Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Double Blind or Doubly Annoying

Lots of people whine about the refereeing process of academic publications.  For most academics, to be published in a refereed journal or press is pretty much the focus of research efforts.  Refereed journals are seen as having higher standards and thus more prestige than those that just have editors make the decisions.  Grants work usually in a similar process where the committee relies on external reviewers.  Promotion as well depends on external letter writers.

Anyhow, why whine about it?  If you cannot persuade two or three scholars, then why should you expect the piece to persuade readers of the journal where you want the piece placed? 

Well, reviewers often do not read the stuff that closely so they end up asking you to do stuff that you have already addressed.  Or they have their own prejudices and are not willing to simply answer the key question: does this work provide a significant contribution?  Which breaks down into: does it ask a question that has not been answered adequately before, is the theory coherent, are the methods appropriate and well executed, do the findings make sense, etc.

You can get crappy reviewers, of course, as illustrated by this:
H/t to Justin Wolfers who found this in  "A model of lazy banks", by Manove, Padilla, and Pagano, RAND 32(4)]

Of course, often the problem is with oneself: that the reviewers could not discern the brilliance of my argument because I did not make it well enough.  That, of course, the topic is important because, well, it is, damn it! 

I just got back the evaluation of a big grant proposal that did not get funded.  The eval I got was just a score sheet and not with any real comments.  I would hope that the comments would have been useful.  The scoresheet?  Not much at all.

The reality is that being an academic, even a successful one, means a heap of rejection.   Science, social or otherwise, means trying, getting turned down, revising, and revising some more.  Most of the time, when one submits to a journal, one is hoping for a revise and resubmit [R&R].  I have had only one experience where I got an acceptance immediately, and that was for a paper that had been through the R&R process twice at another journal before it got shot down.

If one takes seriously the feedback, the work should improve, even if the feedback is sometimes lame.  My frustration this week is that I really did not get sufficient feedback to improve the grant application to try again.  Still, I will try again.  Oh, and if I got real feedback, I probably would have whined about it, but then I woudl ahve gone ahead with revising with the feedback in mind.

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