## December 17, 2010

### Poetic Refereeing

#### Posted by Tom Leinster

Every year, the journal Environmental Microbiology publishes a choice selection of quotes from referees’ reports. This year’s is out now! The journal article is here, but since you can get the article for free if you register, I hope they won’t mind me putting another copy here.

What I especially appreciate are the passages that describe how effectively refereeing can crush your spirit:

The writing and data presentation are so bad that I had to leave work and go home early and then spend time to wonder what life is about.

I suppose that I should be happy that I don’t have to spend a lot of time reviewing this dreadful paper; however I am depressed that people are performing such bad science.

The biggest problem with this manuscript, which has nearly sucked the will to live out of me, is the terrible writing style.

The rest of my favourites follow…

I have to admit that I would have liked to reject this paper because I found the tone in the Reply to Reviewers so annoying. It may be irritating to deal with reviewer’s comments (believe me, I know!) but it is not wise to let your irritation seep through every line you write!

This paper is desperate. Please reject it completely and then block the author’s email ID so they can’t use the online system in future.

Always dear EMI takes care of its referees, providing them with entertainment for the holiday time in between Xmas and New Year. Plus the server shows, as usual, its inhuman nature and continues to send reminding messages. Well, between playing tennis on the Wii, eating and drinking, I found time and some strength of mind to do this work.

Merry X-mas! First, my recommendation was reject with new submission, because it is necessary to investigate further, but reading a well written manuscript before X-mas makes me feel like Santa Claus.

And my favourite of all…

I agree to review this Ms whilst answering e-mails in the golden glow of a balmy evening on the terrace of our holiday hotel on Lake Como. Back in the harsh light of reality in Belfast I realize that it’s just on the limit of my comfort zone and that it would probably have been better not to have volunteered.

By the way, I’m not a regular reader of Environmental Microbiology. I got this from Boing Boing, who in turn got it from Twisted Bacteria.

Posted at December 17, 2010 1:40 PM UTC

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### Re: Poetic Refereeing

I was intrigued by the single word comment (was this the entire review or just an excerpt??):

alfachetoglutarate

Had the authors hideously misspelled $\alpha$-ketoglutarate? Had a foreign-language spelling crept in? Is there some kind of pun in there? What prompted it?

Posted by: Tim Silverman on December 17, 2010 6:21 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

### Re: Poetic Refereeing

I’m as puzzled as you. But at a meta-level I’m not puzzled: imagine how inexplicable the in-jokes of mathematicians must be to environmental microbiologists…

Posted by: Tom Leinster on December 17, 2010 6:56 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

### Re: Poetic Refereeing

Often the in-jokes of mathematicians are inexplicable to mathematicians too. Well to some of them, anyway.

Posted by: Eugenia Cheng on December 18, 2010 12:40 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

### Re: Poetic Refereeing

As an editor and referee, I am relieved that, although less poetic, reports have been by and large more helpful to the author.

Posted by: jim stasheff on December 18, 2010 1:51 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

### Re: Poetic Refereeing

To me, quite a lot of these quotations read like they’re part of a private message from referee to editor. I don’t have any reason to think that the reports are unhelpful.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on December 18, 2010 6:47 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

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