmonkey
    November 14, 2007

    bwaaaa haaaa! This is the process of peer review and as far as I can tell it respects no disciplinary boundaries. Getting on in experience doesn’t help much either. It is what it is. Luckily, most editors recognize the idiots and trolls, especially when you point it out nicely.

    With respect to all your wasted effort I submit to you that it is not wasted at all. It gives you a more confident platform on which to rebut similar comment anywhere anytime. It helps you in many ways to craft that confident rebuttal (where the editor is really the target). Heck, just showing the editor that you took the query seriously is important!

    oh, and it does get less personal with time. You tend to realize that the idiotic review comments pop up with your best efforts and your less-than-best efforts. Other obvious reviewer bait can go overlooked. Sometimes (gasp) you realize in retrospect that you wrote some less than high quality review comments…

  4. #4 Chris Rowan
    November 14, 2007

    I’ve come to the conclusion that you have to be quite hard-nosed about the review process – especially if you’re inflicted with reviews of the “well, I couldn’t actually find anything wrong, but I can’t see how this could be true” variety. My limited experience suggests that you are perfectly justified in pointing out the worthlessness of such comments in your response – in as polite a way as possible, of course!

  5. #5 MrsWhatsit
    November 15, 2007

    I think what’s worse is when you can tell from the reviewer’s comments that they did not, in fact, read the paper. This sucks all the more when it is one of the two negative reviews and the third review is glowing but the journal has still rejected your paper. Not, you know, that I would know this from personal experience or anything like that.

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