[The appendix is actually quite serious and addresses a number of real statistical issues, although several are specialized for neuroimaging.]
Ten ironic rules for non-statistical reviewers
Abstract: As an expert reviewer, it is sometimes necessary to ensure a paper is rejected. This can sometimes be achieved by highlighting improper statistical practice. This technical note provides guidance on how to critique the statistical analysis of neuroimaging studies to maximise the chance that the paper will be declined. We will review a series of critiques that can be applied universally to any neuroimaging paper and consider responses to potential rebuttals that reviewers might encounter from authors or editors.
There is a perceived need to reject peer-reviewed papers with the advent of open access publishing and the large number of journals available to authors. Clearly, there may be idiosyncratic reasons to block a paper – to ensure your precedence in the literature, personal rivalry etc. – however, we will assume that there is an imperative to reject papers for the good of the community: handling editors are often happy to receive recommendations to decline a paper. This is because they are placed under pressure to maintain a high rejection rate. This pressure is usually exerted by the editorial board (and publishers) and enforced by circulating quantitative information about their rejection rates (i.e., naming and shaming lenient editors). All journals want to maximise rejection rates, because this increases the quality of submissions, increases their impact factor and underwrites their long-term viability. A reasonably mature journal like Neuroimage would hope to see between 70% and 90% of submissions rejected. Prestige journals usually like to reject over 90% of the papers they receive. As an expert reviewer, it is your role to help editors decline papers whenever possible. In what follows, we will provide 10 simple rules to make this job easier:
Rule number one: dismiss self doubt Occasionally, when asked to provide an expert opinion on the design or analysis of a neuroimaging study you might feel under qualified. For example, you may not have been trained in probability theory or statistics or – if you have – you may not be familiar with topological inference and related topics such as random field theory. It is important to dismiss any ambivalence about your competence to provide a definitive critique. You have been asked to provide comments as an expert reviewer and, operationally, this is now your role. By definition, what you say is the opinion of the expert reviewer and cannot be challenged – in relation to the paper under consideration, you are the ultimate authority. You should therefore write with authority, in a firm and friendly fashion.[My favorite: (emphasis added)]
Rule number two: avoid dispassionate statements A common mistake when providing expert comments is to provide definitive observations that can be falsified. Try to avoid phrases like “I believe” or “it can be shown that”. These statements invite a rebuttal that could reveal your beliefs or statements to be false. It is much safer, and preferable, to use phrases like “I feel” and “I do not trust”. No one can question the veracity of your feelings and convictions. Another useful device is to make your points vicariously; for example, instead of saying “Procedure A is statistically invalid” it is much better to say that “It is commonly accepted that procedure A is statistically invalid”. Although authors may be able to show that procedure A is valid, they will find it more difficult to prove that it is commonly accepted as valid. In short, trying to pre-empt a prolonged exchange with authors by centering the issues on convictions held by yourself or others and try to avoid stating facts.
Rule number three: submit your comments as late as possible It is advisable to delay submitting your reviewer comments for as long as possible – preferably after the second reminder from the editorial office. This has three advantages. First, it delays the editorial process and creates an air of frustration, which you might be able to exploit later. Second, it creates the impression that you are extremely busy (providing expert reviews for other papers) and indicates that you have given this paper due consideration, after thinking about it carefully for several months. A related policy, that enhances your reputation with editors, is to submit large numbers of papers to their journal but politely decline invitations to review other people's papers. This shows that you are focused on your science and are committed to producing high quality scientific reports, without the distraction of peer-review or other inappropriate demands on your time.[I am definitely guilty of this last one... it goes on]
My own related grievances here.