I reviewed a paper the other day. For quite a reputable journal, I might add. Not some predatory rubbhish. It was quite a nice piece, too. This paper had a very decent introduction, results were quite well-presented (and certainly convincing). However, the methodology lacked some specificity, and I could certainly not reproduce their statistical models. The results segment was overall rather well-organized, but there were some inconsistencies in the presentation of the results in different segments. (I guess these segments were written by different people) Although I had a couple of critical general comments on the statistical methodology and results, I still gave the paper a fairly positive review. Nonetheless I ended up writing about 2-3 pages of comments, most of which were minor textual remarks – which I clearly indicated at the beginning of my evaluation of the paper.

This morning, I receive the editorial decision on the above paper. The editor appended the reviewer’s comments from the second reviewer, and followed my suggestion for a major revision (although my comments could easily be implemented in a couple of hours, so a minor major revision at that). Call me I still like to read what other reviewers think of the same work. First of all because I quite liked reading it myself, and secondly to see if there would be overlap in my remarks and the other reviewers’ remarks. I guess I’m still figuring out if my own thinking makes sense sometimes. This sort of practice helps me with that.

When I opened the complete list of reviewer’s comments, it read (and I’m roughly paraphrasing here):
“Reviewer 1: The paper is well-written and has a good structure.”
That was it. The reviewer’s comments then continued straight to my own comments. (I was Reviewer 2 – which is usually not a good sign) Now this has been the third instance of such a weak review that I have heard about in the past two weeks, and two of these were not in MDPI journals or other semi-predatory open-access journals.

Two things come to mind.

First, why do I never get such reviews?

Second, if you really cannot come up with anything to improve a paper, should you review the paper? I cannot imagine any paper that I would not have ANYTHING to comment on. I can come up with thoughts and criticisms on almost any paper. Aren’t we trained to be critical, and to question everything? I could certainly imagine reading a manuscript that is already in such a great state, that I would have very little to add, of course. Shouldn’t you, then, also describe why this paper was so excellent and what got you convinced? Maybe I am still young and naive for believing that thorough review actually can make a paper better.

Honestly, reviews like “wow, great paper, congratulations” in the first round of reviews give zero indication that the reviewer actually has read the paper, and in my view should be considered as non-reviews. Maybe everyone’s busy during this pandemic, but then don’t accept the review invitation. I guess it would be better for everyone to wait longer and at least have a solid review process.

To end on a positive note, at least it gave the editor an easy decision…

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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