The Tangled Bank XXV: Dear Journal Editor, It's Me Again


In the relatively brief time I’ve had a weblog (around a week shy of four months now), I’ve managed to acquire a reputation for using creative (some might say bizarre) formats for arranging blog carnivals, based on the two previous carnivals I've hosted. Given my love of science, I could hardly wait for my opportunity to host Tangled Bank back in January, when I first discovered it and immediately volunteered to do it.

But what format?

I didn’t want to repeat myself. So a raucous meeting of scientists or a TV Guide of geeky scientific programming was definitely out of the question. I didn’t want to repeat anyone else either if I could avoid it; consequently, I couldn’t do a menu or a tabloid. Given the diversity of the submissions (plus a couple of articles that I appropriated using the host's perogative), certain ideas I had thought of going into this just wouldn’t work. Frankly, I was stymied. Even a call to the Cranky Badger for some comic advice on whether my ideas were hack didn’t help.

Then it hit me.

Tangled Bank is about science. So what do scientists do? Well, they do research and experiments. But what do they do after they do their research? They submit articles reporting the results of their research to scientific journals, of course, hoping to get published in a high visibility journal. It's publish or perish! And, sadly, their articles get rejected. A lot. All too often with nasty comments from the reviewers. I had my organizing principle!

With that inspiration, I knew what I had to pattern this week's Tangled Bank after: Roy F. Baumeister’s famous comic diatribe against an intransigent journal editor and the journal’s bloodthirsty reviewers. I hereby present to you, blatantly (but lovingly) stolen and altered at will to my own nefarious ends:


Tangled Bank XXV: Dear Journal Editor, It’s Me Again

Dear Sir, Madame, or Other:

Enclosed is our latest version of MS# 85-02-02-22-RRRRR, that is, the re-re-re-revised revision of our paper (oh, hell, I've lost track of the number of times we've revised and resubmitted our paper!), entitled The role of homeobox genes in dinosaurian angiogenesis as new paradigm for evolution and the antiangiogenic therapy of dinosaurian cancer.

Choke on it.

We have again rewritten the entire manuscript from start to finish. We even changed the goddamned running head! Hopefully we have suffered enough by now to satisfy even you and your bloodthirsty reviewers. Besides the fact that we included five new figures of brand new data (with six panels each, yet), we still cannot believe that you were unable to see the merit of our work, especially given the recently published the description of the ways different tissue-specific promoters driving the homeobox gene Pitx1 can drive evolution in fish by Science Boy et al; the description of preserved dinosaur blood vessels by Myers et al, which proves once and for all the feasibility of dinosaurian antiangiogenic therapy; the report on the roles of transcription factors Zic2 and islet-2 in the control and evolution of binocular vision by gaw3 et al; the recent discussion of positive and negative evolution by Jeff et al; and a proposed rebuttal of the recent report of the genome-wide non-Mendelian inheritance of extra-genomic information in Arabidopsis by Cartwright et al. (Fortunately, these researchers didn’t write off their results as an error or anomaly, as your reviewers seem to be trying to do with our results.) All of these, plus our additional data, solidify support for our hypothesis about the role of homeobox genes and dinosaurian angiogenesis in evolution and the prospects for developing an effective dinosaurian antiangiogenic therapy. We even took the advice of one of your senior editors, Girlscientist, who told us how to format our submission for your journal. Not that it helped any. One of your earlier reviewers even went so far as to take a great deal of issue with our proposed new meme, indeed even the whole concept of a meme. (I suspect you've switched reviewers since three versions ago, as he was actually one of the more reasonable of the twenty or so reviewers we've had during the multiple resubmissions you've forced upon us.)

I shall skip the usual detailed point-by-point description of every single change we made in response to the critiques. Analyzing and re-analyzing the data in response to your reviewers’ ignorant comments, rewriting the entire manuscript from scratch, and then justifying our changes (most of which we consider unnecessary and ill-advised in the first place) yet again to you gives me a brainache, not unlike the one described by Young Female Scientist. After all, it is fairly clear that your reviewers are less interested in details of scientific procedure than in working out their personality problems and sexual frustrations by seeking some kind of demented glee in the sadistic and arbitrary exercise of tyrannical power over hapless authors like ourselves who happen to fall into their clutches. Either that, or they are like demented old patients that harass hospital staff, as described by my colleague Madhouse Madman. Or perhaps they have been infected with the Borna Disease Virus, exacerbating their depression or bipolar mood disorder, leading them to take it out on hapless authors (or not, given that the authors report that there may be no connnection). We do understand that, in view of the misanthropic psychopaths you have on your editorial board, you need to keep sending them papers, for if they weren't reviewing manuscripts they'd probably be out mugging old ladies or clubbing baby seals to death. They probably even rejoice over the death toll in Angola due to Ebola, as described by Wilson et al or enjoy watching the indiscriminate slaughter of wild birds in Asia in a misguided attempt to contain the Avian flu. (OK, clearly Girlscientist wouldn’t enjoy that, as she wrote about it, nor would another of the editors listed on your masthead--Mike--enjoy it, given his journeys to see 10,000 species of bird—but the rest of your sadistic editors and reviewers would!)

