The Joy of Peer Review
My Favorite Comments from Editors and Reviewers
Comments in blue are exact quotes. Black is for additions, comments, or paraphrasing by me
The page was inspired by a similar page made by Butch Brodie III at Indiana University
The Funny - Some things probably should not be said, whether you think them or not.
... the explanation is interesting, and worth stating (but) I didn't need to read the paper to get the point. - From a reviewer (the paper was accepted with minimal revision).
the Entomological Society of America 88: 100-103 (1995)
This is still a most unexciting paper, but it is probably useful to confirm experimentally what everyone knows intuitively. And so I accept it for the Annals. - Acceptance letter from the editor.
the Entomological Society of America 87: 395-398 (1994)
I've only done a bit of editing, mostly because an editor is supposed to do something. - Acceptance letter from the editor.
The Bad - These are the comments from editors or reviewers that I really hated. There are definitely no warm and fuzzies in this section.
The harshest and most insulting review I have ever received was of a grant proposal that was funded by NSF on its first submission (all other reviewers were very positive). Here are just a couple comments from that insightful review:
- Many insect workers have taken the view that the variation they see must be adaptive, and that it is only a matter of doing studies to show that indeed it is. Vertebrate workers lack this bias. - I guess we insect biologists are much more naive than vertebrate biologist. We'll have to work on that.
- Fox seems to have an enlarged view of the significance of his work. - This was a grant proposal. I am supposed to explain why this work deserves funding, not why other people are better and more important scientists than me.
- Fox's productivity in terms of number of papers is impressive (but) there is nothing new in any of his work. - Until this review I had thought I did at least something useful at some point in my career. Maybe I should have been a sportswriter.
Ecology Research 5: 999-1009 (2003)
This paper was rejected from the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, but accepted by Evolutionary Ecology Research with only minor revision.
- Reviewer 1 for the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London starts with The point is so elementary that it does not require a manuscript of this length to develop it but then goes on to prove he/she doesn't get the point by saying that Although many quantitative traits are indeed normally distributed, there is no fundamental reason why this should be so and in particular why it should be so for lifespan. – This was especially frustrating because we spend nearly half the paper explaining this specific point.
- Reviewer 2 for the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London: The trouble with the authors' suggestion in the manuscript is that it asks the reader to set this concept aside in favour of the seemingly arbitrary assertion that lifespan is normally distributed ... This is asking a lot. (“this concept” refers to the assumption that mortality rates should increase exponentially with age within populations) – Again, the assumption of normality is not arbitrary and is the focus of almost half of the manuscript. And yes, setting aside "this concept" is the main point of the paper. The reviewer also notes that It also has to be said that the observation is not particularly new (I have debated it with students quite often in the past) although in fairness to the present authors I do not recall seeing it in print.
- Fortunately, the paper fared better at EER. From the editor of Evolutionary Ecology Research: I am happy to accept you revised version for EER. I think that it will cause quite a stir in the senescence literature. Based on prior reviews, it will probably just convince many demographers that I am an idiot.
The Good - The best reviews/letters I have gotten. Unfortunately, even I don't agree with most of them, but it is still feels good to get comments like this.
Ecology 82: 2790-2804 (2001)
This is probably my favorite letter from an editor: It is with great regret that I must inform you that your submission to Ecology (MS00-431, "Variation in plant resistance...") will be accepted, pending revision. My regrets are motivated, of course, by your excessive profile in the literature. Nothing would have given more pleasure than to reject the paper, but the excellent reviews, and my own opinion of the work, make this impossible. This really is the letter from the editor. I didn't edit it at all! I swear!
97: 382-389 (1994)
This is probably my second favorite letter from an editor: I went through the paper, trying to find something wrong with the manuscript, because that is what editors do. Then I tried to think of changes I could ask you to make because the other thing editors do is slow up the publication process by requesting revisions. I failed at both of these ... Consequently, I have violated all traditions (and recommend) that your manuscript be published exactly as is. The results are not earth-shattering, but the paper is beautifully written ... In fact, the paper is so well-crafted that it may become a classic. I will start recommending it to my graduate students. You have done such a good job that I now want to go back and read all your other papers. - The paper was accepted without revision. However, in a cursory review of the citation history of my papers, I have found no evidence that the editor who wrote this letter ever cited this or any of my other papers. In fact, this paper has been cited only 9 times since publication in 1994 (as of 2004). So much for my first classic paper. Unfortunately, it has been downhill ever since - no editor has since suggested I may have written a classic, though another editor suggested I may have developed a "classic" method.
Behaviour 56: 953-961 (1998)
I didn't write this paper (I am second author) but I will be selfish and claim at least some credit: This manuscript is probably the closest I have come to recommending that a paper be accepted for publication without any revision. - A review for a paper submitted to and accepted with minor revision. Unfortunately, the review goes on for two more pages of detailed comments, substantially longer than the other review.
Evolutionary Ecology Research 5:
I am very happy to accept the paper ... I think that the method ... is very ingenious and should be a real "classic" because it addresses a fundamental problem and provides a practical method of attack. But, one reviewer for Ecological Entomology (which rejected the paper) didn't agree: I felt a bit cheated here ... It was almost as if the authors were trying to sneak this study in to readers expecting something else!
Similar Pages by Other People:
Butch Brodie's Ghost of Reviewer's Past
Commentaries on the Review Process (serious):
The Thrill of the Paper, the Agony of the Review (from Science) (Part 1; Part 2)
Commentaries/jokes about the Review Process (humorous):
A funny letter to the editor