Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Should reviewers be required to cite their sources?

When I got back from the IBAGS conference, I was greeted by an 'paper rejection email'.

Failure with a capital F (source)
I was disappointed of course, but I slept off my jetlag and then built my self-confidence back up by saving the universe. I will retool the paper and submit it somewhere else.

However, the reviews for this paper were particularly infuriating (aren't they always?). Here's a summary:

I say: "Thing X is true (citation, citation), so we did thing Y which uses thing X."

Reviewer says: "You act like thing X is true, but it's not (no citations)."

The reviewer did this for two specific aspects of the paper, saying that the basis for our model and our ideas just aren't true, but giving no citations. In both case, I have citations in the paper to back up my claim that these things ARE true.  

This particular form of irritating review has not happened to me before. I've always had well-cited responses to my claims. It's common courtesy to cite some papers when you say that someone is completely wrong about something, but I guess it's not required.

Anyone have any thoughts on this? Has it happened to you? Am I just having the normal 'grrr' response to a negative review?

© TheCellularScale


  1. It's not just you. Similar things have happened to me.

    In one case, I did write back to the editor, saying, "The reviewer claims this has been done, but I could not find it in my literature search. Could you contact the referee and get those references so that I can be enlightened about what has been done and what hasn't?"

    The editor got the references for me. They showed that the experiment we did was not as close to the previous experiments as the reviewer had suggested. The paper was eventually published in another journal.

  2. I know reviewing is a thankless hassle already, but it would be nice if there was some policy for citing direct refutations. That's great that the editor got the references for you, I was considering asking the reviewing editor the same thing.

  3. Definitely write to the editor. I saw one of my bosses respond to a "definitely not publishing this" with an angry letter which was quite quickly followed up by "okay, we'll print it with no changes".

    I was dumbfounded.

    The whole publication system is broken. I have yet to switch journals during submission (though I've been through some ridiculous runs of revisions) but I've decided that when one of my articles gets fully rejected I'm going to switch UP. "You guys didn't like it? Watch me publish it in Science, suckas!" One day, that'll work. I swear.

  4. Wow, that's amazing. I might write to ask if they can get citations out of that reviewer, but I doubt a letter would change the publication decision (the other review wasn't great or anything).

    I have heard about people submitting 'UP' after a rejection and it working out, but I don't think it's common. I think I will send this paper 'laterally' to a journal of equal impact and see what happens.

  5. Although my experience has only been of moving papers 'down' the impact scale with re-submission, I can imagine how a set of solid reviews with constructive criticism could help move some papers 'up' the impact ladder. My last paper certainly improved in both clarity and depth after getting rejected a couple of times. However it not gain any 'novelty', which is often what the bigger journals emphasize.