Response to critique: Apple. Polish.

June 7, 2007

Not only is it grant revision time, but it is also grant review time. Lots of study sections meeting to review the piles of applications submitted for last Feb/Mar deadlines. One pet peeve that you may wish to consider as you are crafting your Introduction to your revised grant.

There is a tendency to, well, apple polish to put in nicely. You know, to kiss ass. “We are greatful for the insightful comments of the reviewers” “The prior critique helpfully identified flaws for which we are eternally thankful…’. Etc.

Don’t.

Do.

This!

What exactly do people think they are accomplishing with this stuff? First, it suggests that you think the reviewer is in this for empty compliments and/or can be swayed by empty compliments. This is insulting. Second, it suggests that the PI is trying to buy the reviewer off with flattery because s/he has no intention of actually, say, responding to the substance of the critique. This is not helpful to the cause.

Here’s another hint. Don’t waste time re-iterating all the positive comments. The panel gets the summary statement to read and they read it. They know that nice things were written, they may have written those words themselves. You are just wasting space that could better be used to respond to the criticisms.

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4 Responses to “Response to critique: Apple. Polish.”

  1. writedit Says:

    Agreed on not highlighting positive comments at all. Disagreed, in part, on the apple polishing. Not good when implemented as blatant ass-kissing, but a concise genuine thank you to the prior reviewers for the investment of their time and expertise is appropriate. This is a community effort, and acknowledging the reviewers’ contributions briefly (not over-fawningly) is common courtesy. And if, as often happens, a reviewer comment truly does trigger a good idea for revision, this can and should be noted – just not obsequiously. – writedit

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  2. drugmonkey Says:

    Agreed one should always express common courtesy. “Consistent with critique we have made these changes to the experiments.” or “We agree with Reviewer 2 that the following alterations significantly strengthen the approach..” But I don’t agree that excessive personalization is necessary. The syrupy sort is just plain irritating.

    I look at it like this, as a reviewer. I stand in proxy, representing a large group of other scientists similarly expert in the field. The hope is that one’s critiques are, relatively speaking, objective and thus might have been written by any of a large number of other scientists. As such, “my” contribution is not particularly laudatory. Yes, I would appreciate it if my peers thought I was doing a GoodThing by review service. Naturally, I think my particular variance is “better”, heh. But if it is really a fundamental, fair critique, well, anyone should have picked up on it. Therefore I am not really due any credit for brilliant insight specific to a given proposal beyond that credit for agreeing to do a credible job of review in general…

    Does it matter? I would suggest it does. The Lenard commentary raises the issue of “if I just do what the section told me to I’ll get funded”, points which I agree with in large part. Even the perception that the process is about satisfying particular individual reviewers is bad. It bleeds over into review bias where if the revision “satisfies” the prior critique this is a big deal. It can be detrimental to the PI who may fail to see the forest for the trees.

    oi, i feel another post coming on…

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  3. [...] 10th, 2007 I posted before on the tendency to apple polish in the response to prior review of your grant. I didn’t really think it would be necessary to [...]

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  4. [...] you will be inclined to polish the apple a little bit. Don't. You simply don't have room for that crap, [...]

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