Please consider this a polite spanking


The recent hilarious #SixWordPeerReview hashtag on Twitter got me thinking about the first ever review I got for my first ever paper (thanks @Phalaropus for the reminder!). I thought I’d share it here (and if you want to see if you agree with the reviewer, the paper was eventually published in Global Ecology and Biogeography: Cooper et al 2008).

As a bit of background, I collected lots of data during my Masters project on life history traits of amphibians and then looked at macroecological correlates of clutch size, body size and geographical range size, and also at how these variables correlated with IUCN Red List status. My dataset contained over 600 species of amphibian – pretty much all the species I could get hold of data for at that time. Here are the “best” comments from the reviewer (the whole review was two pages long so I’m not reproducing the whole thing). My favourite comment was at the end.

“the study was done on less than 10% of the appropriate species […] Such academic laziness is inexcusable and scandalous”

“there are many instances where the authors appear to pull the wool over the reader’s eyes”

“It is a strong reflection of the workers to submit such a poorly conceived and obvious “quick and dirty” first stab at something that needs to be taken much more seriously”

“the clear misinformation in the abstract […] is obviously the kind of positive spin more associated with politics than science.”

“Who would be fooled by such tricks as claiming that data on <10% of amphibians is “large”. Certainly not this reviewer.”

“Without even a cursory explanation for such an egregiously low sampled diversity, it is hard to glean any merit at all from this study.”

“How can sane scientists think that <10% of the diversity would be sufficient to advocate involved analyses and draw conclusions?”

“This is another example of embarrassingly obvious laziness.”

“That goes beyond even forgivable bending of the truth”

“If any of the authors were thinking, they would have realized that ALL of the reasons to do a phylogenetically corrected analysis are not met by their data. In fact, if there was ever a gross and more ill-conceived reason to NOT do a phylogenetically corrected analysis, this would be the dataset to do so on.”

“Errors in basic addition are another serious embarrassment” [FYI the maths was fine, the reviewer made the error not us!]

“I could go on, but I think that it is not worth my time at this point to find more problems (there are still many other issues the authors should go back to first principles on)”

[And finally the crowning glory of all the comments I’ve ever received in a review]:

“Please consider this a polite spanking.”

As a first year PhD student this obviously upset me. But after a quick cry, a slice of Battenberg [cake], and a couple of pints of cider I was able to see the funny side! I still keep a print out in my office as a reminder that even when I get a bad review, it can never be as terrible as my first review! I’ve never worked out who the reviewer was, but as the editor said they were clearly having a bad day! I hope things got better for them! This review also reminds me to always write constructive comments, especially for PhD students, and if I don’t have anything nice to say I write a short review rather than airing all my grievances in print!

Author: Natalie Cooper, ncooper[at], @nhcooper123

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