Long-term readers of this blog may recall that just before I moved out to Johannesburg (and onto Scienceblogs), I got back some rather robust reviews for two papers based on my PhD research which I’d submitted some months previously. Although I squeezed some humour out of the situation, the fact that these two manuscripts represented almost five years of toil and frustration made it hard not to take the criticism personally. And the prospect of retooling everything again – after struggling to produce sensible interpretations of my results in the first place for my thesis, and then having to recraft everything to fit the style of the journal we were submitting to – was, quite frankly, something I had trouble getting enthused about.
As it turned out, I’ve spent most of the past six months fully preoccupied with moving abroad, and settling into a new country and project. Add in lots of field trips, and the result is that it’s only recently that I’ve really had time to sit down and attack a rewrite. In some ways, the cooling-off period was a good idea, as I was in a better position to examine things objectively. This doesn’t mean that I suddenly found myself agreeing with all of the reviewers’ criticisms. Much of that stems from the fact that anyone studying New Zealand tectonics is presented with lots of different data sources, many of which seem to be in conflict with each other, and how you resolve those conflicts, and fill in a number of large gaps in our current understanding, depends on which sources you consider to be more important, useful or reliable, and also more general biases on how you think continental crust behaves when it deforms. There is currently no ‘right’ answer to these conundrums, and for all I know I my preferences may turn out to be wrong, but I’m still convinced that everyone is much better off when such meta-debates are conducted in the public literature.
That said, the reviewers did spot at least one silly error on an important figure, and forced me to think a lot more quantitatively about the tectonic model we were proposing. This is not only a good thing in itself, but in so doing I realised that I hadn’t fully appreciated the overall consequences of our model in one particular region – and it turned out that the necessary refinements solved a lot of other niggling problems. So, although it’s difficult to directly compare – the original two papers have now become one, and we’ve toned down a lot of the more far-reaching discussions – the paper I am just about to finally resubmit is a better paper. Peer review may suck, sometimes, and it’s far from perfect, but even at its most soul-destroying, you have to admit that it does serve a useful purpose.