The latest Journal of Economic Perspectives (Winter 2017) has an important paper by Jonathan B. Berk, Campbell R. Harvey, and David Hirshleifer, “How to Write an Effective Referee Report and Improve the Scientific Review Process.”
The authors explore some of the many failings in the review process, including ethical lapses. These fall into two categories:
a) blatent conflicts of interest (like holding up the review of a competing paper while you rush your own paper into the pipeline!); and
b) subtle and sometimes unconscious personal biases and failings.
One such latter lapse is the introduction of the reviewer’s ego into the review:
“Some younger referees feel that they need to be overwhelmingly negative about everything in a paper in the report to the author to prove their own mettle and critical insights.”
I’m not sure why the authors call out “younger” referees, because hubris can strike at any age. As a referee, I find myself often referring back to what I know, which is inevitably my own writing on a subject, and that is embarrassing and often inappropriate. I now confess and will try to do better!
The article makes other useful points, such as to focus in on the innovative contribution of a paper and to downplay the need for technical perfection. One could (or should) make the same point about grading student papers, but being a stickler for technical perfection is a hard habit to break.
[Thanks to Rob Dolan for the link.]