After many years of reviewing manuscripts for this and other journals, publishing my own scientific articles, working with students, and working as the editor of the Journal of Swine Health and Production, I am still surprised by what crosses my desk. I am surprised by plagiarism, by the range of what interests and also what does not interest our reviewers and our members, and by the variety of reviews we receive from three people looking at the same manuscript.
A few years ago, one of my students handed in a literature review that included passages that were plagiarized. He had carefully referenced all of these, but had not used quotation marks. When we discussed the problem, and I encouraged him to re-write the information in his own words he responded “but the author said it so well!” He believed that he could not possibly do it better than the original author. Well, that may have been correct. But it is against copyright law to plagiarize. Recently we received a manuscript with a similar problem. Individual sentences here and there in the document were copied word for word from the references. One of the reviewers asked if I expected her to check the references. I thought she meant check that the citations were correct. Now I think she must have suspected plagiarism. Luckily, Dr Judi Bell read the references to find the problem. She said there was a distinct difference in style in the sentences written by the author and those that were plagiarized. I am always surprised when I have to remind others that copying is wrong. But this experience shows me that it is not just naive students but published authors as well. It was not something I thought to include in my two “how to review a manuscript” editorials. Please, if you are reviewing a manuscript and you suspect plagiarism, either check the references or write a note in the section of the review that is for the editor so that we can do the checking. Together we can avoid publishing plagiarized work.
Many years ago, I was flying to an AASV annual meeting. The woman sitting next to me asked where I was going and why. She said, with surprise, “I cannot imagine that you can spend 3 days learning about pigs.” That year, like many others, I struggled to decide what preconference workshops to attend. There were ventilation and economics, production of the growing pig and reproductive herd, disease diagnosis, prevention and management, pork quality assurance, and likely many other workshops that I do not remember. I always tried to balance my attendance between sessions on topics that I really wanted to learn and those I felt I should learn. More recently, I have been surprised by some reviewers who have recommended that manuscripts be rejected because they are not of interest to our readers. In my opinion, if the manuscript deals with a topic relating to applied pig production, management, or disease, it will be of interest to at least some of our readers. Examples of those thought outside our interest often deal with foreign animal diseases. I believe that knowing how other countries are dealing with diseases such as classical swine fever is important to at least some of our readers. As an editor, I encourage the publication of manuscripts from countries other than the United States and Canada. Many AASV members work as consultants around the world. This information is important to them. Even for those of us who do not consult outside North America, understanding pig production elsewhere is likely interesting, even if not applicable to our day-to-day work. As editor, when I get such a recommendation but I disagree, then I ask another member of the editorial board to provide me with their opinion. If two of us think the manuscript is of interest, then we work towards publishing the article.
Many, many years ago I received the review of the first manuscript from my masters thesis. I was surprised and shocked and hurt by one reviewer. The first reviewer thought the manuscript was wonderful, made few suggestions, and recommended it be published in its original form. The second reviewer recommended rejection. He (or she) wrote that it was a terrible piece of work and that I “robbed” the funding agency. Although I did not keep the review, the gist was that my work was a waste of money, I was obviously a terrible scientist, and the study should never have been funded. The third reviewer was right in the middle. He (or she) provided wonderfully constructive feedback and recommended that the manuscript be re-reviewed after I had addressed the comments. Now, over 20 years later, why am I still surprised when three reviews of the same manuscript come back as reject, accept, and revise and reconsider? Well, the person who thinks the manuscript is perfect may have either run out of time or just skimmed the surface of the paper or both. It seems these reviewers are often interested in the topic, but perhaps do not take the time to find the holes. Another reason for a superficial review may be that the research methodology is unfamiliar to the reviewer. I appreciate it when reviewers tell me what parts of the manuscript they feel qualified to review and which parts they are leaving for others. That way, we can be sure that we have at least one reviewer who does a careful job on that section of the paper.
I will continue to be surprised when student papers or manuscripts contain plagiarism, when manuscripts are submitted in a wide and wonderful range of applied pig topics, and when an individual manuscript receives every conceivable rating. Surprise isn’t all bad – often it is what makes life interesting and keeps us on our toes!
--Cate Dewey, DVM, MSc, PhD