Still, from this batch of reviewers, C was clearly the most hostile, and we request that you do not ask him or her to review this revision. Indeed, we have mailed letter bombs to four or five people we suspected of being reviewer C, so if you send the manuscript back to them the review process could be unduly delayed. In any case, we refuse any longer to kowtow to your tyrannical reviewers in the manner that medical students try to write what they think prospective residency directors want to hear. We fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberry.

Some of the reviewers' comments we couldn't do anything about. For example, if (as reviewer C suggested) several of my recent ancestors were indeed drawn from other species, it is too late to change that. It is indeed fortunate that, as my colleague St. Nate has told me, paleontologists are not as close-minded and hidebound as Reviewer C; if they were, we would never have changed our perception of dinosaurs or even found the soft tissue reported by Myers et al. (If Reviewer C were the only source of knowledge we had on dinosaurs, we would still believe they were all large, cold-blooded thundering lizards with brains the size of a walnut.) Given Reviewer C's pathetic understanding of angiogenesis and evolution, I'm thinking of sending him/her Myers' comprehensive list of books on biology and evolution.) Leaving that aside, however, other suggestions were implemented, and the paper has improved and benefited. Thus, you suggested that we shorten the manuscript by 5 pages, and we were able to accomplish this very effectively by altering the margins and printing the paper in a different font with a smaller typeface. We agree with you that the paper is much better this way.

One perplexing problem was dealing with suggestions # 13-28 by Reviewer B. Maybe you were too busy cavorting with models, or maybe you don’t even bother reading the reviews before doing your decision letter, but that reviewer listed 16 works that he/she felt we should cite in this paper. Two were by the same author, about the quietest room in the world and how you some have used the room to make music based on the sounds of the human body. These articles were indeed very fascinating reading, but we fail to see what they have to do with evolution, dinosaurian angiogenesis, or homeobox genes. There were also fascinating articles on marsupial wolves and Emperor Penguins by Bums et al; on defoliation in Massachusetts by the invasive European winter moth (Operophtera brumata) by Orth et al; on gastropod blogging by Wolverine Tom et al; a discussion of artificial biodiversity by RoguePundit et al; the crystal structure of birnavirus by Syaffolee et al; a heavy-duty (and I mean heavy-duty) serious discussion of invasions and exotics and natives by Clarke et al, none of which had anything to do with homeobox genes or dinosaurian angiogenesis. The reviewer even suggested citing an article on making methane from nonorganic sources and fuel from organic waste, by Dresner et al and about a trip to the National Museum of American Indians by Insert Name Here et al, for crying out loud! They're enjoyable and informative reads, but they have nothing to do with dinosaurian angiogenesis or evolution. We could not find a common thread between these articles at first, but apparently Reviewer B greatly admires these authors and wants to promote their career and the number of times their papers are cited in the literature. Then a colleague pointed out that all of these investigators trained in the lab of a certain scientist. I suppose it is an admirable trait (certainly more admirable--and less obvious--than demonstrated during the last review cycle, when Reviewer B cited 16 articles, all by the same author, presumably someone whom Reviewer B greatly admires and feels should be more widely cited; at least this time he/she restrained him/herself and limited the suggestions to only 10 articles). To handle this, once again we have modified the Introduction and added, after the review of relevant literature, a subsection entitled "Review of Irrelevant Literature" that discusses these articles and also duly addresses some of the more asinine suggestions in the other reviews.

We hope that you will be pleased with this revision and will finally recognize how urgently deserving of publication this work is. If not, then you are an unscrupulous, depraved monster with no shred of human decency and you clearly meet the litmus tests to be considered a pseudoscientific hack. You ought to be in a cage. May whatever heritage you come from be the butt of the next round of ethnic jokes. If you do accept it, however, we wish to thank you for your patience and wisdom throughout this process and to express our appreciation of your scholarly insights. We expect that, like any good biologist, you ought to be able to do many things well, and your acceptance of our paper will prove prove that you might actually be a good biologist. To repay you, we would be happy to review some manuscripts for you; please send us the next manuscript that any of these reviewers submits to your journal.

Assuming you accept this paper, we would also like to add a footnote acknowledging your help with this manuscript and to point out that we liked the paper much better the way we originally wrote it, but you held the editorial shotgun to our heads and forced us chop, reshuffle, restate, hedge expand, shorten, and in general covert a meaty paper into stir-fried vegetables. We couldn't or wouldn't have done it without your input.




