Friday links: Trump vs. NOAA, the (bleak?) political context for Canadian higher ed, and more

Also this week: journal editors altering reviews (?!), LGBT+ scientists on how to promote inclusion, and more.

From Jeremy:

An argument that Canadian higher education is likely looking at many more years of flat or decreasing budgets in real terms, because one of the the historic rationales for public funding of higher education is outdated and the other no longer has a political constituency. Sounds plausible to me, but I really don’t know nearly enough to evaluate it.

JFC. Remember when Obama was President and Jane Lubchenco ran NOAA and this kind of thing never would’ve happened? Jane Lubchenco does.

News report in Science on an as-yet-unreviewed survey of almost 300 high-impact journal editors, finding that 8% of them are willing to edit a reviewer’s report without the reviewer’s knowledge or permission if they disagree with it. I’m surprised it’s even as high as that (but unlike the survey authors, I wouldn’t assume 8% is necessarily an underestimate). I’ve been an editor for many years now for two leading journals (first Oikos, now Am Nat). It’s never even occurred to me that editing a reviewer report would be an option, and I’ve never felt the slightest urge to do it for any reason. Plus, at all the leading ecology journals with which I’m familiar as an editor or author, all reviews get shared with the other reviewers as well as the authors at the time the editor’s decision is made, so reviewers would know if their reviews had been altered without their permission. None of my reviews ever have been altered without my permission, nor has any editor ever asked my permission to alter one of my reviews. I say this not to minimize the problem here–editors should not alter reviews just because they disagree with them, and when they do it it’s bad! But at the risk of overgeneralizing from my own anecdotal experiences, I wonder if the problem is best thought of as “there are a few bad editors out there, and the solution is for them to either become better editors or else lose their editorial positions”. Rather than “there is a systemic problem with editors altering reviews, that requires a systemic solution”.

Six LGBT+ scientists on how to promote inclusion. I was interested in the commonalities in their stories and views, and also in the contrasts. For instance, compare this comment from Hontas Farmer:

This August, I started teaching at Elmhurst University in Illinois, in a small community that I’ve found supportive despite its politically conservative reputation. It’s sort of counterintuitive, but I’m confident that a conservative school will stand behind me, because they hired me for my credentials. Be open to finding acceptance anywhere.

with this comment from Sean Edgerton:

It is also incredibly important for lab leaders to not hold meetings, conferences or fieldwork in states, regions or countries that have anti-LGBT+ laws or discriminatory practices.

When should you trust regression discontinuity? 🙂

9 thoughts on “Friday links: Trump vs. NOAA, the (bleak?) political context for Canadian higher ed, and more

  1. Once, as handling editor, I found that a referee had mistakenly put their confidential comments to me in the authors’ box, and comments to author in the box meant for me. I contacted the concerned referee, and they realised the error. I cut/pasted the text correctly before sending the decision to the author.
    Another time, the handling editor told me to pay more attention to two of the three referees (because the comments from the third referee were vague and unhelpful … but these were not redacted).

    • Yes, I do think there are reasons why a journal would want to edit a review, with the reviewer’s permission. Your first case is a good example. I just don’t think “the editor disagrees with the scientific views of the reviewer” is among those reasons!

      If you’re an editor and you disagree with a reviewer, that’s fine–own it! Say so in your decision letter and explain why! I’ve done it myself once or twice as an editor.

    • I’ve edited reviews about 2-3 times in my life. In each case the review was substantive and worth passing on but made one or two comments that were two aggressive/biting and the author was an ECR (I figure senior researchers can handle a few biting words). In those cases I just deleted the comments (without asking permission as they did not change the substance) and forwarded.

      When the whole tone of a review is unacceptable I either rescind the review or go back to the reviewer to change it. But when it is literally just a few words and an issue of extreme tone not substance and the recipient is ECR I have removed the objectionable phrases.

      But again this has only been a few times across thousands of papers.

      I completely agree with you that this is not a systemic problem. I would say editors who pose as a reviewer is a bigger, more real problem if one is really looking for one. But by and large I think the ethics at the AE level are quite high.

      There are reviewers who are unethical in promoting their own careers (or friend’s) at the expense of others. But a good AE/EiC should easily catch this and remove the impact.

      There are a few EiC looking to push up their impact factors who require self-citation or set up elaborate cross-citation networks, but these are often fairly visible and often caught.

      In short peer review certainly has many short comings (although I think the short comings of alternate systems are noticeably larger), but I don’t think a concentration of ethical bad actors is one of them.

  2. I also sometimes remove a ‘too harsh’ sentence from a review, or a sentence in which a reviewer states their recommended decision on the manuscript. In these cases, I always send a note to the reviewer, indicating the change that I am making. It seems to me that this is a reasonable part of the (strictly informal!) process of educating reviewers on appropriate behavior.

    • Here at Am Nat, I *think* the managing editor checks whether the reviewer mistakenly included their recommended decision in their comments to the authors. I *think* journal office edits it out (with a note to the reviewer) when it happens?

  3. I once got, instead of the expected two reviews, one review and a note “I am suppressing review 2 because the reviewer turned out to be hostile to the idea of statistical inference.”

    Given that it was a phylogenetics paper, I can imagine what the review must have said, and I am grateful to the editor for suppressing it. There is no reasonable response to “I disbelieve in the entire concept that underlies your study.”

    • I respect the editor suppressing that review. Although I’m puzzled why that reviewer was chosen in the first place. I mean, wouldn’t you ordinarily know if the reviewer was a hard-core old school cladist, and avoid using the reviewer for that reason?

  4. i wish the reviewer’s comment i received as a fragile phd student were suppressed. “i stopped reading this shit on page 2”

  5. For transparency reasons, reviews should not be edited, even if they contain hostile language. Because who decides when the text is aggresive/hostile? And would we also edit when the text seems overly positive? Don’t we put ourselves on a slippery slope? The editor can explain in the decision letter whether he or she agrees with the review or not and why.
    I’ve had a paper rejected once by a journal where the reviewer argued that I postponed publishing the results of this paper because the results were conflicting with an earlier paper, and hence I was accused of getting two papers out where this should have been only one. Of course, if this were the case, then this would have been questionable research practice, but the problem was that the editor went along with it, without asking me how things really went, or allowing a rebuttal. The true story was that after finishing one paper with a model, I did another with another model and indeed found some results that were disagreeing with the previous model (although it wasn’t actual disagreement when looking at the finer details; this would only be a superficial interpretation). But that is perfectly normal scientific progress. The review was quite aggressive, but I would not have wanted it edited; I just would have liked the editor to be more objective.
    As an editor the thought never occurred to me to edit a review. And it probably doesn’t happen a lot. I don’t reread my own reviews when they are sent back to the reviewers (Why should I? I know what I wrote; and if I didn’t I wouldn’t know what was changed in my review), but maybe I should start doing so …

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