There’s a remark that I see once a while in reviews, something along the lines of: “The authors should have their work edited by a native English speaker.”
Please stop staying this. I think it’s a problem, for three reasons:
Apparently, there are some editors of academic journals who will readily send manuscripts out to “non-preferred reviewers” — the specific people that authors specify who they don’t want to receive the paper for review.
I think this is all kinds of messed up.
In science, we’re used to suboptimal methods — because of limited time, resources, or technology. But one of our biggest methodological shortcomings can be fixed as soon as we summon the common will. The time is overdue for us to abolish 5% as a uniform and arbitrarily selected probability threshold for hypothesis testing.
Is peer review broken? No, it’s not. The “stuff is broken” is overused so much that it now just sounds like hyperbole.
Can we improve peer review? Yes. The review process takes longer than some people like. And yes, editors can have a hard time finding reviewers. And there are conflicts of interest and bias baked into the process. So, yes, we can make peer review better.
As a scientific community, we don’t even agree on a single model of peer review. Some journals are doing it differently than others. I’ll briefly describe some peer review models, and then I’ll give you my take.
Sometimes, I get cited incorrectly. I have some feelings about this.
The term “backwards design” is often applied to curriculum design. If you want your students to learn a particular thing, you start with identifying what that outcome should look like at the end of the semester. Then you design your class backwards from that outcome, to make sure your students have a way to get there.
I think we should be talking more about backwards design when when it comes to statistics and the design of experimental and observational research.
Journalists call the key passage of each story a “nut graf.” Shouldn’t we have a “nut fig” for each experiment, and know what the axes and statistical tests will be before we run an experiment?
We’re co-authors on a new paper on “Bringing ecology blogging into the scientific fold: measuring reach and impact of science community blogs”. Of course we encourage you to go ahead and read the paper, because it doesn’t just have our perspectives but is the work of a collection of great bloggers. You can read what our coauthors make of our new paper, too: Manu Saunders of Ecology is Not a Dirty Word, Jeff Ollerton’s Biodiversity Blog, Meg Duffy from Dynamic Ecology, Simon Leather’s Don’t Forget the Roundabouts, Stephen Heard’s Scientist Sees Squirrel, and Margaret Kosmala’s Ec0l0gy B1ts.
If you don’t get to read the publication, our main take home is that there is a large group of people who do read science community blogs, and the influence of these blogs is larger than many realize.
Preprints are not a standard practice in biology. Nowadays, most papers that get published in peer-reviewed journals were not uploaded to a public preprint server.
Maybe this is changing? It looks like preprints are starting to take off. It’s not clear if this is a wave that will sweep the culture of the field, or just a growing practice among a small subset.
The turnaround time that journal publishers demand for correcting page proofs is crazy, right? I honestly have no idea what the hurry is.
I think most reviews are good and fair. Regardless, when I get an unwelcome decision back from an editor, it’s annoying. Getting annoyed is natural. Here’s how I process bad reviews.
A case of scientific dishonesty has hit close to home and got me thinking. This isn’t a post of the details of the case (you can read more here if you’re interested) or the players involved (I don’t know them more than to say hi in the hallway) or to comment this particular case since I don’t have any more information than what is publically available. So if you’re looking for insider gossip, the following is bound to disappoint. Instead this example has got me reflecting in general about scientific dishonesty and what I can do about it.
Earlier this year an article on aiming for 100 rejections a year in literature was being passed around. The main idea is that by aiming for rejections, rather than accepted things we’re more likely to take risks and apply broadly.
Since reading that article, I’ve been pondering how many rejections I should aim for. What is a good number for a scientist?
Authorship disputes are not uncommon. Even when there are no actual disputes over who did what on a project, there may be lots of authorship resentments. That’s because a lot of folks — by no mere coincidence, junior scientists more often — end up not getting as much credit as they think they deserve when a paper comes out.
Science is a community endeavor. Much of our knowledge is unwritten, and subsists in the hive mind of our collective social unit. Some of the cooler and bolder — and perhaps more important — ideas are the ones that might not make it to print. My fellow ecologists don’t publish most of what we know, as Mike Kaspari recently reminded us with a quote from Dan Janzen.
We rarely share our piles of negative results, or the little curiosities for which we can’t find the time. Getting a peer-reviewed paper out the door is a non-trivial amount of work, and just mentioning it in a conversation is easier. But, hey, I have a blog where I can mention this stuff.
So let me tell you about two things that I find rather weird, but haven’t put more resources into figuring out.
I think a lot of academic article titles are pretty bad. What do I mean by bad? The title doesn’t really tell you what the paper is actually is about. It could be buried in jargon, or overselling an idea, or focuses on details that most of the intended audience won’t care about.
Does the title of a paper affect how it gets read and cited? Probably. In what way? That’s not so simple, based on my short browse of some scientometric findings.
It’s not the time, it’s the people.
The popular conception is that scientists at teaching-focused institutions have lower research productivity primarily because they spend so much time teaching. I disagree.
I’ve now been blogging for a little over three years. I’m no longer a newbie, but clearly am not an old-timer. Nonetheless, I’ve seen the standard topics of the scientific “blogosphere” (for lack of a better word) get cycled through again, and again. These are topics that are often important to our community, dealing with equity, justice, accessibility, and leadership. That said, I feel like blogs can do more, and serve our own academic communities better.
