My invited review was #rejected


A #scitwitter drama unfolds ::point down::

It all began on a typical academic day, when a parchment sealed in wax arrived by messenger from a top scientific journal* inviting me to write a review on an area of science my lab studies.

*not real names, might have been email. #pilife

I casually do a happy dance and reply immediately accepting the invitation. Was replying within the same minute the invitation arrived too soon, I wonder?

::happy dance gif::

After a brief phone call with the editor, an outline and totally reasonable timeline were set, because this new project is the only thing I'm working on. #phdlife More happy-dancing ensues. Until...

A few weeks into the writing, an excellent review in a sister top* journal covers a portion of the content I intended to cover. Not uncommon, I agree to expand the scope of the work after another brief call with the editor.

How do I expand the scope and describe the current scientific landscape? Two choices:

Blue pill: Think really hard, do a lit review, perhaps read a few of the papers, and write down what comes into my head;

Red pill: Embrace new tools in #datascience and #rstats, perhaps a little #machinelearning, and try to formally quantify the landscape.

I chose the red pill. ::matrix gif:: and write and code and develop what I think is a new type of based on data, not just my favorite ideas. A few colleagues provide customary feedback (clarify here, typo there), and submit to the editor.

A few weeks goes by...I get a call from the editor.

Editor: What exactly is this?

Me: It's the review you invited me to write. (Duh)

Editor: ...

Editor: Uh, why does it have code?

Me: Stepping up on to my soap box, channeling my inner Roman orator, I describe how this is the "review of the future" that integrates new tools data and ideas.

Editor: ...

Editor: Why does it have supplementary data

Me: In case reviewers are not yet savvy enough to do a code review, I generated Excel spreadsheets so they could see the underlying data that I used to generate the figures.

Editor: ...I'm going to have to talk with my team about this.

Another few weeks goes by, and it's sent out for review. I'm relieved. But seriously: what took so long? This. is. an. invited. review.

A long, cold winter passed, and at the turn of spring, I hear back from the messenger: I'm sorry, we can not offer to publish your review. ?!?!?!?! WTF?

9 pages of reviewer comments. For a review. But this is not a @thirdreviewer drama. In fact, the reviewers were incredibly helpful.

Reviewer 1: it seems like you changed the focus of the review half way through writing (how did they know!?). Make it more clear when you're talking about A vs. B.

Me: This was great feedback.

Reviewer 2: the analyses you did were intriguing, but under developed. Perhaps you should do some more work to formally test the predictions your analyses suggest.

Me (deadpan): this is a review.

Reviewer 3: this is great.

Me: I know, right.

Editor: I'm sorry I could not have been more positive in this instance.

Another brief call with the editor got an invitation to respond to the reviewer comments and re-submit, and see what the reviewers think. Ball is still in play!

I write a heartfelt letter to the reviewers, thanking them for the obvious effort they put into reviewing my review (9 pages after all), cut out a bunch of the speculative stuff, tightened up the language around the analysis, and back off my desk.

A few more weeks go by. Winter again rears its ugly head. Finally, spring again...

Editor: "We have decided NOT to re-send this to the reviewers". Paraphrasing, This is neither a review, nor an opinion piece, it seems like scientific manuscript.

Me: Five steps of grief:

1. You've got to be kidding me!

2. You're an idiot.

3. Perhaps you need an additional reviewer?

4. But, but what about my heartfelt letter?

5. We'll find a home for it.

Perhaps just get it out on @biorxivpreprint, I thought to myself. #biorxiv and #preprints are so hot right now. Perfect temporary home.

Me: Submitting to @bioarxiv is super easy.

1-hour passes...

Bioarxiv: I'm sorry, we do not publish reviews.


Just like #avengers, or any good drama, there is no ending yet. Chime in #scitwitter, what would you do?

Re-appeal to top* journal

Re-submit as-is elsewhere

Revise, omit #data

Revise, do more analyses