The third reviewer


Prof G has been working all weekend responding to reviewer’s comments to a large and very important grant application for the Barts-MS group. Despite us all reassuring him that it will be okay and that the third reviewer has been neutralised he is having sleepless nights. What can we do to help him? We have suggested he watch this parody on YouTube, about scientific peer review, to lift his mood 😉

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The MS Bloggger


  • Go for a walk in fresh air! Once the responses have been submitted, this fits squarely into the basket of “things you cannot change” and is not worth worrying about. And the reason you wrote the grant is that you are almost certainly the expert on that precise type of work. Well reasoned responses to a “next tier expert” who was invited to critique your application are all you can do, and here’s hoping the panel who decide outcomes are impressed. Again, not something you can change now the responses are in, so enjoy your walk and think about something else! 🙂

  • As an author, reviewer and editor in another field, I think that all reviews are helpful no matter how they may at first appear. Some make positive comments praising the research, while others make valuable suggestions for the inclusion of additional thing the authors either did not think about, or did not have space to include, in the first instance. Sadly, there are also those who’s defence mechanism for their own empire building research is to trash other peoples work with an intention of keeping the competition unfunded on published – this can always be countered by picking apart their review with additional knowledge and understanding, and not rising to it. Editors and grant panels are usually good at spotting this, especially if alerted to potential conflicts in your reply. Better still, use their evidence to unpick their line of progression if you can. And then there are those reviewers that make their mistakes in their review, who don’t really understand what you are doing. My usual strategy with these bozo’s is to explain in the reply to the review (i.e. the rebuttal letter) that the reviewer misunderstands your meaning, so you have re-worded that part of the work so that other readers will not make the same mistake. For grants, what can be a more significant problem are reviewers that don’t say anything of substance and write waffly, generally supportive and non-offensive drivel…. These can kill a proposal or paper as it flat-lines scores in comparison everything else which invariably scores higher. Whether these are through reviewer apathy or deliberate sabotage is often debated, but a reply to a grant panel could say that the review is ineffectual and should be discounted in entirety. When I have been on grant panels, that’s what I’ve pushed through and I would hope medical panels were equally objective and unbiased.

    Look on the bright side, at least it got to go out to review. research councils (RCUK) still reject applications in the wrong fonts, font sizes, page margins and so on. And then there are those who can;t submit because they in organisations that are in “demand management” – an infernal system that limits future applications based on past failure rates. How on Earth they let a system by which those who already have all the funding continue to get it all in the future is beyond me – almost as manipulative as Trumpety Trump.


    I’m not going to comment about the video analogy – since when did Mr Hitler take note of what others thought before he did things?

  • “A clever conjurer is welcome anywhere, and those of us whose powers of entertainment are limited to the setting of booby-traps or the arranging of apple-pie beds must view with envy the much greater tribute of laughter and applause which is the lot of the prestidigitator with some natural gift for legerdemain.”

    I’m sure your third reviewer is an apple pie bed type chap… Plus with all your excellent and committed ppi contributors how could you possibly fail!

    Best of luck

  • Just so you know papers often get to two or more reviewers for comments. Quite often you get two good ones but the third reviewer can be a swine. Editors are often looking for excuses to reject papers and the third reviewer is often the instrument of doom. I say doom, because often you can’t go back and reason with the editor. You can make a complaint because you feel the third reviwer is misguided, but it seldom does you any good, I guess unless you can bully the editor.

    I am sure profG will be thinking how to demonstrate that the third reviewer is wrong. However, I often think how to hunt them down:-(. It is amazing that the referees leave enough of a signature so you guess who they are.

    Maybe we can nail their feet to the floor.

    I suppose you think are they being constructive or destructive and if the former is the case you dust yourself down and change the text. However, if it is the latter, you have to ask why? What are they trying to achieve some form of one-upman ship? Perhaps the third reviewer should not be neutralised but neutered….OK only joking.

    I have seen the comments….What a plonker:-)

  • After 20 years with this disease I have little sympathy for Prof G. I’ve reached the conclusion that MS societies and charities main purpose is to fund raise, and the main purpose of MS researchers is to fund raise (by submitting grant applications) and to attend international conferences. If MS researchers had progressive MS they’d know what real sleepless night are.

    No doubt this is a grant application to deliver something beneficial for MSers. I predict (if funding is granted) that the project will fail because: hypothesis was wrong, or trial design was wrong, or sample size was wrong, or the drug tested was wrong or the wrong strength, or no one will fund the process needed to get the drug approved.

    Even the most optimistic of MSers must see that the system is broken. I can’t think of one piece of research over the last 20 years which has proved the cause of MS, the processes behind progression, ways to stop progression or encourage repair…… I confess I’m a glass half empty guy, pessimist etc. But 20 years of being ground down by this disease and the lack of real breakthroughs has made me this way. The outcome of the MS Smart trial was the last nail in the coffin for any hope I had. So sleep well tonight Team G, if this application fails they’ll be plenty of opportunities in the future. The MS society is seeking to raise £100m and is halfway there. So fill your boots MS researchers the good times are coming.

    • Re: Craig’s comment.
      “Between thought and expression lies a lifetime”
      Between theory and practice- the same. Years of arguing and chin stroking rather than trying combination therapies, i.e. diet, Fes, exercise, and looking at medicine as an art as well as a science.

    • “I can’t think of one piece of research over the last 20 years that has proved”…Karl Popper says “A science theory can never be proven, but it can be falsified, meaning that it can and should be scrutinized by decisive experiments aiming to show the theory is not true”.

  • Hitler analogy about grant review on Holocaust Day… Not sure the most sensitive way of letting off steam. Sorry sour grapes!

By The MS Bloggger



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