I am wrapping up my first year as associate editor for the Journal for the Education of the Gifted. It has been a great experience, thanks in no small part to my editors, Dr. Jennifer Jolly and Dr. Jennifer Robins. Having smart, competent, attentive colleagues is a pleasure, and I like to think we make a good team.
A few months ago, I published my tips for peer reviewing manuscripts. I stand by them and hope that they have been helpful to readers. But this week something happened that reminded me how important it is to have an eye for detail when reviewing (tip #6 in the post).
Three reviewers read the manuscript that was in its first round of review, and the votes were 2-1. Two reviewers recommended accepting pending minor revisions, and one reviewer wanted the manuscript to be rejected. Normally, the majority vote among reviewers is a justifiable position to take, but that didn’t seem appropriate in this instance.
Reviewer #3, my one holdout reviewer, wanted the manuscript rejected and wrote the highest quality review of the three. This reviewer had clearly invested a lot of attention and time into reviewing the manuscript. As this person did, they discovered major theoretical and methodological flaws that required serious attention.
Conversely, the other two reviews were very brief and superficial. There was little evidence that the first two reviewers examined the methodology of the study, let alone evaluated it critically.
I agonized over the decision for a few hours, not wanting to overrule the majority, but unable to ignore the detailed feedback from Reviewer #3.
My Evaluation and Decision
To resolve this impasse, I decided to appoint myself as an unofficial fourth reviewer and approach it with fresh eyes. I pretended that I didn’t know the reviewers’ opinions and asked myself what I would recommend as a reviewer.
In the end, I decided that the manuscript was definitely not publishable in its current state. There were just too many theoretical and methodological problems with it. But I agreed with the majority of reviewers that the author might have something worth saying in the manuscript. So, my final decision was to recommend that the author revise and resubmit the manuscript.
I do not know whether the manuscript will be published. Reviewer #3 was correct that the manuscript had major problems, and I found some new issues that none of the reviewers mentioned. Fixing these issues will not be easy for the author, but it is possible–and the author deserves the chance.
But I feel like splitting the difference and asking for a revision was a reasonable decision. The author gets some encouragement (because two people did like the manuscript) and a chance to address the concerns that Reviewer #3 and I had. The manuscript has some potential, and I’m interested to see what its final fate will be.