Like most people, I often feel a little impostery. I’m convinced that sooner or later, people will notice that my work isn’t actually all that important, that my papers are somehow flawed, that I don’t really know what I’m talking about when I teach. (People may even figure out that Scientist Sees Squirrel is seldom original, mostly wrong, and only occasionally interesting.)
I was part of some discussion on Twitter recently about imposter syndrome in the particular context of peer reviewing. Some folks worry that they really aren’t qualified to review. They worry that they may make the wrong recommendation: either miss a critical flaw or (conversely) see something as a critical flaw that really isn’t. As an editor, I’ve had people whose judgement I respect decline to review on the grounds that they didn’t feel confident in their reviewing abilities. Ironically, these are often the early career scientists who tend to be absolutely terrific reviewers.
For a variety of reasons, I think this fear is generally misplaced. Continue reading
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
Photo: Journal of Universal Rejection coffee mug (crop), by Tilemahos Efthimiadis via flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0.
Peer review gets a lot of grief. It’s one of the things we love to say is “broken”. It takes too long, or at least we think it does. Occasionally a reviewer completely misses the point, goes on an ad hominem attack, or produces some other kind of idiotic review. But for all the flak aimed its way, I’m convinced that peer review – overall – is fantastic; volunteer reviewers and editors have vastly improved nearly every one of my papers.
But there’s one kind of review that really burns my bacon. Continue reading
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
Some people ignore the Acknowledgements sections of papers, but they’re one of my favourite bits. Not because they have much to do with telling the paper’s story – they don’t – but because they can reward a reader with the kind of writing style, personality, and humour that’s otherwise in short supply in our scientific writing. My favourite Acknowledgements section of all time, though, isn’t one that’s particularly funny or beautiful. Instead, it’s one that makes a very profound point about the value of criticism. Here it is, in its entirety: Continue reading
Photo: Belding’s ground squirrel, by Yathin S Krishnappa via wikimedia.org; CC BY-SA 3.0.
I think I’m typical as a scientist in that I spend a lot of time doing things that don’t seem to add to my research productivity – in fact, they take away from it. Yesterday (as I write) I gave a guest lecture about writing in somebody else’s grad course. I review manuscripts and grants, serve as an Associate Editor, sit on grad student supervisory committees, consult with colleagues about stats, serve in academic administration, and on and on. Actually, our whole academic system depends on us doing these kinds of things – things that (at least on the surface) seem altruistic. For an evolutionary biologist, apparent altruism always raises a question: Why? Why do academics do things that seem to benefit others, not themselves? There may be a variety of reasons, but increasingly I’ve come to understand my own career as heavily influenced by academic inclusive fitness. Continue reading
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.
Does this make sense? Continue reading