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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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January 28, 2011

What The Referees Really Think

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Posted by Derek

I wish that more journals did this! Environmental Microbiology, which I have never looked at before, has published its favorite reviewer comments from the year just passed. They're not tied to the papers that generated them, naturally, but then, many of these manuscripts didn't quite make the cut:

"The biggest problem with this manuscript, which has nearly sucked the will to live out of me, is its terrible writing style."

"I usually try to be nice, but this paper has got to be one of the worst I have read in a long time."

"I suppose that I should be happy that I don't have to spend a lot of time reviewing this dreadful paper, however, I am depressed that people are performing such bad science."

"It is sad to see so much enthusiasm and effort go into analyzing a dataset that is just not big enough."

There are plenty more, including many from people who are actually happy about what they had to read (and yes, there are some). Check 'em out!

Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Scientific Literature


1. Donough on January 28, 2011 9:39 AM writes...

Cool, cheers.

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2. once an undergrad on January 28, 2011 9:43 AM writes...

this awesome! and that the way it should be. how often at conferences i see talks with a title "new novel amazing paradoxical smthng" which had close to none meaningful data/logic and yet everybody is just to nice limiting themselves to questions like "thank you for wonderful talk. would that same technique work with sodium chloride?"

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3. milkshake on January 28, 2011 9:58 AM writes...

reminds me of a reviewer comment that went like this: "The manuscript is both useful and original. Regrettably, the part that is useful is not original and the part that is original is not useful."

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4. Anonymous on January 28, 2011 10:23 AM writes...

The editorial comment on the first page is a thing of beauty.

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5. Madman on January 28, 2011 10:38 AM writes...

My favorite one is "publishing this paper will do more harm that good..."

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6. student on January 28, 2011 11:47 AM writes...

One of my favorite reviewer comments: "This paper needs to be reduced by half, or oxidized completely."

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7. William B Swift on January 28, 2011 1:12 PM writes...

One I almost expected to see: "The only good thing about this paper is that I didn't write it."

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8. pete on January 28, 2011 2:37 PM writes...

I liked the economy of, "Reject – More holes than my grandad’s string vest!".

Years ago I visited the office of an editor for a prestigious science journal. On one wall were verbal gems excerpted from rejections written by well-known reviewers and meant for editorial staff eyes only. Sarcasm, wit, dagger to the guts -- I wet my pants laughing at the vastly creative ways of saying, "not bloody likely".

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9. Pete on January 29, 2011 5:25 AM writes...

One that I'm waiting for the right opportunity to use is, "The value of this manuscript is primarily calorific". My personal favorite reviewer comment for one of my own submissions is, "Figure 2 is completely meaningless and must be eliminated" (The article subsequently appeared in Perkin 2 with one less figure than the original manuscript).

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10. Jeff on January 29, 2011 8:17 AM writes...

The electrical engineering honor society at MIT (Eta Kappa Nu) used to do a "best and worst feedback received" section just like this, lumping free-form comments from all reviewed classes into one section of the underground guide to courses in the department. One of my all-time favorites was something like, "Professor occasionally leaves out important details during lecture. Such as the word 'not'."

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11. Trifarina on January 29, 2011 5:06 PM writes...

I question the value of reviewer comments that are not only unconstructive, but also mean-spirited and unprofessional. Most of these reviews are returned to authors who worked very hard and are in the end left with few actual suggestions to improve the work. Great job.

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12. Anonymous on January 30, 2011 3:40 PM writes...


If success was just about trying hard, I would have won that Nobel prize by now. These reviewers have wasted hours of their lives reading drivel for no financial gain to themselves. Only numpties think that some of these authors need encouragement....they need to be stopped !

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13. Toxic on January 31, 2011 1:09 AM writes...

So, are these comments that were sent to the authors or privately shared with the Editor(s)? I hope it's the latter. I would consider a couple of those just a little insulting and completely unnecessary in discussing the quality of an article. Come on, "sucked the will to live out of me"?

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