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  • Writer's pictureJose Arrieta

Reviewer Compersion

As a reviewer, I know my job is to find flaws in the gems and chaff I am asked to read. The editor and authors ought to want the paper to come out. Alas, I always hope for the best. #BadReviewer


Reviewing is one of the most challenging parts of my job. There is little learning opportunity. The deadlines come at random times. The moral responsibility is high. Ultimately, I am inexperienced in sharing my conviction for or against a paper. Flaws are easy to find, But a million flaws don't matter as long as enough filters are there to catch the leaks. Providing evidence of coherence is tough.


Today is a different day. I am writing as I read the first paper I am reviewing that I think will be accepted. This is such a nice feeling. As an author, I have always heard that less than 5% of papers submitted are accepted in top journals. It is a tough reality, but ultimately, there are more than 20 journals in the world, and Bonferroni corrections do not apply across journals. So, as in the case XKCD's link between green jelly beans and acne, the rejection of a paper is survivable.


As a reviewer, I find that reality is very different. My review folder is full of diseased articles. The truth of the 5% acceptance from the first submission is that, as a reviewer, your reading pile is full of rejected papers. Even worse, only around half the papers survive after the 1st R&R, so one might be rooting for a paper for years to see it thrown into a rejection pile. I have read so many cool but flawed ideas. So many great databases and measurements. There is so much genius that hides away within the rejected pile and so little that I will ever be able to cite.


Today is a good day, though. It is the day I review this paper for the last time. The first I will ever be able to cite! I can remember how I felt when my papers were accepted. I can share a little of the happiness the authors will experience and, in this compersion, find joy myself. There is no other survivor in my review pipeline. This is it for a while. I need to savor my first green jelly bean.



PS: The saddest part about the rejection pile is that even though I know the papers will eventually find a home, I will probably never read them in their final form. I have limited time and will never read most papers directly important to my research. Rejected papers change after the shrapnel is extracted. So, I will never know what happens with the ideas I once reviewed. I guess that is one of the perks of becoming an AE; in removing the blinders, one can at least check in on the authors after a while. #freelabor



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