Investigator: I really don’t want to write this paper. Let’s face it. Sometimes life hands you lemons. And when that happens, you just have to suck it up and make the best darn lemonade that you can. Maybe it’s because you need to boost your publication numbers before an upcoming grant renewal. Or maybe a borderline student has to have a paper in press in order to graduate. But whatever the reason, it almost always falls on the shoulders of the PI to wrap together disparate strands of ambiguous results and put a pretty bow on top. It’s what we get paid to do. Still, to be perfectly honest, I really really really don’t want to write this paper!
Sure, I’ve pulled this sort of thing off before and probably will again if I absolutely have to. But truth be told, having to assemble this semi-garbage-say-nothing manuscript is gonna suck the life right outta me. I don’t know what it is this time around. I used to be able to summon the energy to put a creative spin on all sorts of questionable data, throwing in appropriate buzzwords like “systems”, “networks”, “epigenetics” or “fill-in-the-blank-omics” to make it seem cutting edge. Or at the very least I could become momentarily captivated by the challenge of creating meaningless model diagrams or cleverly writing around obvious experimental holes. But not this time. No way, Jose. Because this one’s an absolute soul crusher! And it’s not because the data are that much worse than what I’ve had to work with on occasion in the past. Maybe I’m just getting old or experiencing some burnout. But honestly, I’d rather be strapped to the deck of the Titanic than crank out another word for a manuscript that will be lucky to get into PLoS 0.5!
Then again, perhaps I’m underselling the story. Maybe my general fatigue and proximity to the data have led me to underestimate the value of the work. In any event, when all is said and submitted, one can legitimately hope for reviewers who will see more in this manuscript than I currently do.
Reviewer: I really don’t want to read this paper. I don’t know what I was thinking when I pressed the “accept assignment” link at the bottom of that email. I guess I was feeling guilty because I’d turned down their last two requests. Or maybe I was under the mistaken impression that the study was somehow interesting or relevant to my own research. But whatever my reasoning, it was flawed. Deeply flawed. I now know that the next 14 days are gonna seem like some kind of death sentence because, for the love of sweet Jesus, I do not want to read this paper!
Sure, I’ve reviewed my share of papers in the past, some good and some bad. I see it as my duty as a member of the scientific community to actively participate in the peer review process. But I swear that my retinas were actually starting to hemorrhage before I even got through with the abstract. It’s like the words were diabolically crafted so as to give the impression that something was done, when in reality there is nothing but a gaping void at the center of this manuscript—a giant black hole waiting to suck my brain dry and leave it irreparably damaged. And don’t even ask about the permanent migraine I think I acquired just trying to make sense of Figure 2A.
And the worst part is that I can’t seem to bring myself to just write a short snippy paragraph and be done with it. No, I’m gonna have to battle my way through every half-baked table and supplementary figure just to prove that it’s the complete pile of dung that every fiber in my being is yearning to proclaim it as. Like Shakespeare said, ‘A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing’. That’s this paper in a nutshell. Only it wasn’t some idiot who penned this dressed up fiendishly confounding mind melt from the 8th circle. Not by a long shot. The one thing I can say is that if this journal ultimately accepts this steaming heap of troll feces, then I know exactly where I’m gonna send that pathetic excuse for a manuscript that’s been sitting on my desktop for the last six months. Assuming of course that I can actually bring myself to finish writing it.