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Reading peer review comments is like trauma therapy: you go through different phases of grief and sadness, denial, anger, etc. Most often you don’t know why you are even going through those emotions, but you cannot help it. Here is my recent experience:

I submitted a paper to a journal which some folks appear to find controversial. Personally, I would describe it more as a novel angel to an established argument but the comments I received from one of my reviewers surprised me in many ways. Only after I had read the comments several times did I realise why.

In essence, my paper is about people making certain assumptions about a group of people although there is evidence to the contrary. I am saying that making these assumptions leads to great harm, and call for proper consideration of the evidence and the keeping of an open mind rather than blindly accepting commonly held preconceptions. Of course I provide proof for all the claims I am making. Reviewer 1 disagrees with me on all points, saying that I have to accept the facts. While I use neutral language, avoiding terms such as “better” or “worse”, this is what reviewer 1 uses in defeating my argument. Comments include things like “You cannot say this! But if you do, you have to say XY too – which, I admit, you do.” It is bizarre to read, and whilst some comments are helpful, the majority of them sound like the “I don’t like what you are saying” type.

Then it struck me: Reviewer 1 is prejudiced in exactly the ways I mention in my article. (S)He is living proof that there is a problem with preconceptions and that my argument is valid – I hit a nerve. Needless to say, reviewer 1 made no suggestions on how to improve the paper, but instead recommended not to publish it.

The paper was of course rejected by the editors, despite the very favourable comments from reviewer 2, who only made some valid points for improvement. I still think it is an interesting paper, which despite its flaws, raises an interesting and important point, but there seems to be no place for it at present.

 

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