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I can’t escape it

I received the following email:

Ms. No.: ***

Title: ***

Corresponding Author: ***

All Authors: ***

Dear Dr. Gelman,

Because of your expertise, I would like to ask your assistance in determining whether the above-mentioned manuscript is appropriate for publication in ***. The abstract is pasted below. . . .

My reply:

I would rather not review this article. I suggest ***, ***, and *** as reviewers.

I think it would be difficult for me to review the manuscript fairly.

11 Comments

  1. Phil says:

    This seems like a fairly routine request for a review. Are you objecting to this one in particular, or to the idea of being asked for a review? Or perhaps it seems so bot-like that you question whether any thought went into selecting you rather than someone else for this MS?

    Obviously I'm missing something. Give me a hint?

  2. Sebastian says:

    again? What's the paper about? How evolutionary psychology explains the low average BMI of liberal atheists?

  3. Ken Williams says:

    I don't follow. Are you just not interested in this kind of question, or do you have a conflict with the authors, or what?

  4. Andrew Gelman says:

    Phil, Sebastian, Ken:

    I have no objection to being asked for the review. Nor do I think it was bot-like. I am indeed an expert on the topic, and it was perfectly reasonable for the editors to ask me to the review this paper. I also have no conflict with the authors. It's just a topic that I've already thought about enough for one life. Hence I preferred not to review the article. I was not offended in any way by the request; I am just a little tired of hearing about the particular topic of the article under the review.

    P.S. Regular blog readers might be able to guess the author/topic of the article under review. But there's no need to speculate about the author in the comments here.

  5. Chris P says:

    It is unfortunate that this journal does not believe in any degree of blinding in its selection of reviewers. One would think that the abstract would be enough to determine if you were interested.

  6. Andrew Gelman says:

    Chris:

    I don't see why it would be an advantage for the journal to withhold the names of the authors of papers under review. But you're right in this case: my response to the email would've been the same had the author's name been withheld.

  7. Joseph Coveney says:

    "I am indeed an expert on the topic, and it was perfectly reasonable for the editors to ask me to the review this paper. I also have no conflict with the authors. It's just a topic that I've already thought about enough for one life. Hence I preferred not to review the article."

    So, what's the reader supposed to get out of this post?

    That now that you've got tenure you can eschew service to the community at-will?

    That you're suffering from a bout of intellectual ennui? Are you asking for your readership to send you get-well cards?

    What?

  8. Andrew Gelman says:

    Joseph:

    When I say that I am sick of hearing about a particular topic, it does not mean that I'm suffering from intellectual ennui. It's just a topic that I'm tired of hearing about. I have no objection to people working in that field, writing articles about it, etc. I'd just rather do other things. And, yes, it's part of my job that I can choose what to work on.

    To speak more generally, this blog, like all publications, has a range of readers. Some people read the blog only occasionally, others read it regularly. Occasionally there is an in-joke that some of the regular readers will get, while leaving the occasional readers baffled.

    I mean no offense by being obscure on this. I think it's ok to be baffled on occasion.

    Also, declining a review request is not "eschewing service to the community at-will." I get over a hundred review requests a year. I don't think I'd be serving the community very well if I spent all my time reviewing papers! If you look carefully at the amount of unpaid statistical work I do, I think you'll agree that I do a lot of service to the community (as is appropriate, and I'm happy to do so).

    Finally, untenured researchers can refuse review requests also. If you're an untenured researcher and you refuse a review request (especially, as in this case, from a journal outside of your field), you won't get in trouble!

  9. Curious says:

    Can you give us another hint about the topic?

  10. Steve says:

    Why no zombie tag?

  11. Andrew Gelman says:

    Steve: You're right! I fixed it.

    Curious: Sorry, no hints. I will say, though, that it's not very interesting. If I did tell you the title of the article, it would probably be a bit of a letdown after all the hype.