In the same New York Times op-ed article that I cited last time, Margaret Sullivan boils her analysis of reviewer closeness down to this: “How is the reader best served?” Again, it’s a good question to ask with respect to JGR Space Physics.
One of my recent posts gave the stats on just how many reviewers the journal uses in a typical year. It’s a lot! While a few referees reveal their identity during the review process or click the button to be acknowledged in the printed article, most of these reviewers remain anonymous to the author and the rest of the community. I think that there is a good discussion to have about whether anonymity “best serves” the community. Please feel free to comment on this topic below but I will not really address it in this post.
I think that readers are best served by reviewers objectively, thoughtfully, and courteously identifying the good elements of the paper, pointing out the areas that need to be improved, and offering suggestions for how the paper can achieve a recommendation for publication. There are six phrases in that sentence that I would like to highlight:
- Objectively: make a strong effort to remove personal bias, positive or negative, towards the topic, methodology, or authors in evaluating the study
- Thoughtfully: we call on you for your expertise, so please be thorough in your analysis of the paper, going into detail when necessary
- Courteously: please keep all reviews at a professional and respectful level of discourse, being considerate of how the authors will interpret your comments, and never including ad hominem attacks
- Identifying the good: an often-forgotten part of the review process, including comments on the strong aspects of the paper will help the editor weigh your review relative to others received for this paper
- Pointing out improvement: this is what we seem to be best at and what most reviews focus on, which is fine with me as long as the other elements are kept in mind as well
- Offering suggestions: this is very important as it provides a clear target for the authors to know the “bar” for recommendation towards publication
JGR Space Physics is different from books in that, being an obscure technical journal, the journal readership is, for the most part, the journal author pool as well. I think that helps ensure good reviews. We want only high-quality studies to be published in the journal, so we are tough on each other, but reviewers also know that someday they will be submitting papers, so we strive for civility in our correspondence.