Because I forget stuff. Part of

Note: It appears you must have reached this page by a deep level URL. In general this site is currently down and unmaintained. See here

About This Post

Originally posted November 22 2004 at 23:11 under Physics. 5 Comments. Trackbacks Disabled.

The Scientific Process

Not so peeved

Ed talked about the response to a paper recently submitted to a scientific journal (which shall remain nameless). I feel this deserves some response, if for no other reason than my name also appears on the paper he mentions (which given that I don’t agree with some of the tone of his post makes me a little uncomfortable).

First let me say that had Ed not said anything I wouldn’t have, for part of my problem is that I don’t believe the blogsphere is the correct place to discuss such matters – especially before the paper has been published or finally rejected. The peer review process is vital to science for many reasons (which I’m certain Ed is aware). That is not to say it’s perfect, but nobody has produced a better system as yet. That the range and length of the two replies differs so greatly is one of the reasons that there are two to start with. And frankly it is the choice of the referee to comment on what and how they see fit. What one sees as pedantic and trivial points are undoubtedly anothers personal bugbears (I know I have mine). That they may have missed a point or result is part of the whole process, our chance to explain more clearly to them, as they represent the scientific community at large (yes, of course this sort of dialogue with the community may continue after publication but how many times have you directly contacted the author of a paper? Best to have some form of conversation before hand). In the end we address there points as best we can, appeasing some for the sake of the greater peace and answering others in an effort to clarify and convince. For partly what we are about is convincing others. A new publication is, by its nature, new, untested, unseen (at least in the ideal world). That others might question its assurtions is only natural and indeed one of those vital parts, to stop us convincing ourselves of the truths which aren’t. Of course, we hopefully have thought all these questions before and hence can answer them but that’s the point. If the referee were not there to ask what we may consider silly, trivial, misinformed questions, would we ever ask them of ourselves?

Ed—this is not intended as a personal attack. You posted about something with which I am directly involved and my professional ethics demanded that I make clear that your comments did not necessarily represent my views (as, given that it’s clear from previous posts here that I read your blog, silence may have implied). I strongly suspect that I may well have taken the post just a little too seriously but that’s one of the great problems with the written word, it’s very difficult to judge tone. Oh, and be careful, I think someone called Eve is listening in to the referees.

Comments (5):



I entirely agree with what you’re saying. Mostly I was just ranting ;-)

I am, naturally, trying to take the referee’s comments as constructively as possible. I don’t for a moment question their right to make those comments; indeed, the especially verbose one makes several good points that I’m sure will improve the quality of the published paper.

I guess my only real complaints (apart from the fact they dared to criticise my work ;-) are a few points, where the referee just doesn’t seem to be sufficiently familiar with the work they’re criticising, and the degree of difference between the referees. As a physicist, I can’t help but feel two radically different data points means you should take more data.


Made by Ed on Nov 23, 2004 at 09:13


On the point of discussing these issues in a public forum… essentially my LJ is about my life; things that happen to me. I was very careful not to mention anything about the institutions involved, I’m certain that I can’t be accused of trying to bias the process in any way. I’m just recording my experiences from my perspective.


Made by Ed on Nov 23, 2004 at 09:18


I strongly suspected it was just a bit of a rant rather than a serious questioning of the process! As for there being too radically different data points—rubbish! What you have there is a lovely straight line graph. Simply fit y=ax+b and we’ll extrapolate the rest ;-)

On a more serious note, some of the comments are helpful whilst others I may believe are a little like nitpicking. Such is life. I know from proofreading things for Rachel that some of what I consider vital differentiation of points are to others stupidly pedantic (she’s probably one of the few people knows the keystrokes in MS Word to produce a proper em- or en-dash rather than a hyphen). The paper that is published is never yours but a collaboration by proxy with the entire community. It’s hard enough getting the original authors to agree on every turn of phrase and point, so it is (rightly) difficult to get everyone else’s agreement too.

As for discussing all this in a public forum, perhaps I was a little wrong on that point. It is in some respects important that such a process is brought into the open, if only for the public to see it. We have the position of being familiar with the scientific process and what is entailed in gaining publication in peer reviewed journals. The public however seem to give equal weight to a paper published in Nature to that factoid in the local rag. It is important to point out why one ought to carry much more weight than the other. They also have a perception that science is an unmoving bulk of agreed upon information and that what we say today we will believe with equal strength tomorrow. Of course anybody involved in the whole process recognises this to be incorrect, the body of scientific knowledge is continually updated and debated, so it is again important to show this happening.

So, on with the process. It’s what separates science from quackery and tabloid mallarky :-)

Made by Ian Scott on Nov 23, 2004 at 11:17


You still need to keep an eye on referees comments. They are after all only human. We once had comments that they didn’t understand how we displayed some data, but we used it all the time (2D Auger spectra) and it just seemed normal to us. Few extra bits of discription though, and the comment went away…

Oh, and hello Ian.

Made by Andy on Nov 24, 2004 at 21:44


I believe our response to referees comments is in preparation by the ever efficient Ed. It is a process and indeed some of our response is to try and explain points in a clearer way (clearer to the referee at least). We’re also pointing out why we think some things are right with reference to relevant literature. A prime example of this sort of thing is that one of the comments is based on, for want of a better word, some notation we used. We spent about an hour tweaking around with our description of this, but apparently still didn’t do a good enough job (we know what we mean but recognised it may be difficult to get across without hands to wave). Just try again I suppose.

Oh, and hello Andy

Made by Ian Scott on Nov 25, 2004 at 11:35

Post a comment

Name and email address are required. Email address is never shown. If you enter a URL your name will be linked to it (this and other links will have the rel attribute set to contain nofollow). Markup allowed: <a href="" title="" rel=""> <em> <strong> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <p> <br />. Anything else is stripped; please be valid. Single linebreaks automatically convert to <br />, double to <p>'s. Additionally anything that looks like a bare URL should get automagically linked. Many acronyms and abbreviations are also automagically handled.

Please note this blog's comment policy

Trackbacks (0):

Trackback URL:


This Crazy Fool

Dr Ian Scott
Croydon (and Gateshead), United Kingdom
Bullding Services Engineer (EngDesign), PhD in Physics (University of York), football fanatic (Newcastle United), open source enthusiast (mainly Mozilla)

More about me [Disclaimer]

You may subscribe to IMS_Blog using the RSS Feed, the Atom Feed or by email.

Creative Commons License

From November 22 Other Years

© Ian Scott. Powered by Movable Type 3.2. This blog uses valid XHTML 1.0 Strict and valid CSS. All times are local UK time. For further details see the IMS_Blog about page.. All my feeds in one.