Wednesday, August 29, 2007

one of those moments where i think: that's kind of sketchy, and kind of brilliant

I was talking this evening to someone who works as a graduate student in one of the natural sciences. He was working on writing a review of a manuscript that the professor who runs his lab was asked to review. The idea is that the professor will briefly read over the article and the review, make any modifications that seem worthwhile, and then dispatch with his review responsibility by sending it off. The student seemed to think it was all a useful pedagogical exercise, in addition to just so happening to save his advisor the better part of a day's work. Is this common in the natural sciences? Has anyone heard of someone doing this in the social sciences?

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm only half in the social sciences, but when I've done this a note has been attached to the review to give me some credit.

DogOnTheInternet said...

It sounds like a perfectly cromulemt practice to me.

Anonymous said...

Professor should say he can't do it and list the graduate student as a recommended reviewer.

Absolut said...

Very sketchy, but I also agree that it has a very appealing aspect to it, too. I just don't do this to my students. If I want to pass along something of this sort, I do so by letting the editor know that I can't do it and recommend my student to him/her. I see why that may not work in all cases, but I still think what you describe is sketchy.

Of course, then there is the case of profs who have their students write their own letters of recommendation, etc. Sketchy extends all over the place.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy is shocked, shocked?

Jamy said...

If the student is doing all the work (or 95% of it), why is the prof getting credit?

I've never heard of this in the social sciences but I've been out of academia for quite a while.

Anonymous said...

This sort of crap happens all the time, but it is straight-up illegit. Funny how the "hard" sciences get held up as models of probity relative to the "soft."

Dan Myers said...

I was involved in stuff like this in the grad student role and made varying levels of contributions to a few reviews. I think it's a gray area because some people want to get a second opinion about some particular part of a manuscript (like a methodological technique that they aren't familiar with) and that seems legit to me. Merely off loading work seems less legit. Getting the damned review done instead of having it sit around for months have some value too! I must say that the notion that there is any "credit" of substantial value that accrues to anyone from writing reviews is a tad humorous.

Anonymous said...

Agree with anon 9:04 and absolut, but also with Dan on the grey area--depends on whether the prof also sees it as a "pedagogical exercise" or whether he/she is just offloading work. If the prof uses the student's work, proper credit should be given for the sake of intellectual honesty, however valueless that credit may seem to be. I think this kind of thing happens in all industries--there are always those who use the work of others to advance their own career, and this can be okay if properly represented. However, once you get into a position of power over others, there often aren't the proper checks and balances to make sure you're not just taking others' work as opposed to mentoring/collaborating.

Anonymous said...

Michael Munger, at Duke Political Science, always does that (without even looking at the referee report).

I'd be most curious of journal editors have noticed his reports having rather large variance (as I assume they do).

Anonymous said...

it happens quite frequently in the natural sciences. the rationale is that in most natural science fields, reviews are not blind, so you typically know who's stuff you're getting (and most likely they're a competitor). thus, allowing grad students to do the reviews gives them a chance to see what competing labs are doing (which is even more significant given the sheer number of publications being generated in the natural sciences; it is hard to keep up with the research). since grad students are often the ones doing much of the data generation and paper writing, this becomes important. now whether or not it is "right" is another question....

Seamonkey said...

I work in the natural sciences and this happens quite frequently. I have to say as a graduate student I never did a full review, unless my advisor informed the editor. However, many many times I was given the manuscript and then we discussed it -- mostly as it related to my particular field of study. We did this for 2 reasons -- one to keep up with other folks research and the other was to give me experience in reviewing.

Yvette said...

Aren't reviews supposed to be confidential? If so, then it is a violation of ethics to let other folks read stuff you have been given to review in confidence.

sara said...

Interestingly, I was asked today to review a NSF DIG application and the instructions were quite clear in re: NOT sharing the reviewing process with colleagues, grad students, or post docs (without specific permission from the NSF program officer).

Relevant excerpt below:


The Foundation receives proposals in confidence and protects the confidentiality of
their contents. For this reason, you must not copy, quote from, or otherwise use or
disclose to anyone, including your graduate students or postdoctoral or research
associates, any material from any proposal you are asked to review. Please respect
the confidentiality of all Principal Investigators and their proposals. Unauthorized
disclosure of confidential information could subject you to administrative sanctions. If you believe a colleague can make a substantial contribution to the review, please obtain permission from the NSF Program Officer before disclosing either the contents of the proposal or the name of any proposer or Principal Investigator.