Well, that's it. I had a great time hosting, and I hope you liked the results. For anyone whose entry was presented in a way they might not have expected (or might not approve of), just remember that I meant it all in good fun. I am grateful to everyone who took the time to contribute and help make this session of Tangled Bank (I hope) a success (and to the two or three bloggers whose works I decided to appropriate even though they weren't submitted). I also abjectly apologize in advance if I forgot or missed anyone's post. Let me know and I will amend the text to include it. Either that, or send it to the next host.

The next Tangled Bank will appear two weeks from now by Bora at Circadiana. So, start getting your posts ready and show Bora the same love you've all shown me. Also, the godfather of Tangled Bank, PZ Myers, tells me that he's looking for more bloggers to host. So, if you have an interest in science and want to host, let him know.

In fact, it was so much fun to be your host that I may even volunteer to do it again myself--but probably not for several months. Doing three blog carnivals in less than three months turned out (almost) to be biting off more than I could chew in my very limited spare time. Chalk it up to the excessive enthusiasm of a new blogger.


  1. Done fantastic Orac, one for the record books in creativity and scientific research and excellence.

    Unfortunately, We Regret to inform you that your paper was rejected due do you say.."working out our personality problems and sexual frustrations"

    Sorry, try re-writing it

  2. Wow, Orac, it looks like you pulled an all-nighter! Thanks for your hard work.


  3. Great work, Orac. Though I doubt Tangled Bank can get you on a tenure track.

  4. Fabulous! A great read, as always!

  5. very nice. but, do you biology types really write it as "RRRRR"? us comp sci geeks would have submitted that as "R^5".

  6. Fantastic -- even if I only looked at the "models" link!

  7. Sterling work, Orac! Thanks for taking the trouble to host Tangled Bank and provide hours of fun for us lot!


  8. Well, there always has to be some dissent, right? I found this to be the most frustrating verion of the Tangled Bank yet. In fact, this presumes that the long ramble above IS the Tangled Bank at all. It reminds me of the annoying way Wired magazine makes its content so inaccessible by eschewing a clear and concise index and obvious page numbering. I know the hipsters who follow Wired (or this blog) "get it", but casual readers like myself don't care to dig through the cleverness to get at the content. Yeah, I know, flame on, but the fact remains that I didn't read this issue of the Tangled Bank in detail like I have the others so the cleverness kind of defeats the purpose of the whole enterprise doesn't it? Style is never a good substitute for substance. Ok, now start flaming.

  9. Ah, well. I guess you can't please everyone. Sorry you didn't like it. I just like to try to make things a little more entertaining than a dry list of posts. I realize that not everyone will appreciate that. However, I'd rather try something different and fall flat on my face than not try at all.

    As for your implication that I am a "hipster" or that my blog is frequented by "hipsters," such that folks like you don't "get it," that has to be an all-time first for me! I don't believe I've ever been accused of being a "hipster" or of catering to "hipsters" in my life!

    Given that I'm just your basic middle-aged white guy, I'm almost tempted to take that as a compliment.

    Believe me, if I ever host Tangled Bank or any other blog carnival again (which I hope to do someday several months hence), all it would take to cause me to revert to a more traditional approach to blog carnival hosting would be for me to receive a groundswell of complaints about one of my past efforts.

    Also, why on earth would you think that I or anyone who frequents my blog would want to flame someone who civilly expressed an opinion that criticized me or the group consensus?

  10. Brilliant! I love it! And why, oh why, do I always have to go right after you? Who can hope to equal this creativity?

    I've done a few myself, and except for setting one carnival to music, I did mostly very conventional carnivals. I still have to figure out what to do with the next Tangled Bank. The creative ones usually get tons of congratulations and ONE dissenting voice. We'll wait and see...

  11. I love the carnival! One paper submitted by my group received the following as a portion of the review,

    "Figure 8 may be the most useless figure ever submitted for publication in this journal. Figure 4 is a close second".

    I thought it was hilarious! My advisor well, not so much. I've had the opportunity to review a few hand-me-downs and have taken to using this "colorful" language. I think the anonymity brings out the worst in all of us!

  12. Orac,

    Just wanted to say well done, I look forward to the next carnival you host.

  13. Gold,

    Yikes. I've gotten some harsh reviews, but never anything like that. Oddly enough, since I've now been asked to review some papers myself every now and then, I always try not to get nasty because I remember what it's like to be on the receiving end. I hope I never lose that consideration. In fact, in one instance, I was reviewing a paper that was clearly crap. It was so obviously thrown together from odds and ends of data (and not thrown together particularly well). I actually felt guilty about recommending that it be rejected out of hand.


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