I am working on a revise-and-resubmit for a comment on a paper published in a prominent journal. Believe me, I am by this point so over being surprised by incompetent work appearing in prestigious places, and yet this paper was beyond the beyonds. The paper has three sections that claim to offer separate scientific contributions. Regarding one of them, here is a sentence I just drafted:
In sum, [author]’s analysis of [thing] treats arbitrary survey categories as natural distinctions, presents overall results that are logically necessary as though they were empirical findings, and characterizes specific results in ways that contradict simple cross-tabulation of the pertinent variables.
The kicker? This sentence is about the section of the original paper that aggravates me least.
Even so, the only reason I wrote a comment on this paper in the first place is that the paper was to me indicative of a Larger Problem, and I wanted to call attention to the Larger Problem. Unfortunately, the upshot of the editor’s directive regarding my original submission is to remove discussion of the Larger Problem–while encouraging me to write a whole paper just about that, which I may do–and instead in this comment focus narrowly on how this particular paper is incorrect and incompetent. Which isn’t nearly so rewarding intellectually, and isn’t exactly enjoyable work either.
I mean, the author of this paper plainly has a poor grasp on what s/he’s doing statistically. S/he also does something in the paper that I personally regard as disingenuous, or ignorant to the point of negligence (I’ll let you choose which of these is less harsh). But, other than the disingenuousness issue, it’s not the author’s fault that her/his incompetent work made it into a prominent journal. I wish in cases like this the names of the reviewers of the paper were listed, and that they were given the opportunity to defend their recommendation. I feel bad because I imagine this person sitting in their office, beaming with pride about their prominent publication, not knowing that I am sitting here in my own office working on articulating exactly why this person’s object-of-pride should be instead understood as an scientific atrocity that never should have made it through peer review. (And so close to Christmas, to boot.)
I thought about not doing the R&R if it couldn’t be about the Larger Problem. Gore Vidal said that one should never pass up the opportunity to have sex or be on television, and the academic equivalent of that aphorism would be the chance to have one’s work appear in a prominent forum (a comment included). But since I don’t think the saying is really true about sex or TV, I’m not sure why I would buy its academic extension. Instead, the best I can explain why I’m pressing ahead with revision is that the existence of this paper genuinely enrages me–as I was reading through part of it last night, my hands started shaking–and I can’t let it go unchallenged. Ugh.