Monthly Archives: March 2017

To sign or not to sign: what the Replies taught me

So, last week Meghan Duffy and I put up what amounted to point-counterpoint blog posts.  I sign most of my reviews, while Meg doesn’t sign most of hers; but neither of us is quite sure that’s right.  As I’d hoped, we got a bunch of good comments in the Replies on each blog.  Here are a few things I learned from them: Continue reading

Why I sign (most of) my reviews

A few months ago, I wrote a post that prompted a brief twitter discussion with Meghan Duffy about whether we sign our reviews. I tend to sign mine, and Meg tends not to, but neither of us felt completely sure that our approach was the right one. So, we decided that it would be fun to write parallel posts about our views on signing (or not signing) reviews. Here is Meg’s, over at Dynamic Ecology; please read it, as she makes excellent points (all of which I agree with) even while arriving at a different conclusion (and a different default practice) than I do!

A lot has been written about the merits of signed vs. anonymous peer review.  There are arguments on both sides (which I don’t intend to review comprehensively), but in general I’m firmly convinced that at least the offer of anonymity is important to getting broad reviewer participation and high-quality reviews.  But I sign almost all of the reviews I write.  This seems odd in at least two ways.  First, here I am plugging anonymity, but I don’t use it much; and second, if I sign almost all of my reviews, why don’t I sign all of them?  I’ll try to explain; and I’m trying to explain to myself as much as I am to you, because I’m far from convinced that I’m doing the right thing. Continue reading

Nuancing brevity: less isn’t always more

Image: something I wrote recently. If you’re a sharp-eyed reader of the blog and think you know what it is, make a guess in the Replies. Although the only prize is my admiration.

Nearly every source of writing advice agrees on one thing: brevity is good.  My own book, The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, is no exception; I devote an entire chapter to brevity.  There are good reasons for this. Longer papers ask more of their readers’ limited time budgets and seem, likely as a direct result, to have less citation impact.  Journals have limited space and would rather publish more papers than longer ones*.  In general, shorter texts and simpler sentences are easier to understand.  And most writers need to shorten their first drafts – and most find this a challenge (as Blaise Pascal noted in his famous letter, “I’ve made this letter longer than usual; I haven’t had time to make it shorter**).

But just in the last year or two, I’ve backed off my fanaticism about brevity just a bit.  Continue reading

How to handle a useless review

How should you handle a useless review?  I don’t mean one that’s actively idiotic, but a review that’s superficial, misunderstands the manuscript, is positive but lukewarm, or otherwise just doesn’t seem to point to any avenues for improvement. Perhaps it’s this gem:

This study seems competently executed, and most of the writing is pretty good.  A few analyses could benefit from more modern approaches.  However, in the end I’m unconvinced of its importance.*

Let’s start with how not to handle a useless review. Continue reading

Stephen King and me

Photo: The Dark Half, and Heard and Kitts 2012 Evolutionary Ecology 26:879

Do Stephen King and I have the same job, or different jobs?

This is, in one sense, a silly question with an obvious answer.  Stephen King is a popular-fiction writer, and I’m a scientist.  Stephen King’s job is to generate novels about the world as it isn’t, while my job is to generate understanding of the natural world as it is.  Clearly, Stephen King and I have different jobs.

At least, that’s how I would have answered my silly question early in my career.  Continue reading