Monday, May 28, 2012

Advice to people submitting things for review

Dear Author(s): 
Generally, when editors/PC members volunteer hours of their time to read your paper, read reviews of your paper, and give you helpful comments to improve your work, you should be polite, kind, and thankful toward them. That way, if your paper is borderline, we are far more likely to cut you a break.  
If you are a big jerk, and your science is suspect, there is little hope for you.  
I am always shocked when authors say, "I am brilliant, u r dumb" to people in a position of power over the fate of their paper / grant. As if that will really help their case.

Now, there are certainly cases where reviewers are wrong, or they ask something that's well outside of scope of a minor revision. But this is the exception, not the rule.

I am reaching the conclusion that "be a good citizen in the scientific community" classes might be beneficial during new student indoctrination. (Along with some sort of professional writing course that includes a unit entitled "'Yo Professor!' and Other Letter Writing Atrocities.")


  1. No kidding.

    For all the discussion about problems with reviewing in CS, no one ever mentions that authors treat reviews as nothing more than a bump in the road to publication, and treat reviewers as entirely self-interested at best and actively malicious and/or stupid at worst. If authors took reviews at face value in the spirit of genuinely trying to help the paper and/or the venue, I think the situation would improve a lot.

    1. As a CS researcher, I don't think this is generally true. Many of my colleagues and I have received a number of negative, yet fair reviews over the years, and we would happily acknowledge that these reviews were fair.

      I have also gotten a number of unfair reviews, where it appears that the reviewer is trying to cling to any shred of evidence for rejecting the paper. A lot of the times such reviews are the result of poor communication skills on the part of the reviewer. It is quite common to have a situation where a reviewer dislikes a paper or thinks it is a bad fit for the conference, but cannot quite articulate why. The result is an unfair review which nitpicks on every detail of the paper.

      All this being said, I agree with FCS that there is no excuse for being rude to a reviewer.

  2. I think the "I am brilliant, u r dumb" reaction is OK. If the authors truly are brilliant, the work will probably get funded/published regardless. Otherwise, they are signaling an inability to play the game at a high level, and we can wish them better luck with their next submission.

  3. "Yo Professor!" means you've at least been recognized as a professor. Could be worse.

    Politeness is pretty context- and level-dependent. I've written a lot of responses I felt were unavoidably rude once you filed off the pretty words. But nobody else heard them that way. I'm a little sensitive. (Dr. Bunsen is a bit passive-aggressive, and I swear enjoys lighting people on fire just to watch them run around in terror, unintentionally lighting other things on fire, who then in turn run around, lighting--or maybe that's just me. On fire. Initially.)

  4. Tell me about it! One of the things I'm learning (and trying to teach to students) is that every letter, every review, every response, is an opportunity to frame the science.

    Also: "yo professor" doesn't get my goat. Being addressed in writing as "Mrs." or worse--"Miss" grates at me though.

  5. In middle of huge grant review process. If a reveiwer has taken time to give you comments- then ADDRESS them. If they are wrong, show the committee how. Just saying the reviewer is dumb won't get you anywhere.