Adversarial Peer Reviews and What To Do To Prevent Them

Adversarial Peer Reviews and What To Do To Prevent Them
Written in the context of Computer Science, this witty and informative article on the techniques of adversarial reviewers is well worth a read no matter what field you are working in: With techniques such as ‘The Goldilocks Method,’ ‘If you can’t say something nasty…,’ ‘Silent but Deadly,’ ‘The Natives Are Restless’ and ‘The Referee Moves the Goalposts,’ it brings a smile to the realities of a grim topic.
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The nasty techniques of adversarial reviewers are described in plenty of detail, providing information useful not only for authors and editors who need to determine whether a review is adversarial or not, but also for reviewers who use such techniques to recognise the nature of their own unsavoury practices. There are also plenty of hints about how to prepare an article in ways that will help prevent adversarial reviewers from sinking their claws in too deeply. Obviously, the methods, evidence, results, analysis and argument presented in a paper must be sound, tables and figures must be accurate and visually effective, and the paper as a whole must be written in formal prose that is both clear and correct. However, there are also smaller and seemingly less significant matters that can help a great deal if you get them right. Even the smallest typing and spelling errors are red flags for adversarial reviewers seeking every negative point they can find, and tiny inconsistencies in presentation and formatting are invitations for a comment on a paper’s lack of clarity or confusing layout. As the author of the article explains, such ‘minor issues’ can be mingled with ‘major complaints’ by the determined adversarial reviewer, disorienting readers of the review (including those making decisions about publication) and ultimately ‘leading them to believe the paper is riddled with major errors.’

There could hardly be a stronger argument for careful and thorough proofreading and correction of articles prior to submission, and if there is a silver lining to the cloud cast by adversarial reviewers, inspiring academics and scientists to polish and perfect their work is certainly an aspect of it. Authorial care is not always the answer, however. Better still would be a landscape in which all reviewers avoided nasty techniques and focussed ‘on the genuine contributions of a paper,’ and it is comforting to think that the majority of reviewers still do just that. Yet it seems that in many disciplines, the malware is already in the system, and although it is impossible to predict exactly when, where and how it might strike next, it is imperative to keep it from taking control.

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