Monday, November 8, 2010

Where I have been -or- Learning to love your reviewers

So yeah.  Submitted manuscript in late July.  1 day under 6 weeks later, we get reviewer comments (I think you can guess the review deadline for this journal).  Good news: they didn't reject it and there are improvements to be made.  Bad news: I immediately wanted to stab reviewer #2.

Reviewer #1 asked for, by far, the most time-consuming experiment (in addition to several other things that could be addressed entirely in writing).  But, Reviewer #1 was very positive about the findings, the experiments and the impact.  Even though s/he asked for the big guns, I was happy to address them because A) the reviewer likes my science and that's always a nice ego stroke and B) they are, logically, the next step of my project.  It was an insightful review, and I appreciated both the comments and the professionality.

Reviewer #2 sounded like s/he just returned from a colonoscopy.  Said some pretty unflattering things about the novelty of my work that, frankly, sounded as if they came from someone completely unfamiliar with the field.  Asked for some nit-picky redos.  Asked some questions that made me wonder if s/he even read the text or attended a science class, like, ever.  Asked for a particular pet method that is less accurate than the one I used for a particular experiment (yeah, you bet we argued that one).  Didn't like my controls and asked for ones that I personally think are less informative.  So, of course, I immediately decided the person was an idiot.  But now, in my wisened 2.5 months out from receiving the decision and having resubmitted earlier today, my attitude has changed slightly.  I still disagree about the usefulness of the particular control, but I did it, and I am glad I did it.  Because the experiment should have been straightforward, but it hit some kinks.  These kinks were unrelated to the validity of my conclusions, however they did relate to the efficiency of my method.  This forced me to re-evaluate a few early steps of my protocol and when I got the final readout, it was obvious that this new and improved method made my data much cleaner than they had been before, so I went back and redid all the experiments done on this particular protocol and got prettier results.  So even if I don't think the particular control I performed to please the reviewer improved my paper in an appreciable way, the comment still did improve my paper immensely.

And about those questions I deemed dumb?  When I sat down to answer them, it forced me to really, really think about my field as a whole.  About the validity of using cancer cell lines and mouse models to study human cancers; I thought this had been pretty damn obvious since the cancer I study happens in the brains of toddlers.  But being forced to put it down in writing in a way that both was supported by published evidence and not snarky made me a better scientist, if only in a small way.  It challenged me to question my assumptions and to be able to defend what is generally unquestioned.

So now, looking back, even though I still think Reviewer #2 is a cranky jerk, I am now starting to think that rather than being stupid, s/he was stupid like a fox.  In a way, at this point, I appreciate Reviewer #2 more than the nice Reviewer #1 (not that I am asking future reviewers to be mean to me!).   While I need the enthusiasm of people like Reviewer #1 if I ever hope to be published, ultimately, the comments from Reviewer #2 improved my science more, both in the short term and the long term.  That's really what it's all about, isn't it?