‘Think twice be­fore seek­ing to in­sert a ref­er­ence to your own pa­per’

THE (Times Higher Education) - - SPORT - Damien De­becker is a pro­fes­sor in the In­sti­tute of Con­densed Mat­ter and Nanosciences at Univer­sité Catholique de Lou­vain, Bel­gium.

Ac­cept­ing the role of re­viewer al­lows you to take part in the com­mu­nal ef­fort to en­sure the va­lid­ity of what is pub­lished, on top­ics you know and cher­ish. You help to main­tain the stan­dards of your favourite jour­nals, where your own stuff is of­ten pub­lished. You get to know about the lat­est find­ings be­fore ev­ery­body else. And, as an early ca­reer re­searcher, you learn about how peer re­view works – which can be use­ful when you en­ter the game as a cor­re­spond­ing au­thor.

Per­son­ally, I also en­joy re­view­ing be­cause it forces me to spend some time on a pa­per in­stead of just screen­ing it quickly and run­ning to the next meet­ing or lec­ture. This some­times gives me in­spi­ra­tion for my own sci­en­tific pro­gramme.

But there are also bad rea­sons to en­gage in peer re­view. These typ­i­cally re­volve around us­ing the power it con­fers to grat­ify your ego and pro­mote your­self. One ex­am­ple is to force the au­thor to

in­clude gra­tu­itous ci­ta­tions to your own pa­pers. It is not that re­quests to cite your own pa­pers are al­ways wrong. On the one hand, you have been se­lected as a re­viewer be­cause the edi­tor thinks you are an ex­pert on the topic. You know the lit­er­a­ture very well, and you prob­a­bly have pub­lished on the topic (that’s of­ten how ed­i­tors find you!). So you must fight your im­pos­tor syn­drome and trust your judge­ment on whether the sub­mit­ted pa­per builds on and cites the ap­pro­pri­ate ex­ist­ing lit­er­a­ture. If you be­lieve that it doesn’t, you must say so.

How­ever, think twice be­fore seek­ing to in­sert a ref­er­ence to your own pa­per. Keep in mind that au­thors don’t have the obli­ga­tion to cite ev­ery pa­per in the field, nor the lat­est pa­per. Keep two ques­tions in mind, and only ask for an ad­di­tional ci­ta­tion if the an­swer to one of them is a loud yes.

Is the de­scrip­tion of the state of the art in the in­tro­duc­tion in­com­plete with­out this ci­ta­tion?

Would the ci­ta­tion en­rich the dis­cus­sion by con­firm­ing or con­tra­dict­ing some of the in­ter­pre­ta­tions?

Above all, keep in mind that the mis­sion you have ac­cepted as a re­viewer is to help en­sure the qual­ity of the sci­en­tific dis­cus­sion. Noth­ing more (but noth­ing less!). While it may be up­set­ting to see a col­league ig­nore your work, it is also up­set­ting for col­leagues to re­ceive un­jus­ti­fied re­quests for ex­tra ci­ta­tions, and good ed­i­tors black­list re­view­ers who do this. Bet­ter to ask your­self why the au­thors missed your pa­per. Per­haps you should pub­lish in more rel­e­vant jour­nals? Per­haps you should be more prom­i­nent at con­fer­ences or on so­cial me­dia?

On a more cheer­ful note, I want to share a per­sonal anec­dote. I was once asked to re­view a pa­per for one of the “shini­est” jour­nals there is. It was on the same topic as my PhD, from which I had grad­u­ated a year be­fore, but the au­thors did not cite any of our con­tri­bu­tions on the topic. Self-es­teem apart, I truly thought this was a prob­lem.

After many hes­i­ta­tions, I de­cided to in­clude a shy sug­ges­tion to cite one of our pa­pers, cam­ou­flaged in the mid­dle of my de­tailed, five-page re­port. One month later, I came across the four other anony­mous re­view­ers’ re­ports. Three of them openly crit­i­cised the au­thors for hav­ing com­pletely over­looked our body of work, and asked them to cor­rect that.

That day, I felt proud and happy about my work as never be­fore. Peer recog­ni­tion is sweeter when it is not forced.

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