Published in volume 27, issues 4 & 5, June 2017

This issue contains two papers. Assessment of C++ Object-Oriented Mutation Operators: A Selective Mutation Approach, by Pedro Delgado-Pérez, Sergio Segura, and Inmaculada Medina-Bulo, presents results from an empirical study of redundancy and test quality of class-level mutation operators, finding that choosing operators that ranked higher in both measures reduced the number of mutants without reducing test effectiveness. (Recommended by Paul Ammann.) An Automated Framework to Support Testing for Process-Level Race Conditions, by Tingting Yu, Witty Srisa-an, and Gregg Rothermel, presents dynamic analysis algorithms to detect race conditions at the process level. The paper also presents results from a test framework that found race conditions on 24 applications, with reasonable overhead. (Recommended by Sudipto Ghosh.)


Is Paper Reviewing a Transaction, a Service, or an Opportunity?

We all know the value of the peer review system. Reviews help filter good research from bad. They also improve the research and the presentation of the papers. Without high-quality peer reviewing, readers would need to sift through thousands of uninteresting papers to find two or three that inform them of interesting new ideas and important results.

That’s the benefit to readers, but why do respected scientists review papers? After all, a good review of a complicated paper requires hours of work, and journals do not pay for that time. At a recent meeting of Wiley editors, I heard a discussion of peer reviewing as if it was purely a transactional activity. That is, I submit a paper, and the editor finds three scientists to review my paper. Therefore, I owe that journal three reviews of other papers. In fact, one editor claimed that he had declined (desk-rejected) a paper because the author had refused more than a dozen invitations to review.

I won’t call that wrong. But in my opinion, viewing reviewing purely as a tit-for-tat trade, a transaction, misses some very important points.

Looking at reviewing as a service turns the work into something much nobler. If we succeed as scientists, then reviewing is a way to give back to the community. It’s a way to improve the field to help others succeed, in the same way that the field helped us succeed. But this view still misses an essential benefit of reviewing.

Reviewing is an opportunity to learn about important and interesting results early. From a purely self-interest point of view, reviewing has helped my career enormously. Even better, reviewing has taught me more about writing papers than I learned as a student. Reviewing papers taught me about the process and mechanics of carrying out research, how to frame results, and how to present results for public consumption.

To paraphrase an old saying: “Most people don’t recognize opportunity when it is disguised as hard work.”

Journal editors have universally noticed that it is becoming harder to convince scientists to review papers than in the past. We don’t know why.

I have heard that some advisers tell their former students to never review, or only review two or three papers per year. That’s just bad advice. Sure, reviewing takes time. And that time could be spent writing papers or grant proposals. But especially for young scientists, time spent reviewing papers is an investment with a huge payoff. Reviewing helps you write papers faster. Reviewing helps you write first versions better, reducing revisions and rejections. Most importantly, reviewing papers is an opportunity for personal growth; it makes you a better scientist who is capable of having a larger impact on the field.

If that’s not your goal, then maybe it should be.

Jeff Offutt
George Mason University
29 June 2017