Tag Archives: publishing

Being an open-access advocate doesn’t excuse you from proper literature searches

Lock image: SimpleIcon http://www.simpleicon.com, CC BY 3.0

Every week or two I see a tweet, or overhear a conversation, from somebody bemoaning the difficulty of accessing a paper.  Often it reads about like this:

Another day, another paywalled paper I can’t access and won’t cite. Moving on to read some open science….*

I get that open-access is an attractive model**.  I’d be pleased if we moved all our literature this way, although only if that meant that we had solved the (enormous) transitional funding problems and dealt with the inevitable unintended consequences.  But none of that matters to a simple and important point: I don’t care how fervent an open-access advocate you are; it’s still your job to use our literature properly.  It’s absurd to claim that a paper deserves to be read and cited if it’s published in The American International Journal of Ecography (a hypothetical open-access journal that’s predatory with fraudulent peer review***), but not if published in The American Naturalist (a subscription-model journal of very high quality published by a great society).  Absurd. Continue reading

Early career researchers make great peer reviewers. How can we get more of them?

This is a joint post by Steve Heard and Timothée Poisot (who blogs over here).  Steve is an Associate Editor for The American Naturalist and for FACETS, while Timothée is an Associate Editor for PLOS Computational Biology and Methods in Ecology & Evolution.  However, the opinions here are our own, and may or may not be shared by those journals, by other AEs, or by anyone, really.

Working as an (associate) editor can be rewarding, but it’s not always easy – in part because finding reviewers can be a challenge.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, editors often think first to call on senior scientists; but many of us have learned that this isn’t the only or the best path to securing helpful peer reviews.  In our experience, some of the best reviews come from early career researchers (ECRs).  ECR reviewers tend to complete reviews on time, offer comprehensive comments reflecting deep familiarity with up-to-date literature, and to be constructive and kind while delivering criticism.  Online survey data confirm that our positive impressions of ECR reviewers are widely shared among editors (who nonetheless underuse ECRs), while other surveys indicate that ECRs are very willing to review, with many even feeling honoured by such requests.  [Both sets of surveys mentioned here were particular to ecology and evolution, although we suspect the results apply more widely.]

So there’s a paradox here: we (editors in general) love ECR reviews, but we underuse them.  Why?  Continue reading

The one kind of review that really gets my goat

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

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

Writing a book: what a long strange trip it’s been

Image: Sidewalk art by Jeremy Brooks, via flickr.com CC BY-NC 2.0; lyrics from Truckin’, Garcia/Weir/Lesh/Hunter.

Warning: really long post.  TL;DR: Publishing a book is really different, and I learned a lot by doing it.

Heard_Scientist'sGuide coverPerhaps you’ve noticed that I’ve just published a book, The Scientist’s Guide to Writing.  (I’ve tried to make it hard for you not to notice.)  And lately, it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.

What do I mean by that? Well, if I were an academic in the arts or humanities, there’d be nothing unusual about having published a book.  But in the sciences we don’t write a lot of books.  Like most scientists, I knew next to nothing about writing or publishing a book before I started working on mine.  If you’re curious about how it works and what it’s like, read on. Who knows, maybe you’ll write a book too, someday. (Caution: since I have a sample size of one – for now – I can’t guarantee that my story is representative.)

Books take a long time

It took almost five years* from the first tentative plan to a published book I could hold in my hand.  I knew it would take a long time, of course, but I didn’t see five years coming.  Inasmuch as I planned it out at all (and I’ll admit that making and sticking to a plan is not my academic strong suit), I thought perhaps six months to write a prospectus and get the book under contract, a year to write the rest of it, and another to get it published. (Ha!)

In hindsight, of course, I’m not sure how I thought I could write a 90,000-word book in a year.  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

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

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

Can a scientific paper be too short? Part II

It was really fun to post Part I yesterday, but if you read it, perhaps you found it somewhat unsatisfying. Which is more or less my point, but here in Part II I’ll give myself enough room to develop the argument. The convergence of two things spurred me to write this post – one (at least on the surface) just fun; the other, a recent conversation I had about trends in modern publishing.

First, the fun thing: I came across what seems to be a competition to write the shortest possible abstract, and then to one-up that one, the shortest possible paper. Continue reading

The Golden Age of Weird Papers

Image: American “Journal” of Engineering Research

Tom Spears, a science journalist with the Ottawa Citizen, recently wrote an article about the decidedly peculiar “paper” above. This “paper” was recently published in the predatory “journal” American Journal of Engineering Research, and the rest of its content is just as weird as the bit you can read in the image – for more, see Tom’s story here. With thousands of predatory journals publishing anything anyone will pay for, is today the golden age of weird papers? Arulmani and Latha might tempt you to think so, but let’s not pass judgement too fast. Let me tell you about some really weird papers I came across recently. Continue reading