When should peers review your work?

Always. I have never not gotten some benefit out each of these steps.

1. When you are planning experiments, ask your peers if they sound stupid, or do they know of any related research, or do they have any good ideas. Your peers are scientists, so they might be smart.

2. Show your data to peers at lab meetings at conferences. See what they think! Your peers are scientists, and they like talking about the results of science experiments.

3. When you are writing a paper, send a draft to some scientists! It’s true that scientists don’t like to read papers compared to talking about a poster, but if you promise to return the favor, they will do it like 4 times out of 7.

4. When you send your paper to a journal, don’t be mad that they ask some other scientists to look it over. This of course, in no way guarantees that your paper isn’t a pile or excrement or fraudulent, but more often than not, one or more of them will have a good idea or catch a mistake. NOTE: YEAH, I KNOW THERE ARE A LOT OF PROBLEMS AT THIS STAGE, BUT WE SHOULD NOT DO AWAY WITH THE USEFUL PART OF THIS. IT IS HARD TO HAVE SOMEONE TAKE AN ANONYMOUS DUMP ON YEARS OF WORK, BUT IF WE CAN EVER GET EDITOR’S TO GROW SPINES, THIS WON’T BE SUCH A BIG DEAL*.

(*My personal take on this stage, and how I conduct my AE-ing activities, is the following: while authors have to substantively address reviewers’ concerns, they are under no obligation to “make the reviewers happy.” This latter approach is just editorial cowardice, plain and simple. A coherent argument as to why the experiment is bad or doesn’t belong is fine. A matter of legitimate difference in data interpretation should not stop something from becoming part of the published literature. The point is you should take the criticisms on board and deal with them somehow. Peer review cannot resolve scientific disputes, only published work can.)

5. After it’s published, people might want to talk about it online. Right now, in 2014, this almost never happens, unless you laid a real stinker or something kind of bizarro. But maybe this will happen more in the future. Participate in the discussion wherever its happening. Stand by your work where you think it’s right, try to learn from where you went wrong.

6. Peers will publish their own work that either agrees with you or refutes you or, more likely, something in between. Bask in it, because either way they have to cite you. It’s more fun to be right, but everyone is going to be wrong some of the time.

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