Thursday, February 12, 2009

I shouldn't post this

I have a feeling this post is a bad idea, but I have a few things a need to get off my chest. As a grad student, I had an idea of how science is done. People do work in the lab, write up their impeccable results, and then submit their work to a peer reviewed journal. Once in the journal's hands, the editor sends the paper to a number of the author's "peers" who evaluate the paper closely for scientific merit. Once these peers decide that the science described is accurate and important, they accept it. If not, the paper is rejected. As the three loyal Mad Scientists readers know, that idea is purely fiction.

Here is what really happens. Often, incompetent people do sloppy work and then submit it to third rate journals in a language that barely resembles English, and the paper is accepted and published with virtually no peer review. Why? Because these idiots work for a boss who has to publish to get funding and promotion, and third rate journals have to publish something.

Why do I care? Because I keep getting these horrible papers from my boss who is the one who is supposed to be peer reviewing them. He just cut-and-pastes my comments to the editor and as a result his workload is greatly diminished. But I have to read this crap and today I've had enough. While I guess this stuff is supposed to be confidential, since I was not formally told that, I have decided to post a slightly edited to protect the innocent version of my comments to the editor of this prestigious journal. Enjoy!

"While the science is sound, the language used to describe the work is difficult to understand and rife with grammatical errors. I count at least 15 examples in this brief manuscript where the authors have left out an essential article, such as a, an, or the.
For example:
- …XXXXXs operate through Zn-dependent mechanism.
- …there is urgent need for more useful drugs.

In many cases, singular forms of words are used where plurals are required.
- XXXXXs are well validated anticancer target.
- The choice of cap groups was based on the XXXXXs previously reported by us and other group.

In other cases, a complete sentence is almost impossible to understand.
- We also investigated the ability of this set of compounds to block the cancer cell growth as their potential utility in cellular level with the special attention towards pancreatic cancer.
- The results have impinged upon cancer drug discovery research, predicting the restriction of the use of isoxazole moiety near XXXXX catalytic region.

I cannot accept this manuscript for publication in its current form. The work should be rewritten with a critical eye focused on the myriad grammatical errors and cumbersome language. The peer review process is essential for the dissemination of important and timely scientific knowledge. I am proud to review the work of my colleagues, when I feel they have spent an ample amount of time on the finished product. However, when insufficient time is spent simply proofreading a manuscript, then my time is wasted reading an unfinished product. In order to conserve everyone’s limited time, I encourage the authors to proofread their work prior to submission in the future."


scientist 1 said...


scientist 1 said...

Jim said...

In my short time reviewing papers I have learned that it is perfectly acceptable to say that they paper needs to be re-written/proof read by a native english speaker. I personally thought that was a little politically incorrect but you know who didn't.

Mike said...

I rejected a paper submitted to you-know-where because of the same issue. If the authors don't take the time to proof-read their manuscripts, then I won't take the time to read them. Period.

Mike said...

By the way Jim, you should proof-read your comments before you submit them. You used "they" when you should have used "the". Zing!

Dr. Miller said...

The worst part was that although the paper was clearly written by a non-native English speaker, the PI was obviously a native English speaker. He didn't even bother to proofread a paper that listed him as the PI. If you haven't already noticed, these people really pissed me off.

scientist 1 said...

It's not politically incorrect to tell someone to do a better job of writing in the native language of the journal. I assume it was the same back in the day when all the big guns published in German. The Americans, and other non-German speaking people, most likely had the same rules imposed upon them.

Dr. Miller and Mike are right, by saving their time in submitting a poorly formed document, they are purposely wasting the time of the reviewers, which most would feel is a slight against the reviewers.