Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.

Destructive Criticism

The following quote has been attributed to Henry Kissinger:

Academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low.

This viciousness can sometimes make it into the public arena, but the butcher’s knives definitely come out during the review process for papers. These reviews are often anonymous, and while there are reviewers that provide detailed, reasoned feedback, there is another breed that seems to be openly trying to get a paper rejected. While there is such a thing as constructive criticism, some comments are just hateful and offer no constructive recourse. In fact, they might best be described as destructive criticism: ones that suggest the paper may best be suited for publication in a shredder.

When faced with destructive criticism, my experience is that one should become a harsh but constructive critic of one’s own work and determine what phoenix may arise from the ashes– or shredded output– of the earlier draft. If one’s focus is towards improving the quality and readability of the paper, it can be possible to transcend the sophomoric comments of a reviewer and produce a better paper. Whether that paper makes it through another round of reviews is another question altogether.


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