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I recently reviewed a paper that made some very strong claims that were not supported by the data. However, it was much more than that. These claims were so extreme that that were actively misleading: e.g., "The present results represent the most important findings in personality psychology to date." (Not as bad as this example, but not too far off..)

I wrestled with two options in my review.

A.) I could respond in a scientifically disinterested manner: e.g., "These strong claims are not supported by the data. Please revise them."

OR

B.) I could go beyond that and politely "critique" the authors for their questionable practice: e.g., "These strong claims are not supported by the data. In fact, they represent such an "overselling" of the manuscript's findings that they are actively misleading. Please revise them and we urge the authors to avoid such hyperbolic claims in the future."

In the end, I went with something like option B.) because I think that there is inherent value in stating firmly that these kinds of practices are not okay. As a scientific peer, I did not at all appreciate these obvious efforts to oversell the results for the sake of "a top publication." As reviewers, we are the guardians of scientific literatures, and when appropriate, perhaps we should scold our fellow researchers for questionable scientific practices to deter them against such behaviors in the future.

This begs the intriguing question: Do academic reviewers bear a responsibility to critique authors for engaging in questionable practices that undermine the validity of scientific literatures?

Very interested to hear the views of others!

Edit: "Reviewer" is intended to refer to one's role as a reviewer of publication submissions for journals.

1 Answer 1

Be a professional, and be helpful. What's the point of chastising the authors? will they think you are 'smarter' than them? No, to them, you'll sound clueless or/and arrogant. Hence, it is a waste of your time and frankly, doesn't help the editor because he/she will think you have some axe to grind. Your ONLY job is to help the editor make a decision, and if you are kind, provide constructive comments to the authors.