I see this very often in social media, and also in conversation with other academic editors: it’s getting harder and harder to get find people who agree to review manuscripts.
I have no idea whether this reflects the general experience, or if it’s borne out by data. I of course believe the lived experience of my peers, and their accounts make sense given the steady (and absurd) increase in publication rates, with so many people working the manuscript ladder chasing prestige, all compounded by the difficulties of the pandemic. I imagine that some journals have tracked the invitation acceptance rate and how it’s changed over time and perhaps shared this — or maybe it’s in the bibliometric literature — though over the span of a couple minutes my searching powers came up short.
That said, I have to admit that getting reviewers to say yes hasn’t been a problem for me in the course of editorial duties. Even in the depths of this pandemic, I usually haven’t had to ask more than three to five people in order to land two reviewers. Each year, I’ve been handling dozens of manuscripts, so I can’t credibly pin this on the luck of the draw. I don’t know why I don’t have much trouble finding peer reviewers. It presumably is a complex function of the function of manuscripts themselves, the society affiliation of the journal, how and who I choose to invite, the financial model of the journal, maybe if people are more likely to say yes to me as a human being (?), and who knows what else. If you ask people why they say no, I’m sure everybody just thinks it’s because they’re too busy. But if you ask people why they say yes, then that where it might get interesting.
The title of this post is off because I clearly don’t know why I don’t have trouble finding reviewers, but it might be informative because I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing, and that might help y’all come to your own conclusions about the Why. I’ve just stepped down from all of my editorial roles, so I thought now is a good time to step back and reflect on how have I identified potential reviewers, and make an attempt at some generalized take-lessons from this experience.
It took a while for the rise of the internet to destabilize the academic publishing industry, but still the major for-profit publishers have been adept at consolidating their racket. Academic institutions, and individual academics such as myself, continue to be fleeced and are donating money to corporations in a sector with an absurdly high profit margin. If you’re reading this site, you presumably are aware of all the disruptions in academic publishing that have been facilitated by the internet: preprint servers, scihub and libgen, open-access fees, journals that are entirely open access, and so called “predatory” journals.
Let’s talk more about “predatory” journals.
These journals seem more parasitic than predatory. These publishing venues are merely taking advantage of the perverse incentives that we have developed in higher education.
One of my goals with this blog is to make evidence-based teaching practices more accessible to scientists who aren’t prepared for a deep dive into educational jargon and theory. I sometimes have been asked to recommend a book that does this, and I couldn’t find one. They say that you should write the book that you think the world needs, so that’s what I did. It’s an outgrowth of Small Pond Science, but it’s all new material.
I think one of the sillier rituals in academia is composing cover letters to accompany our manuscripts when we submit them to a journal.
We stopped submitting manuscripts by post about 20 years ago. You’d put three copies of your manuscript into a manila folder, and cover these manuscripts with a letter, as a form of explanation. “Hi, I’m sending you these manuscripts because you’re the editor and I’m submitting it to your journal.” And while you’re at it, it doesn’t hurt to write few lines why you think the paper is exciting and relevant for the audience of the journal.
But now that we’re not doing manuscript reviews by post, why are we still doing cover letters?
I sat down to my laptop this morning and was looking forward to getting to work. But then I looked at the news.
And I saw this:
“It is apparent that the gender gap manifests at every stage of the publishing process — choice of journal, editorial decisions, referees’ decisions and even citations…This suggests something is systematically wrong.” https://t.co/dwv3wD12GY
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.
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.Continue reading →
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.Continue reading →
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?Continue reading →
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.Continue reading →
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.Continue reading →
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.Continue reading →
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? Continue reading →
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.Continue reading →
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.Continue reading →
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.Continue reading →
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.Continue reading →
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?!”Continue reading →
“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.Continue reading →
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.Continue reading →
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.
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:
Can you guess which one is mine and which the 6-year-olds?
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.Continue reading →