Peer Review Blues
I’ve been working on responding to reviews of the last paper submitted from my postdoc work. This process is never fun, and this one is especially tough because I haven’t thought much about this project since I submitted the paper a couple of months ago. I’d much rather be working on this blog, and I have a long list of cool sciency parenting topics that I can’t wait to tackle, but I’m trying to find the discipline to spend a few hours a day revising this paper. And a few hours a day is all I have at the moment. It is a pain, but I need to get it done and get it done well.
On the other hand, I’m trying to appreciate that this peer review process serves a vital purpose, and my paper will be better for it by the time it is published. It isn’t a perfect system, but it certainly goes a long way towards ensuring that scientific data are published with integrity. If you aren’t familiar with this process, here it is in a nutshell: I and my co-authors submit a paper, which we’ve probably spent months writing and rewriting, to a scientific journal. The journal sends the paper out to a few other scientists in the field and asks them to evaluate the quality and relevance of the work. In an ideal world, the reviewers are unbiased evaluators of our work, though everyone knows that everyone has some biases and judging something like the “relevance of the work” can be very subjective. The reviewers either send the paper back saying it isn’t fit to publish and it is too hopeless to even try (I’ve had that reply a few times) or this paper is OK, but it has substantial problems that you need to fix. Apparently it is possible to get reviews that say this is an excellent paper and we should publish it right away, but neither I nor anyone I know has ever had this experience, so I think it could be a myth. I’m at the “fixing” stage now. Some of the reviewers’ issues are easy to deal with, others not so much. I will make some changes to the manuscript and write lots of polite justification to the reviewers, resubmit, and hope that they deem my work fit to publish. And oh yeah, if they do, I will then pay them to publish it. But then my work will be out in the world, for everyone (or everyone with access) to see.
As a consumer of science, I have to appreciate the peer review process. I have been in the business of reading, evaluating, and interpreting science for more than a decade now, and all along, it has been nice to know that the paper I am reading had to pass through a panel of “experts” before it got to me. I think this matters to me more than ever now that I am a mom. I turn to science to answer my parenting questions, which I care deeply about. I am delving into research both inside and outside my field. I don’t have a scientific background in child psychology or sleep science, and though my research background gives me lots of tools to evaluate any scientific article, I’m glad that the peer review process means that the articles I read have been given a passing grade by other scientists in that specific field.
Still, blogging is a lot more fun. It is freeing (but a little scary) to hit “publish” on a blog post that I sat down to write maybe just a few minutes before and then let the peer review happen in public via comments, Twitter, and page views. It is a different kind of writing for me for sure, and I like it. I’d better get back to revising the paper, but stay tuned for more posts once I get this thing done.