Category Archives: publishing

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 aren’t we agitating for open-access groceries?

Photo: Onions, own work.  The photo, not the onions, I mean.

Warning: very strange thought experiment.

Calls for us to make our literature open-access have become a routine thing, and many of them are quite impassioned.  I’m thinking, for example, of folks who announce that they will only review for open-access journals, or even those who announce (bizarrely) that they will only read open-access papers.  There’s a widespread belief that open-access literature is not just a social good (which it surely is) but an important social good, perhaps even a critical social good*.

But there’s something odd here.  It isn’t the argument itself (which we certainly ought to be having); instead, it’s where we stop making it.  Because you know what else ought to be open-access?  Groceries.

Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous; but there are actually some non-trivial parallels.  Stay with me for a bit. Continue reading

Some journal covers - Nature, American Naturalist, Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata

Why I still list (and pay attention to) journal names

I’ve seen half a dozen posts and essays arguing that we should stop publicizing, listing, or paying attention to the names of the journals our papers are published in.  The argument goes along these lines*.  First, we should judge the worth of papers based on their content, not based on where they were published.  Second, when filtering papers – deciding which ones to read – we should filter them based on what they’re about (as communicated by their titles and abstracts), not by the journal they’re in.

This argument is, I think, a logical extension of arguments against the impact factor.  I think those arguments are overdone, and I think this one is too. Continue reading

How to handle an idiotic review

Image: Cover of The Idiot, by John Kendick Bangs (Harper and Bros. 1895). Yes, I know there’s a much more famous The Idiot.

If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will: you submit a manuscript for publication and get back a peer review that makes you spit with fury.  “What an idiot!” you snarl, “how could a reviewer ever think that?”

Our peer review system works extremely well, overall*.  But reviewers are human, just like the rest of us – so a few of them just aren’t that good at it, and a few behave badly, and even the very best have bad days.  So you will get that idiotic review. What then? Continue reading

Post-publication peer review and the problem of privilege

It’s been hard to escape calls lately for a paradigm shift in scientific publishing (most of them starting with a pronouncement that “publishing is broken”). We’re supposed to abandon pre-publication peer review, and replace it with a system of online preprint posting, open to anybody with no or minimal screening, that allows post-publication “peer review” in the form of a commenting forum. The preprint servers are here already: ArXiv has been an important channel for communication in physics and mathematics for years now, and BioRχiv is newly arrived in biology. What’s interesting is the other half of the prescription: the notion that preprint servers obviate the need for pre-publication peer review or for the existence of conventional scientific journals – and we’d be better off without them.

glacial pace tweetDoes this make sense? Continue reading

Should you appeal when a journal rejects your paper?

Image: Asim Saeed via flickr.com CC-BY-2.0

Everyone who publishes in science gets manuscripts rejected. And I do mean everyone: take, for example, Higgs (1964) and Akerlof (1970) – both were initially rejected, but ended up central to their authors’ Nobel prizes. So when a manuscript of yours is rejected, it will sting; but you’re in good company.

When you are (inevitably) rejected, should you appeal the decision? Continue reading

Should impact factor matter?

Impact factors* are getting lots of use, and (perhaps as a direct result) it’s fashionable to argue that this use should be abhorred. Some days it seems like the impact factor can join the P value, the lecture, the paywalled journal, and bellbottom jeans in the lineup of innovations widely claimed to be obsolete and, perhaps, to have been bad ideas in the first place. And yet, just last week I was talking with a collaborator about where to send a manuscript, and when she mentioned a journal I didn’t know, my first question was “What’s its impact factor?” So: am I guilty of perpetuating the horror that is the impact factor, or was my question a reasonable one? Continue reading