Jeff C. Clements reckons with a recent set of reviewer comments that used ‘being critical’ as a justification to be mean.
I very much enjoy being a peer reviewer. Reviewing manuscripts allows me to stay up to date on the most-current research in my field, and I feel a sense of accomplishment when helping authors to effectively disseminate their science.
However, I have been discouraged by some comments from fellow reviewers that I’ve seen relayed to authors. Multiple reviews, which were shared with all reviewers, were rife with unnecessary, personal comments that merely served as subjective criticisms of the authors’ competencies, rather than as constructive assessment of the research. One comment went as far as implying that the authors themselves were illogical and unintelligent.
The process of peer review is meant to be highly critical. Many researchers, however, don’t receive proper training on being effective peer reviewers (I didn’t). We know that we should be critical as reviewers, but we are rarely taught to be kind and courteous. I think that, all too often, this focus on criticism rather than compassion is interpreted as a licence to be mean.