Your manuscript is both good and original;
but the part that is good is not original,
and the part that is original is not good.
I am currently reviewing a paper for a special issue. In the beginning, it reminded me a bit of my first submissions. Instead of writing a journal paper, this person wrote something like a thesis report. While reading the submission, I recognized a lot of the mistakes I (hopefully) used to make — and I began making notes what to write on the feedback form to the authors. I am still struggling to get my (scientific) works published, and I feel empathic pain with others who likely have the same problem. And if I can give any information that makes it easier for another author to establish his/her professional voice, I’m all for it. I love constructive feedback.
But I also have an … active imagination. When reading, my mind automatically comes up with sarcastic ideas for answers. I made some very painful learning experiences on the way to developing a good filter, but the unprintable ideas still come, especially when I get angry. And when reading, I got angry — not so much at the author (I guess this person is doing his/her PhD or has just finished it), but at the adviser who did not stop the submission at the department door.
So, quotations like:
“Son, where did you go to school? If I were you, I’d write them and get my fucking money back.”
Dimitri “Jimmie” Viner, in discussions with his flight test engineers
came, as well as suggestions like:
“Slap your adviser for me. With better feedback, you could have conducted/written about a publishable study. Perhaps next time, if you are still in academia that is.”
It’s (private) fun, it maintains my mood when reading, but it’s not something I would ever write (again). On the more constructive side, I was reminded how much books like:
- Alley, M. (1996). The Craft of Scientific Writing (3rd ed.). New York: Springer.
- Thomson, P., & Kamler, B. (2013). Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
helped me, either by directly improving my writing skills (Alley) or by giving me a framework for my next submissions (Thomson & Kamler). I was about to recommend these books — and, most importantly — to have a look at the papers published in that journal before submitting anything! To really analyze the papers and adapt the own paper to that style, to find out the differences between a thesis report and a submission in that journal! (referring to Thomson & Kamler here).
But I do not think that I will give that kind of feedback either.
What stopped me cold during reading was something I had not expected. The first parts were okay, not written by a native speaker and with terrible punctuation, but still … okay. But suddenly during the method/results section all the parameters of good scientific writing dropped. The author started to blunder along, the argumentation did not make sense, the results were long-winded with inclusion of information you calculate but do not report. It did not make sense — it might be that two or more authors cooperated without reading the corresponding parts, but I find it unlikely. The discrepancy was too great.
So I copy-pasted a few of the better written sentences into Google … and, yup, as expected, found (nearly) the identical sentences in existing papers.
I can understand that authors want to copy and paste from their previous introductions/theoretical backgrounds. However, in this case, I think it’s more likely that a PhD student/early post-doc copied from the works of his adviser, hopefully with his/her knowledge, and probably due to language difficulties.
But this does not make it okay. Self-plagiarism is still still plagiarism, esp. if you drop the sources.
The paper is a reject in any case — the methodological quality is too low — but I am going to comment on the (self-)plagiarism. Not only because I think it’s the right thing to do — there is too much kept unsaid in academia, many people are conflict-averse, even if the conflicts help improve the overall work and science itself. But also because I am angry.
This author wasted my time — my comments (at least to the plagiarized parts) cannot be helpful — and it puts into question everything else this author has written. The adviser of that author also wasted my time — submissions of that quality should have been stopped — the new parts have the horrible “shitty-first-draft” quality (Lamott) that could make it into a good paper. But allowing such a patchwork of (self-)plagiarism and bad analysis being submitted is irresponsible.
So, to conclude this rant, what I would like to write in the review is the title of this blog posting:
“Slap your adviser (and I hope, s/he slaps you back).”
because both failed miserably in my view, but that would be unprofessional. But still, sometimes I wonder … what happens to science … and where we are going as a discipline …