Just add this

There are certain tasks that need to be done as researcher. One of these tasks are reviews. It is a giving and taking. I want my papers to be reviewed and so I review other papers. I treat the submitted material the way I want my material to be treated. Personally, I understand the review process as a learning process. To be honest a learning process that is usually not very pleasant. Nevertheless, when I submit I am looking forward to comments that help me grow. All to often this does not happen.

When I saw documentaries about researchers such as Einstein, it was always inspiring to learn that they had long conversations with colleagues via letters sent with conventional mail. These conversations could go on for years. At times these conversations contained manuscripts and the other colleague had the pleasure to give feedback. To me this is a review process. I suppose it is natural to let the researcher requesting a review know that I have published research that supports certain statements in the manuscript. But I assume no one would have answered, add these references and your manuscript will be fine. What a waste of paper and postage. Imagine you send a letter and after weeks it comes back only with the suggestion to add your colleagues publications.

Much is going wrong in the publishing area. And one problem is that the power a reviewer has is at times abused. I have no data on it, but I suggest this happens rather often. This suggestion is based on the stories I regularly hear from other researchers. Who in research has not experienced a review process where it was either obvious or kind of clear that the reviewer only wants to get cited. Again, I think it is fine to inform the authors that there is a specific paper out there supporting the reviewed material. And if this specific paper is accidentally mine, fine. Though, it is crucial that the review comment is not only a call to insert the reviewer's own publications.

I reviewed a paper just recently and I suggested a major revision. It was for a good journal of the Springer Nature family. After some time the paper came back with the invitation to review the adapted manuscript. I accepted the invitation. When I checked my comments I could see the comments of the other reviewers. One pointed out that there are more recent publications and that the paper could only be published if three specific publications are added. The three papers all had the same main author. For sure this could have been a coincidence. But I do not think so.

I put myself in the shoes of the authors getting such a review. On the one hand, nice all I have to do is add these three papers; on the other hand, what an abuse of power. If the reviewer would have put work into the review and suggested one paper to add, fine. But only stating "add this to get my ok" is malpractice. If I would receive such a review I would be pissed. This is not how science is supposed to work.

Even more then being angry with this reviewer I was angry with the editors who allowed this to happen. So, I wrote the editor letting them know that if review processes look like this they are a farce and harm the journal. I swiftly got the reply that this feedback will be considered. I do not know what that means.

I would love all researchers out there witnessing such behavior to flag it to the editors. Such a behavior needs to stop.



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