Science has a thousand problems, but the time it takes for our manuscripts to be peer reviewed ain’t one. At least, that’s how I feel. How about you?
I hear folks griping about the slow editorial process all the time. Then I ask, “how long has it been?” And I get an answer, like, oh almost two whole months. Can you believe it? Two months?!”
“Open Science” is an aggregation of many things. As a concept, it’s a single movement. The policy changes necessary for more Open Science, however, are a conglomerate of unrelated parts.
I appreciate, and support, the prevailing philosophy of Open Science: “the movement to make scientific research, data and dissemination accessible to all levels of an inquiring society.” Transparency is often, though not always, good.
It’s been argued that in ecology, like politics, everything is local.
You can’t really understand ecological relationships in nature, unless you’re familiar with the organisms in their natural environment. Or maybe not. That’s probably not a constructive argument. My disposition is that good ecological questions are generated from being familiar with the life that organisms out of doors. But that’s not the only way to do ecology.
As often happens to me, I have a post idea banging around in my head (or sometimes started on the page) but before I fully flesh it out, some amazing scientists post about the idea even better than I was thinking. Sometimes that inspires me to finish my own post and put it up, others times I let it drop because what has been said feels like it fills the niche.
This week was no different. But reading the connected posts actually speaks to the topic itself so I’m inspired to write my own piece.
I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity and what is novel in science. There are two great posts on creativity (Experimenting with Creativity) and novel ideas (Where do ideas come from and what counts as “novel”?). Both are worth the read.
My own inspiration started outside science with a gift of a colouring book this Christmas. I haven’t coloured in years and here was the opportunity to try again. Perhaps it would even allow me to create a kind of meditative peace to deal with all the unknowns of unemployment*. The book sat around for a few weeks (we had a puzzle to finish) but I eventually picked up the pencils and a picture and went for it. Is colouring in someone else’s lines creative? I’m sure it isn’t nearly as creative as drawing the original outline but the act of colouring is not without choices. Obviously what colour you use is a choice but also how to combine them, how hard to press, whether to use texture all affect the outcome. Here’s an example of the independent choices made by me and my six year old daughter for the same picture:
If you look at scientists in teaching-focused institutions who have robust research programs, there’s one thing they tend to have in common: They have active collaborations with researchers outside their own institution.
The most recent paper from my lab is a fun one. We show that thieving ants have a suite of sneaky behaviors, to help them avoid being caught in the possession of stolen goods. These differences are dramatic enough to classify thieves as a distinct and new caste of ant.
I am going to go ahead and assume we all want quality reviews of our journal submissions, however you define ‘quality’. Reviewers that take time to seriously evaluate your work, provide constructive feedback and ultimately improve the paper should always be appreciated. But as reviewers ourselves, we know that sometimes we don’t always give each paper our full attention. In general, I try to give good and helpful (to the author and editor) reviews. I try not to take on reviews when I know I don’t have the time to do a good job. Perhaps I am naïve but the impression I get from my colleagues and reviews of my papers is that in general most people are also trying to give good reviews.
LinkedIn, Facebook, ORCID, Twitter, Instagram, Klout, Mendeley, ResearchGate.
I’m signed up for all of these things. Some are useful, some can be annoying, some I just ignore.
Some vague time ago, a friend in my department mentioned that I should sign up for ResearchGate. I said something like, “It’s just another one of those social networks, yadda yadda so what.” But I signed up anyway*.
At the time I signed up, I halfheartedly connected some of my papers, and since then I’ve ignored it. Jump to last week, when one of their emails was creative enough to find its way through my spam filter:
I was like, huh? I chose to click over to my profile on ResearchGate.
Chatting with people at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica, the topic from a recent post came up: that journals have cut back on “accept with revisions” decisions.
There was a little disagreement in the comments. Now, on the basis of some conversations, I have to disagree with myself. Talking with three different grad students, this is what I learned:
Some journals are, apparently, still regularly doing “accept-with-revisions.” And they also then are in the habit of rejecting those papers after the revisions come in.
Since I started submitting papers (around the turn of the century) editorial practices have evolved. Here’s a quick guide:
What used to be “Reject” is still called a “Reject.”
What used to be “Reject with Option to Resubmit” rarely ever happens anymore.
What used to be called “Major Revisions” is now called “Reject (With Invited Resubmission)” with a multiple-month deadline.
What used to be called “Minor Revisions” is now called “Reject (With Invited Resubmission)” with a shorter timeline.
And Accept is still Accept.
Here’s the explanation.
A flat-out rejection — “Please don’t send us this paper again” — hasn’t changed. (I’ve pointed out before, that it takes some experience to know when a paper is actually rejected.)
I really hope portable peer review picks up speed.
It’s normal for people to shoot high with submissions. Start with a journal that feels like a little stretch, and then work one’s way down the tiers of impressiveness.
Much of my time lately has been consumed with two seemingly unrelated activities: reading job applications and reviewing conference papers.
Reading job applications requires me to evaluate a person’s credentials, teaching and research experience, letters of recommendation, and countless other intangibles—all on paper—to determine whether this person might “fit” what we are looking for in a colleague.
Reviewing conference papers requires me to evaluate the validity and importance of the research question, the soundness of the science, the relevance of the results, and the correctness of the interpretation of the results, to determine whether this paper “fits” the definition of “good science” as well as the scope of the conference.
There is one key commonality between them: in both cases, it’s very important that the author tells a good story.