Pressing the Submit Button

By Peter Dearden 18/09/2010

Peter K. Dearden. Laboratory for Evolution and Development, Genetics Otago and the National Research Centre for Growth and Development, University of Otago

One of the great and terrifying things about being a scientist is pressing the submit button; the button that sends your latest masterpiece, manuscript or grant, off to external review.

This moment of joy and terror occurs after you have formatted the references, had everybody and their dog read the thing, and agonized about dimly remembered points of grammar. The figures are shiny and all have scale bars, the figure legends are succinct, and the acknowledgments remember all who need to be remembered. You know all of that that, but still you don’t quite want to send the damn thing off to the white heat of public scrutiny.

Finally you send the thing with some relief, assuming that it will at least be somebody else’s problem for a month or so, as it passes into the slow process of finding referees, getting them to make sensible comments, and returning them.

Peer review is vital to science, without reviewers able to make comments, suggest changes to papers, assess grants and provide quality control, science is dead. The process has its flaws for sure, but it is the best we have, and we, as scientists, need to make damn sure that it works and is fair. I try to review everything I am asked to, though occasionally you have to pass it to a friend. Willingness to review is key to this whole process, the cornerstone of science, and key to being a scientist.

Despite knowing all of this, I hate it, I hate the great papers you write that the reviewers reject, the ones the editor doesn’t even send to review, the ones that get a reviewer who wants 12 years more experiments and your soul before acceptance. Worse are the grant reviewers who don’t recognize your genius, that tell you your ideas are ludicrous, un-doable, or worst of all- boring.

When I get reviews that don’t tell me I, and my work, are great, it takes a week of sniping at friends and family, kicking the cat, and generally yelling at people before I actually calm down and read the reviews properly. And when I do, for the main part, the reviewers are right. The comments are thoughtful, sensible, and in the long run helpful. These people, far from disparaging me and oppressing me, have enough respect to read what I write carefully, to put time into thinking about it, and writing helpful, if sometimes cutting, comments.

So here and now, in almost-public, I’d like to say thanks. Thanks to all the reviewers who have struggled with my antique grammar. Thanks to those who have corrected my hideous spelling. Thanks to those who have navigated the maze of my convoluted thought processes. Thanks to all of you who have rejected my grants and papers. I hope you will feel the same when I return the compliment!

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