I was just browsing through Twitter this evening. What else to do on a night when the entire family decides to fall asleep. It didn’t take long before I stumbled on this fantastic tweet:
The tweet just made me laugh out loud. What. Wait. How? For those of you not familiar with Stephen Heard, he’s the guy behind ‘The Scientist’s Guide to Writing’, arguably one of the most popular books written on the subject of academic writing. I’ve seen Steve’s take on (academic) writing in a workshop recently, and this is a man who dedicated his life to perfecting the art. I recently picked up a copy of his book myself, but I didn’t manage to get through the first ten pages. I would, however, not blame this on Steve’s writing. His writing is wonderful, and I’m a big fan of his other book on eponymous naming, ‘Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider’ (which I have read cover to cover), and his blog ‘Scientist Sees Squirrel‘. My only somewhat critical comments – if I were pressed to make up some – on the book and blog are that it was too short, and that Steve does not post enough, respectively. In fact, the only reason I never managed to get through the first couple of pages of The Guide is that my toddler son and newborn baby daughter have interrupted me too many times to fully appreciate it – and I decided it was better to save it for a better day. I hope it will still be relevant when my kids leave the house, but I think it’s timeless.
I digress. The point I’m trying to make is. If Stephen Heard is getting nasty reviewer comments on his writing, how the hell are other people getting through reviews at all? I thought it was just me, or maybe just my generation of early career researchers that were constantly given these wonderful and inspiring comments. (My personal absolute winner was a comment that someone ‘had read my manuscript four times in search of something interesting, only to conclude that there really wasn’t anything‘)
Or, to put it in other words…
Why the fuck are there so many asshole reviewers??
I don’t get it. Maybe I am doing it wrong, this whole reviewing thing. How I review is maybe a story for a separate post some day, but it sure as hell doesn’t include trying to bring people down like that. What is wrong with these people? What good does it bring to include a comment on how horrible someone’s writing is? What does it even mean. And does it even matter? Sure, there are manuscripts that seem to have little flow, if at all. In my view, a good reviewer points this out respectfully, and provides a suggestion on how this could be improved to guide the reader through the story. A shitty reviewer, on the other hand, just unloads the fact that they messed up their own experiments the day before, because why not let others share in your misery.
As I have two reviews to write myself this week, this post is more of a note to self. Don’t be that asshat. Be better.