Archive for the 'Science Communication' category

A question for the personal website OA fans

For some reason the response on Twittah to the JSTOR downloader guy killing himself has been a round of open access bragging. People are all proud of themselves for posting all of their accepted manuscripts in their websites, thereby achieving personal open access.

But here is my question.... How many of you are barraged by requests for reprints? That's the way open access on the personal level has always worked. I use it myself to request things I can't get to by the journal's site. The response is always prompt from the communicating author.

Seems to me that the only reason to post the manuscripts is when you are fielding an inordinate amount of reprint requests and simply cannot keep up. Say...more than one per week?

So are you? Are you getting this many requests?

48 responses so far

Poster presenting 101: Know your audience

Neuropolarbear has a post up suggesting that people presenting posters at scientific meetings should know how to give the short version of their poster.

My favorite time to see posters is 11:55 and 4:55, since then people are forced to keep it short.

If you are writing your poster talk right now, remember to use a stopwatch and make your 5 minute version 5 minutes.

Don't even practice a longer version.

I have a suggestion.

Ask the person to tell you why they are there! Really, this is a several second exchange that can save a lot of time. For noobs, sure, maybe this is slightly embarrassing because it underlines that even if you have managed to scope out the name successfully you do not remember that this is some luminary in your subfield. Whatever. Suck it up and ask. It saves tremendous time.

If you are presenting rodent behavioral data and the person indicates that they know their way around an intravenous self-administration procedure, skip the methods! or just highlight where you've deviated critically from the expected paradigms. If they are some molecular douche who just stopped by because "THC" caught their eye then you may need to go into some detail about what sort of paradigms you are presenting.

Similarly if it is someone from the lab that just published a paper close to your findings, just jump straight to the data-chase. "This part of figure 2 totally explains what you just published"

Trust me, they will thank you.

As Neuropolarbear observes, if you've skipped something key, then this person will ask. Poster sessions are great that way.

3 responses so far

Training on giving a scientific presentation

Aug 24 2012 Published by under Science Communication, Scientific Meetings

Watch this video. If you are anything like me, you have essentially zero understanding of what this guy is talking about. To start with. It very rapidly devolves into technical jargon and insider references to things that I don't really understand.

But you know what?

After awhile you probably kinda-sorta pick up on what is going on and can kinda-sorta understand what he's telling his audience. I think I am impressed at that part.

Watching this through also makes you realize that a computer-geek presentation really doesn't differ much from the talks we give in our science subfields. And if you skip through to the Q&A about two-thirds through, you'll see that this part is familiar too.

I think I may just make this a training video for my scientific trainees.

5 responses so far

Why aren't they citing my papers?

As the Impact Factor discussion has been percolating along (Stephen Curry, Björn Brembs, YHN) it has touched briefly on the core valuation of a scientific paper: Citations!

Coincidentally, a couple of twitter remarks today also reinforced the idea that what we are all really after is other people who cite our work.
Dr24hrs:

More people should cite my papers.

I totally agree. More people should cite my papers. Often.

AmasianV:

was a bit discouraged when a few papers were pub'ed recently that conceivably could have cited mine

Yep. I've had that feeling on occasion and it stings. Especially early in the career when you have relatively few publications to your name, it can feel like you haven't really arrived yet until people are citing your work.

Before we get too far into this discussion, let us all pause and remember that all of the specifics of citation numbers, citation speed and citation practices are going to be very subfield dependent. Sometimes our best discussions are enhanced by dissecting these differences but let's try not to act like nobody recognizes this, even though I'm going to do so for the balance of the post....

So, why might you not be getting cited and what can you do about it? (in no particular order)

1) Time. I dealt with this in a prior post on gaming the impact factor by having a lengthy pre-publication queue. The fact of the matter is that it takes a long time for a study that is primarily motivated by your paper to reach publication. As in, several years of time. So be patient.

