A Periodical Article Reviewer as Gottfried: The Uncle of Jean-Christophe

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Excerpt

Several months ago, I submitted a paper for publication, entitled “Two parallel papers for the pectoralis major myocutaneous flap for head and neck reconstruction.” Many weeks later, I received a decision letter: major revision with no guarantee of acceptance.
The decision letter contained a list of previous studies I missed in my review and their significance. The reviewer's comments concluded as follows: “So, rather than reject I am going to ask you to rewrite. Have a focus that you really want to transfer to the readers and let us know of the value of bringing this back after 100 years.”
The decision letter reminded me of a novel I read years ago: Jean-Christophe, written by Romain Rolland and translated into English by Gilbert Cannan.1 The author depicted the life of a genius German composer, Jean-Christophe Krafft, a fictionalized version of Beethoven.
In his early life, Jean was influenced much by his uncle, Gottfried, as illustrated in the following quotes from the novel's characters.
Young Jean composed music and submitted it to his uncle. After listening to young Jean's compositions quietly, Gottfried questioned his nephew about why he needed to add more songs to the world's repertoire.
Jean wanted to show his uncle what an artist he was and showed him his compositions.
In the paper, I submitted that was sent back for revisions, I just compared 2 papers about the pectoralis major myocutaneous flap by Aryan (1979) and Baek (1979). Like the young Jean, I just wanted to write something interesting by comparing similar papers published in the same year (1979).
However, after the reviewer's sharp critique, I took up the reviewer's challenge to revise my paper extensively. Instead of consulting only the limited selection of references in the usual databases, I located some references that were outside of PubMed, like Gottfried's exhortation to his nephew to compose outside in God's fresh air; in fact, I added 12 new references. Finding and obtaining Aymard's 1957 paper in the Lancet and Conley's in Surgery (1954) meant drawing out my revision time to a couple of months. I changed the paper's title, completely rewrote the text, included 3 figures with permission, and prepared 1 chronological diagram. In the end, the revised version was published as a review paper.2
After completing the publication process, I contemplated the role of the reviewer in the academic journal. The reviewer's responsibilities include protecting the integrity of a specialty, the reputation of the journal, and the welfare of human and animal subjects, as well as treating the author's manuscript with respect, fairness, and impartiality.3 Sometimes a devil's advocate is needed, who takes a skeptical view of the manuscript, looking for the weaknesses in the paper and investigating whether the paper has etwas neues (something new) or not.4
Once I achieved my revisions and produced a much better paper and a more worthwhile contribution to the literature, I was truly grateful to the reviewer who shows me the direction for my revision. Like Uncle Gottfried inspired young Jean-Christophe, we need “mentor–reviewers” who point out the stupidity of “a dog chasing its own tail” (writing for the sake of writing) and enlighten less experienced authors by “inducing focus” that they “really want to transfer to readers.
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