On signing the reviews you write

March 1, 2018

When you start signing your reviews, you are confessing that you think you have reached the point where your reputation is more persuasive than the quality of your ideas.

18 Responses to “On signing the reviews you write”

  1. Nat Says:

    I’m very much enjoying the 2018 version of DM.


  2. xykademiqz Says:

    I’m so glad you’re back, DM!


  3. Jonathan Badger Says:

    The problem with that categorization is who exactly do you imagine the signer is impressing with their reputation? The editor? But they already *know* the identity of the reviewer, and if they are inclined to act on poorly conceived reviews from famous people then the author is already sunk.


  4. lala Says:

    I have only signed a review once, where the paper was strongly, but in my opinion incorrectly, attacking some of my previous work. I recommended rejection of the paper for a multitude of reasons and thought it only fair for the authors to know my identity because of my obvious bias.


  5. JL Says:

    Not necessarily. People can sign a friendly review to send a message to the authors. I imagine this being more common to say “I scratch your back, so you better scratch mine”. But perhaps for a nasty review it could also mean “OK, now you know why you shouldn’t mess with me”.

    Lot’s of animals have bright colors. They do it for different reasons.


  6. A. Tasso Says:

    Sometimes you just want the authors to know who you are. For example, if the authors are big shots and you are a junior person, then signing your name (assuming you have written a largely supportive review that is also thoughtful and high quality) is just another way of putting your name out there.


  7. Francis Bond Says:

    Signing your name stops people doing really bad reviews: this has been done before (but I won’t give you any citation); you should cite this important work (mine); I want you to write about something more interesting to me (not what the paper is about).

    We moved from unsigned to signed reviews in major conference in computational linguistics (only seen by the other reviewers, not the authors) and I feel it has really raised the level of reviewing overall. When people know that their peers will see their reviewing and associate them with it, they are more careful about the reviews. There are three main places where I notice a change; people are more civil; people give better argumentation (e.g. not just saying — it has been done before, but actually providing citations, fewer misreadings of the argument); people are more responsible — there are almost no one-line reviews. I haven’t yet seen anyone trying to browbeat others with their reputation (and would expect the program chair not to be intimidated).

    Good reviewers will provide good reviews under any circumstances, the issue is how to improve the quality of bad reviewers, and linking people to their reviews is one way of doing this.


  8. Morgan Price Says:

    I sign my reviews because I think scientists should stand behind their professional work and because my review shouldn’t contain anything that I wouldn’t say to the author in person. I don’t think I’m so well known now and I certainly wasn’t when I started reviewing. But I should also mention that since I don’t write grants, I have little to lose by annoying the authors.


  9. JL Says:

    “I think scientists should stand behind their professional work”

    If it’s a matter of principle, how about: I think science and arguments should stand on their own, without support for the reputation of whoever did the work?


  10. Jonathan Badger Says:

    So why not publish papers without author lists? And it’s not like papers can’t make enemies too (like when you show somebody else’s model doesn’t work).


  11. JL Says:

    Jonathan, MP argued for signing reviews based on principle. My point above was that one could argue that not signing the reviews can also be done based on principle. The issue is not as black and white as MP’s comment would make it look.

    Most of the conversation here has been about the career issues of signing reviews.

    Interesting point about papers also making enemies. I agree. Still, somehow, that seems far less frequent or intense, don’t you think?


  12. drugmonkey Says:

    I sign my reviews because I think scientists should stand behind their professional work and because my review shouldn’t contain anything that I wouldn’t say to the author in person.

    It’s funny how people that posture like this never realize it just sounds like they are super unprofessional under aninymous review and need to sign to act decent. Just like the religious who can’t seem to grasp that decent people don’t need the threat of eternal torture to act properly most of the time.


  13. qaz Says:

    While I agree with DM’s statement. The importance of this is often underestimated. Sometimes that reputation provides useful insights.

    Sometimes reputation is deserved. This means a respected reviewer (i.e. one with a reputation!) can provide shortcuts to detailed explanations. As in “X is true” and if you know that I am one of the world experts on X then I don’t have to provide a dozen papers worth of citations to convince you that X is true. Without signing it, the reviewer might have to write a very long response. With signing it, the reputation can provide a shortcut to that argument (particularly if the authors are aware of the reviewer).

    For example, I signed a review once because I was telling the authors that their experiments were fine but that they had done a deep disservice to science and the literature by not placing themselves in the context (*). By putting their work in that context, their work became much more impactful. I signed it because I knew that the authors would recognize me and that my reputation would make them listen to my comments better.

    * No, not just my work. 🙂 Also, about two dozen other labs.

    PS. This is why double-blind review is a crock and grants are easier to get once you have proved you know what you are doing. Reputation is not (always) a bad thing.


  14. drugmonkey Says:

    are you trolling me qaz?

    Yes, I realize that the power of reputation is good for those that have it.

    It is not good for science because for every one time it is a legitimate shortcut, there are scores in which it is used as illegitimate power play.


  15. qaz Says:

    Not trolling. I just think reputation is more complex. In my field, there are people who are able to do illegitimate power plays with reputation, but people also know who they are and are disdainful of them. (Their reputation is both powerful and looked down upon.) Other people have a good reputation as reliable, thorough, and maybe even “tough but fair”. I think there are definitely times when reputation is a useful shortcut. For example, in grant proposals. You are not going to ask the same preliminary data from a “leader in the field” as you are from a new investigator who has no publications on a topic. Do you really need to see Karl Deisseroth prove that he’s got optogenetics working in his model organism? I’d much rather figure out if he’s got an interesting question on the table than check to make sure he can do the opto.

    Where I think things go wrong is (1) reputation that is gained without earning it [for example through reputation transfer to progeny] and (2) when it is misused as a power play [for example in putting pressure on journals to publish crappy work].

    We’re primates. We’re going to have reputations and we’re going to use that in our scientific societal network process. Actually, I’ve always been convinced that the reason science works as well as it does is that we’ve hijacked reputation by linking part of it to being “right” (even if it is a very noisy correlation). Which means that while it may be harder for a newbie from nowhere to take down a silverback HHMI NAS investigator, it is still possible if the data support it.


  16. Jonathan Badger Says:

    As an editor and as an author I’ve seen the sort of “five minute review” where it is clear that the reviewer hardly bothered to read more than the abstract and argues rejection based on either the authors or the result and provides no real evidence against the paper. Granted, in the editor case it is half my fault for choosing the reviewer, but do you seriously think people would do this in signed reviews except maybe for the biggest Ds of BSDs?


  17. Almost tenured PI Says:

    Anyone who says they won’t hold a grudge against somebody who tanks their manuscript is a liar. Anyone who says they won’t think fondly of someone who compliments their paper is also a liar. This is why signing reviews is terrible for science.


  18. The Iron Chemist Says:

    I don’t sign my reviews and have trouble envisioning a scenario when I would do so, but I write them as if I do. As other folks said here, it keeps things civil and professional.

    With respect to one’s reputation adding weight, I leave that to the associate editor. I’ve gotten reviews where the AE has emphasized that certain points REALLY need to be addressed and I’d assume that’s where a referee’s reputation has come into play.


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