graphic

“He's making a list, adding controls, gonna find out which data don't hold. Somebody's reviewing your work, somebody's reviewing your work, somebod-y is going-ing to town.” Hmm-hmm-hmm-hmm-hmm.

It's that time again, when we celebrate the holiday spirit (make mine single malt, please), force ourselves to watch `skits' in which students mercilessly lampoon their professors (really, you think we don't remember it the next time your committee meets?), presents are exchanged (do remember the whisky, please) and budgets undergo correction as nobody is doing any experiments.

Oh, about that, and before I get to the point (there will be a point, eventually), I need to mention something. You hunker down and get your papers submitted before you go off on your lovely ski vacation, figuring it will all be handled by the time you get back, and you're angry if it isn't, and even angrier if the reviews are negative. I mean, give us a break; I may not take a holiday (humbug) but that doesn't mean I'm going to drop everything to review the papers that come piling in during mid-December. Bah, indeed.

We'll come back to that, but as I'm into the eggnog (very nice), my point is wandering. Those of you who know me know that I am not a proponent of any organized religion, unless, of course, you count the religion we insectivores favor. We pray to Andy, who is a big guy who tries to squish us, and we implore him, “Oh Andy, please don't step on us, or put poison in our mole-holes, or hit us with shovels. And lock up the cat. A-men.” It's a religion that makes sense to us.

But I love the holidays. I like the silly movies, and the silly decorating, and even the `skits'. And I love presents. And, as we're on the subject, Santa Claus isn't a saint, no matter how hard some folks try to doctor the data, but I like the idea that somebody gives things out for free. I celebrate every holiday that involves presents.

So what do we scientists want? I mean really? I know what I want (in addition to the lowland malt, thanks). I want, just once, to get a review that says, “Yeh, that's the stuff.” Okay, I've actually gotten this present three times, and it made me wildly happy. Three times I've gotten back reviews that said, essentially, “Great, just publish it.” I'm batting under one percent (or in baseball parlance, and if you don't know, baseball season doesn't start again for months and months, about .007. License to kill).

So yes, I'm getting to a point. We love to speculate around this time of year how nice it might be if the warm fuzzy holiday spirit could be all year round. And then we get one of those late-December papers to review, we get bitter because we're not going to Hawaii next week, and we get all nasty, and think of lots more experiments that can't be done until the snow melts and baseball season starts up. Or until next holiday season.

I know, because I used to be the same way. Most papers are just not very good, it's true, and they need a lot of fixing up. But sometimes now I do see a really nice piece of work to review, something interesting, done well, that should be read by others. And I try, I mean, I'm going to try, to be nicer to those papers, and if possible I'm going to find some that I can make into the nicest holiday gift, regardless of the time of year, that some authors are going to get. I'm going to be Santa Claus all year round, because they won't even know it's me.

It's easy to think of more experiments. It's easy to poke some holes in even the best work. But if I'm going to do my job as a reviewer, I have to see that sometimes a submitted paper is the real deal, something that can be made into a gift like this. And if the paper isn't quite up to scratch, I'm still going to be nice.

Why this change of heart? Why should you follow my example, and make all of our lives a little more pleasant, and science a bit more fun? Well, I'll tell you. It was the ghosts. It's a long story, so grab an eggnog (I'll just have a wee bit more) and have a seat by the fire. It's like this...

(to be continued...)