Preferred Reviewer

Yesterday I received requests to review not one but two papers co-authored by the same person; the papers are from different journals and on different topics, but that makes 3 papers from the same guy within a month.

Obviously, I am on his preferred reviewer list, which is fine. He works in my field and I am happy to review.

But I am getting a little irritated by some of this colleague’s practices.

First of all, he has a systematic mechanical deficiency in his manuscripts that I think is really just sloppy (he routinely fails to separate units from numbers). In the last review, I explicitly told them to fix it; I figured, if someone had told me that, I would not have just fixed it that one time but I would have also adopted it for the future. Not here. The two new manuscripts I received both have the same stupid typos over and over again, and it really pisses me off. I am not your goddamn maid; if my grad student got back with this sloppy mistake after I had told them to fix it, I would be royally upset.

Another issue is that the colleague, still somewhat junior, spends too much time submitting  MPUs — minimal publishable units. While he writes well, I find myself often struggling to identify what is novel. For instance, much of what he submits is technically sort-of new but I, for instance, wouldn’t publish it. I just don’t think it is important or interesting enough to be communicated to the world when something is a straightforward or trivial extension of what we already know. But then again, I have my own taste in problems, so I try to focus on evaluating what’s in front of me and not the paper I wish he had written. Still, I can’t help but think that all that time and effort could have been better spent

And the last thing is — when you routinely list someone as a preferred reviewer, maybe you should brush up on what they are up to, especially on the topics that are unbelievably closely aligned with what you are currently doing. I am not going to fish for citations in the report, but I will communicate that the list of references on specific problems is woefully incomplete and that they need to do a better job of putting their work in proper context.

If my own student or former student displayed some or all of the tendencies, I would tell them so. But this is a peer, I can’t just give him a stern talking-to, so what does one do? I suppose one lets the colleague make crappy mistakes and then eventually one stops accepting requests to review his work.

6 comments

  1. You tell them all these things in the review and if the issues are serious enough you recommend rejection and resubmission to fix them. If they keep doing them and keep sending you reviews to do then you just say NO. My limit is the 3rd review where this happens then I am DONE with these folks forever. You can only try so many times to get them to listen to your reviews and then you walk away.

  2. Hahaha, I feel your pain. I am at a conference and literally just had a discussion about these general problems with this guy. Only a different guy with different seriously irritating habits who I keep getting review requests for. Today I discussed his paper. After I had a heart to heart with him about his writing. He said he’s been getting this feedback from other people too but isn’t sure what to do about it (so not just putting spaces between things).

  3. None of the journals he has recently sent to have a page/word requirement. Plus he’s a wordy guy, there are quite a few howevers and moreovers in his manuscripts that should be on the chopping block before the poor spacing between unit and number…

  4. “First of all, he has a systematic mechanical deficiency in his manuscripts that I think is really just sloppy (he routinely fails to separate units from numbers). In the last review, I explicitly told them to fix it; I figured, if someone had told me that, I would not have just fixed it that one time but I would have also adopted it for the future. Not here. ”

    Any chance its a journal that has a length limit and counts “words” or characters with spaces? In both cases, removing that space is in the list of my final desperation manuscript shortening tricks.

  5. I feel your pain. I’ve had some hard reviewing tasks. However, I think you have to give him at least 1inch or so of leeway. Moreover, remember that preparing for tenure is stressful; publishing a lot of papers at once is a way of bidding for one’s 15min of fame.

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