THE Scholarly Web - 23 January 2014

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

January 23, 2014

In addition to their university work, many academics hold positions at peer-reviewed journals, and Dan Graur, professor of biology and biochemistry at the University of Houston, is no different.

During his time as associate editor of Genome Biology and Evolution, it seems that Professor Graur has grown weary of tardy (or overly busy) academics who offer to act as reviewers but never quite deliver the goods.

In a letter to one such individual, published on his Judge Starling blog, Professor Graur lets his frustration show. “I have asked you three days ago to review a manuscript by YYY et al. entitled XXX,” he writes – removing any personal details that might cause embarrassment (or identify his target).

“You declined, claiming that you have no time. You didn’t even suggest an in-house alternative, despite the fact that I know for certain that your lab is populated by many graduate students and postdocs.”

If you were wondering where the blog gets its name, it is quite simple. In Hebrew, Dan means Judge, and in Romanian, Graur means Starling. Anyway, back to the letter. Professor Graur goes on to explain that, owing to a fortunate coincidence, he is now in a position to apply some pressure to his reluctant reviewer.

“The journal PLoS Genetics has asked me to review a paper of yours,” the letter continues. “I have as little time as you have, yet I understand that it is the duty of scientists to review manuscript submissions. How else will the system of peer review survive?” Professor Graur then suggests that the two parties could strike a deal.

“You take a look at the paper I have send [sic] you, and I promise not to drag my review of your manuscript into 2016? Does it feel like the head of a dead horse has been thrown into your bed? Well, it should.”

He concludes by asking the recipient of his letter to reconsider his position regarding the original paper. “Understandably, I reserve the right to drag my review of your PLoS Genetics manuscript paper for many months and request all kinds of revisions in case you decide not to change your mind,” he writes.

The recipient of the letter is, according to Professor Graur, one of a particular breed of “ ‘have-no-time’ scientists” who “bombard the journals with dozens of submissions every year expecting them to be reviewed in timely manner”.

The letter provoked a number of responses, including one from Donald Forsdyke, professor of biochemistry at Queen’s University in Canada, who has his own webpage on which he publishes his thoughts on the peer-review system.

“To write papers many researchers require research funds,” he says. “Then they do the research, write papers, and this may help them get future research funds…I suspect most people whom Dan Graur approaches for reviewing are heavily into the very time-consuming grant-getting business.

“It is not the research, but getting the funding to do the research, that takes up their time. Cure the grant peer-review process…and the publication peer-review process will no longer be so hampered.”

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