Publishing science

We have just submitted a large study for publication and obtained reviewers comments. My former supervisor once told me that a manuscript is at its best the first time you submit it for publication.

What I think she meant by that is that you have spent a long time, up to 4-5 years, to make a study complete by showing the main new findings in several ways using many different experimental approaches. You have worked on the manuscript, got comments from the co-authors, edited, refined and worked on the manuscript over and over again. Finally the day has come to submit to a prestigious scientific journal and you really think you have done the most you can to prove your new findings. Then you wait for a decision by the journal’s editorial board, normally after 3-4 weeks. During this time, the manuscript has been scrutinized by your peer researchers – the reviewers. When I was a PhD student this process could take up to 6 months. Luckily today and thanks to internet the review process has speeded up significantly.

Now, after 4 weeks we received the comments. At a first glance we were happy to see that the manuscript was not rejected. Then we started to read the comments. 3 reviewers and 6 pages later we were first a little discouraged. According to Murphy´s law and the experience we all have is that normally two reviewers have decent comments that you can quite easily respond to. Then there is reviewer 3. In our case, reviewer 3’s comments took up 4 out of the 6 pages with comments. We appreciate that reviewer 3 has spent an enormous amount of time to go through our manuscript and identify points to be improved. Now that we have brainstormed to come up with new experiments to respond to the comments and improve the study, we come to realize that reviewer 3 probably likes our study. Going through reviewers comments and coming up with ways to address their points is actually a very creative time. The only caveat to it is that you thought you already had completed the study!

During the next 3-4 months we will try to take down the moon and give it to the reviewers and editorial board members. There is still no guarantee that the paper will be accepted after review. If it is – it will actually be a significantly improved version of the study. All in all I therefore think that the peer-review process work in science. As it is now, the review process is confidential and we never know the names of the reviewers. I think in the future an open peer-review process where the reviewers can be identified by names would be desirable. This will increase the incitement for reviewers to only ask for the necessary experiments and in a decent way.

Keep your fingers crossed for all of us!