How we visualize reviewers

Whenever I get a bad reviewer, I imagine him as either a obnoxious male graduate student or some idiot male professor who doesn’t know anything and doesn’t think he needs to find out because he hasn’t so far in his career.  And he’s rude because he’s got Dunning-Kruger syndrome and has been able to get away with it.

Good reviewers are always female in my head.  They give useful feedback and help to improve the paper.  They’re polite and professional.  (Because, of course, as a woman, you have to be or you get labeled emotional and unprofessional.  Men get excused, “that’s just the way [bigname] is.”)

Chances are the majority of the reviewers I get are one gender, but I want to not just say, “he” all the time when referring to one of the other, even in my brain.  And with “ze” it’s difficult to tell reviewer #1 apart from reviewer #3.  So rather than assigning random genders, I use this mnemonic.

Do you have mental images of the people who give you feedback?  What do they look like?

22 Responses to “How we visualize reviewers”

  1. Flavia Says:

    I’m 100% convinced that the first reader for my book was female and the second male, for exactly the reasons you note — though it’s not so much the negativity as the nature of the negativity. There was something about the impatient, pedantic exasperation of the second reader (who gave me tons of feedback and suggestions for a book totally unlike the one I actually wrote) that screamed “dude,” and especially “very senior, possibly retired dude,” while the first was critical but very constructive.

    For articles I’m usually less sure. Every now and then, though, there’s such dudely negativity and condescension that I really do believe the reviewer to be a cranky senior male.

  2. CG Says:

    Oh, I do this! And I characterize them in much the same way you do. I also try to imagine each paper as being written by a first year professor who is terrified of what I might say. That makes me be nicer.

  3. TheologyAndGeometry Says:

    Funny… I’ve never thought to do this other than I always assume the reviewer is male (which I shouldn’t because I and my female colleagues are reviewers – in fact I need to crank out one ASAP) and also fairly junior (because senior people don’t waste their time doing reviews – although I guess as you/someone else said earlier they could be retired). I feel like we get 3 types: one makes a few legitimately helpful suggestions about things he/she actually knows something about (thanks!), one has absolutely no clue and comments on a few random things that may or may not make any sense but is nice about the whole thing, and one doesn’t have much to add but is going to use the review as a way to “kick the dog”. I try to be the first type, but I’ve gotten a few papers that were so bad (why did they make it this far in the editorial process???) that I do end up getting kind of pissed off at the authors by the time I’m done reading and my comments get more snippy. As a side note, our papers tend to have a lot of authors on them (say 6 – 10) and my boss is a stickler about every author giving a thorough review of the paper before it’s submitted, so I tend to feel like we don’t get a lot extra out of a review from yet another person (though occasionally the outside perspective can be helpful).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Chances are in male dominated fields, most reviewers are male. Though I suspect women are better citizens and possibly over-represented in reviewing… That may be good for social science (I just reviewed two papers that were kinda maybe sorta a little bit sexist, which was weird because the obvious first-line rational economics explanation for their findings wouldn’t have been sexist at all!)

      • becca Says:

        I think we need to tell all reviewers that 35% of reviewers are women. (see “Some Effects of Proportions on Group Life: Skewed Sex Ratios and Responses to Token Women” ).

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        or at least 35%.

        That’s probably actually true in my field given how many lazy selfish guys there are and how women are penalized for saying no.

      • TheologyAndGeometry Says:

        I’d say my field (population health) is probably more balanced between the genders than most. It’s medical AND it has that “save the children” thing going on. I’d believe women were more likely to be reviewers than men to be good citizens and – unfortunately – because they’re probably more likely to be junior. I’d say that, as a thought experiment, I’d try to finish the R and R I’m working on now thinking that the reviewers were female, but I’m almost 100% sure that one is male because he’s kind of forcing me to cite his paper in my discussion (whatevs, it actually is kind of relevant but I’m way over my reference count already).

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        well, I betcha men are more likely to force you to cite their marginally relevant work when you’re already over the reference count

        (This is something I often forget to do as a reviewer– boost my citation count. In fact, I should have mentioned it on the first paper I reviewed this week, but I generally feel bad about doing it when I’m going to reject the paper anyway, even if that’s irrational, so maybe it’s just as well… I dunno.)

        (The second paper I reviewed cited a paper of mine that was only marginally relevant! I’m always surprised when that happens, though it makes sense that I get pulled to review more often when I’m cited than when I’m not. I’m irritated when something I’ve published that’s directly applicable isn’t cited, but if it is only marginally related, it comes as more of a pleasant surprise when it is cited.)

        (I have 4 referee reports to do this week. 3 down, 1 to go.)

  4. omdg Says:

    I do the same thing.

    Once I had a really persnickety reviewer. I mean, this person had something like 34 questions to address for one of my manuscripts. I totally thought it was a female reviewer. Not sure why… tone, maybe? Anyway, turns out it was a man. Actually someone I knew in real life. (The comments turned out to be really helpful, but damn that revise and resubmit was a PIA).

  5. physpostdoc Says:

    I think the gender distribution of reviewers mostly follows the gender distribution of researchers in the field. As with establishing a correlation between gender of the reviewer and quality/tone of the review, I find your generalization too sweeping. The one trend, in fact, which many people claim to notice and profess from their own evolution as a reviewer is that young scientists are usually more picky, while senior scientists are usually more relaxed and less painful to deal with (they might also just be way too busy to rip into every single manuscript that comes their way!), And this trend is apparently completely gender-neutral!

  6. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    I do the opposite, and intentionally don’t imagine what sort of person or, especially, who my reviewers are. And I strongly encourage my trainees to do the same. You can drive yourself nuts figuring out the who, what, and why of your reviewers, and it’s just a distraction from dealing with their reviews. I think of it like weather: sometimes it’s beautiful and sometimes it’s shitty, but there’s never anything you can do to change it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Ah, but if you have this heuristic, you’re not trying to figure out anything. Good/polite reviews are “her” and bad/rude reviews are “him”. Easy peasy. No being driven crazy.

  7. Susan Says:

    A friend who edited a journal gave me CPP’s advice – she told me never to try to guess who my reviewer was (this for a book ms) because people who tried were almost always wrong.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Fortunately there’s more than one polite intelligent woman in my field, so it’s not singling anyone out. Unfortunately there’s also far more than one dickish male in my field. (I don’t actually know of any female jerks in my field.) So this algorithm works out pretty well for hiding true identities.

  8. Veronica Says:

    I would worry about creating my own confirmation bias. If I already believe that many of the men in my field are jerks and that many of the women are good citizens, this seems like a thought-process guaranteed to jam that belief ever-more firmly into my head. Am I going to make it harder for myself to recognize that some men can behave well or some women are jerks?

    I my head, I think of them as reviewers A, B, and C, regardless of whether they are being helpful or being jerks.

  9. Revanche Says:

    Curious: Is non-blinded review ever a thing in your field? So that you actually see who the reviewers were? And would you want it to be?

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