We're a little crazy, about science!

The robot paper response

Yesterday due partly to the house work I was having done, I got none of the data processed I needed to do, but I had a chance to address some of the comments I got from the reviewers on “robot paper.” The response is due in just a few days and one reviewer was very thorough with their feedback, so there’s a lot to address and not a lot of time to get it done. The good news is ~94% of the comments are addressed, the only bad news is that it isn’t 100%.

“Robot paper” is, or was my first attempt at submitting a journal paper. By any metric you want to use, it was an unmitigated failure. We got rejection after rejection. We had people say that this paper was not useful, people suggest that what I had accomplished was only aesthetic changes to the standard, people ask for far more, and even people wondering why I bothered to submit it in the first place. This paper has literally driven me to the brink of suicide and made me question if I was even good enough or smart enough to be a scientist. This paper is over four years old now and has followed me like a shadow since I started my PhD.

Frankly, I hate this paper. Not because of the content or because I read it and see how my writing style has improved since I started my Masters degree. No, I hate this paper because it’s made me question everything I love and I was very close to just giving up because of this paper. It reminds me that as kind as people can be, reviewers can be downright cruel and we’re forced to take it with a smile. Our responses require us to be polite instead of sarcastic and it’s an exercise in both patience and humility.

Since I first wrote this paper, I’ve had two other first author journal papers written, accepted, and published, both in less than a year of submission (the second in just a few months!). Just in case you think that this kind of struggle is normal, because it is certainly not. Thankfully this submission, at least on the surface seems to have garnered better reviews. Or at the very least reviews such that the journal editor didn’t outright reject it (a step we have yet to achieve with this paper).

Two of the reviewers were very kind about our accomplishments. One touted the knee design in particular as a significant advancement (I agree!) on its own and over others in the field. Another said our contribution to the field had been laid out clearly and succinctly. The third however, technically reviewer two (why is it always reviewer two?) said the exact opposite. They suggested that nothing novel was presented, that the paper was hard to follow and complained that we had too many citations. I’ve never had someone complain that I had too many citations before, but here we are. They also said specifically that the knee was not new and asked for “any novel contributions from the paper.” Which translates into, “there’s nothing new here.” Frustratingly the reviewer gave zero examples of the supposed papers that had similar work presented despite claiming to know of “numerous examples” of such work.

Luckily it’s just one reviewer and not all three this time. In any case, despite the scathing general comment they had little to say about the paper so it was easy to address all of it rather quickly. The third reviewer had minimal comments about the paper so that was easy to address as well. Reviewer one on the other hand…. let’s just say my response letter, because you have to write a response letter going point by point addressing the comments, is already seven pages long and most of them are reviewer one.

So far five of the seven pages are for the first reviewer. They were very thorough about providing feedback, but they were also very polite about everything so that was nice. The bulk of the comments were addressing minor things, but there were some suggestions that have taken some time. I’m hopeful that I will be able to address them all today so the senior author on the paper (my former PI) will get the chance to review it before I submit the response.

Funny enough while we covered a large scope of research, because the robot falls under a large scope, they asked for us to address one area we didn’t discuss and to cite some work in that particular area. So I have one reviewer asking for more citations and another asking us to remove citations. That’s just how these things go sometimes. I will do both for the record, remove some, add some, in the end it’s a net loss of citations and I’m not a fan, but whatever it takes to get this damned paper published.

I’m really hoping this will finally bring this paper to a conclusion. I’m so tired of this paper.

2 responses

  1. “Too many citations” is not the sort of criticism I would’ve expected either! Maybe “don’t cite this paper, it’s not actually relevant,” but not just “too many citations.”

    This makes me curious: is any effort made to check the quality of peer reviews and incentivize good ones, or is it pretty much an honor system?

    Liked by 1 person

    January 16, 2022 at 4:05 pm

    • Right?! That was the first time I was ever told I had too many, or as they said, “the paper was too redundant.” I politely mentioned that we thought it was better practice to have multiple sources than relying on a single source, but I did remove several so we went from ~75 to just under 60.

      The peer review process is pretty much all volunteer, but there is a bit of coercion that goes on too. So I would say mostly honor system and it can (and does) get abused from time to time.

      One somewhat common way of abusing the system is that reviewers will specifically cite their work and request you add their citation(s) in, we had that happen with the seizure paper where we had to add four citations some (almost all) of which were hardly relevant and all had a common author so I assume it was the reviewer (although since it’s anonymous I can’t say that with certainty). The practice means that their papers get more citations so they have more attention drawn to the work and to themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

      January 17, 2022 at 10:07 am

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