Monthly Archives: August 2015

How long should peer review take?

Image: Author expectations for “optimal” peer review: Figure 1 from Nguyen et al. (2015) PLoS ONE 10(8):e0132557.

Two things I saw last week motivated todays’ post. The first was Amy Parachnowitsch’s interesting blog post, wondering if peer review might sometimes be faster than she’d like: too fast for her to get head-clearing perspective by putting a manuscript away for a while. The second was a paper by Nguyen et al. reporting author opinions of how long peer review should take. Some of those opinions are absolutely astonishing.

I’ll get my astonishment in a moment, but first: how long should peer review take? Continue reading

Why would anyone want to be an (Associate) editor, anyway?

This post is jointly written by Steve Heard and Kathe Todd-Brown. Using the first person for Steve and the third for Kathe seemed less awkward than alternatives, but this should not imply Kathe’s contribution was less important than Steve’s. Disclosure: Steve has been an Associate Editor for The American Naturalist for 13 years. Kathe has not yet taken on an AE role.

So the other day this question (above) popped up in my Twitter timeline: a question from Kathe Todd-Brown, an early-career biogeochemist who’s thinking about how much – and what kinds of – service to take on. I dashed off a superficial reply along the lines of “well, somebody has to, and it’s pretty interesting”.

Then Kathe explained her thinking a little more. When she did, I realized that I’d wondered all the same things at his corresponding career stage. So, here’s Kathe’s longer-form question and my attempt at an answer – not so much directly to her, but to my own early-career self and to anyone with similar questions. Continue reading

Are “side projects” self-indulgent?

Many scientists (most?) have side projects; but when we talk about them, we often minimize them in an offhand way – as if we’re just slightly embarrassed to have taken them on. It’s considered somehow virtuous to focus with laserlike intensity on your core research, and a little bit sinful to let yourself be distracted by unrelated side projects.

If pursuing side projects isn’t virtuous, it must be because they waste effort that might otherwise go to your core research. And if they’re “wasting” effort, that suggests that time spent on side projects has a lower return than time spent on core research. Pursuing side projects, then, is self-indulgent: something you do even though you know your lifetime contribution to Science would be higher if you could somehow resist the temptation. I think this belief is pretty widespread (my experience at tenure review suggests so); but is it accurate? Continue reading

Does mega-authorship matter?

Image: Aad et al. 2015, Phys Rev Letters 114:191803 (short excerpt from author list)

Perhaps you’ve noticed that authorship lists are getting longer. If you haven’t, Aad et al. (2015, Phys Rev Letters 114:191803) is an interesting read – especially the last 25 pages, which are taken up by a list of its 5,154 coauthors. This is “mega-authorship”, and it’s attracted a lot of attention. Last week, even the Wall Street Journal noticed Aad et al., suggesting all kinds of reasons that mega-authorship is a problem for science. For example, the WSJ assures us, “scientists say that mass authorship makes it harder to tell who did what and who deserves the real credit for a breakthrough—or blame for misconduct”. Continue reading

Was Barbara Cartland a genius? And are you?

In brief: yes; and I’m sorry, but probably no. Let me explain; and let me assure you, I do have a point.

Barbara Cartland, the English romance novelist, published 723 books during her lifetime, and when she died in 2000 she left behind 160 more completed manuscripts. In my writing book, I describe her as a genius: over her writing career she averaged about one book a month, which means she turned out several thousand words of publication-ready prose every single day.

Now, a colleague recently took issue with my “genius” description, Continue reading

Invasions, beauty, and ecosystem services: a conundrum

Photo: Lupines below Öræfajökull, Iceland (S. Heard)

In Iceland, in July, the landscape in many places is carpeted in blue. The fields of lupines (Lupinus nootkatensis) are almost impossibly beautiful*, and lupines are adored by tourists and by many Icelanders, too. But they’re not an Icelandic plant; they’re introduced and invasive. Thereby hangs a tale, and a conundrum for conservation biology.

I normally despise invasive species, as most ecologists do, but I have a lot of trouble hating lupines. Again and again I find myself smiling at a field of blue, and then catching myself with a start as I remember that they aren’t supposed to be here. I’ve had this reaction in Iceland, in New Zealand, and in my home of eastern Canada (and here’s a nice piece from Amy Parachnowitsch admitting to the same reaction in Sweden).

These beautiful lupines make obvious a serious problem in our efforts at nature conservation. It’s not a problem with conservation biology (which is the science of how to effect conservation, once we’ve decided to). It’s a problem of motivating conservation, and I think a deep philosophical one. That problem: why should we conserve natural ecosystems in the first place? Continue reading