2) Time (b). As pointed out by Odyssey, sometimes a paper that just appeared reached final draft status 1, 2 or more years ago and the authors have been fighting the publication process ever since. Sure, occasionally they'll slip in a few new references when revising for yet the umpteenth time but this is limited.

3) Your paper doesn't hit the sweet spot. Speaking for myself, my citation practices lean this way for any given point I'm trying to make. The first, best and most recent. Rationale's vary and I would assume most of us can agree that the best, most comprehensive, most elegant and all around most scientifically awesome study is the primary citation. Opinions might vary on primacy but there is a profound sub-current that we must respect the first person to publish something. The most-recent is a nebulous concept because it is a moving target and might have little to do with scientific quality. But all else equal, the more recent citations should give the reader access to the front of the citation thread for the whole body of work. These three concerns are not etched in stone but they inform my citation practices substantially.

4) Journal identity. I don't need to belabor this but suffice it to say some people cite based on the journal identity. This includes Impact Factor, citing papers on the journal to which one is submitting, citing journals thought important to the field, etc. If you didn't happen to publish there but someone else did, you might be passed over.

5) Your paper actually sucks. Look, if you continually fail to get cited when you think you should have been mentioned, maybe your paper(s) just sucks. It is worth considering this. Not to contribute to Imposter Syndrome but if the field is telling you to up your game...up your game.

6) The other authors think your paper sucks (but it doesn't). Water off a duck's back, my friends. We all have our opinions about what makes for a good paper. What is interesting and what is not. That's just the way it goes sometimes. Keep publishing.

7) Nobody knows you, your lab, etc. I know I talk about how anyone can find any paper in PubMed but we all need to remember this is a social business. Scientists cite people they know well, people they've just been chatting with at a poster session and people who have just visited for Departmental seminar. Your work is going to be cited more by people for whom you/it/your lab are most salient. Obviously, you can do something about this factor...get more visible!

8) Shenanigans (a): Sometimes the findings in your paper are, shall we say, inconvenient to the story the authors wish to tell about their data. Either they find it hard to fit it in (even though it is obvious to you) or they realize it compromises the story they wish to advance. Obviously this spans the spectrum from essentially benign to active misrepresentation. Can you really tell which it is? Worth getting angsty about? Rarely.....

9) Shenanigans (b): Sometimes people are motivated to screw you or your lab in some way. They may feel in competition with you and, nothing personal but they don't want to extend any more credit to you than they have to. It happens, it is real. If you cite someone, then the person reading your paper might cite them. If you don't, hey, maybe that person will miss it. Over time, this all contributes to reputation. Other times, you may be on the butt end of disagreements that took place years before. Maybe two people trained in a lab together 30 years ago and still hate each other. Maybe someone scooped someone back in the 80s. Maybe they perceived that a recent paper from your laboratory should have cited them and this is payback time.

10) Nobody knows you, your lab, etc II, electric boogaloo. Cite your own papers. Liberally. The natural way papers come to the attention of the right people is by pulling the threads. Read one paper and then collect all the cited works of interest. Read them and collect the works cited in that paper. Repeat. This is the essence of graduate school if you ask me. And it is a staple behavior of any decent scientist. You pull the threads. So consequently, you need to include all the thread-ends in as many of your own papers as possible. If you don't, why should anyone else? Who else is most motivated to cite your work? Who is most likely to be working on related studies? And if you can't find a place for a citation....

16 responses so far

Reviewing academic papers: Observation

When you are reviewing papers for a journal, it is in your best interest to stake out papers most like your own as "acceptable for publication".

If it is a higher IF than you usually reach, you should argue for a manuscript that is somewhat below that journal's standard.

If it is a journal in which you have published, it is in your interest to crap on any manuscript that is lesser than your typical offerings.

16 responses so far

Authors fail to illuminate the LPU issue

We most recently took up the issue of the Least Publishable Unit of science in the wake of a discussion about first authorships (although I've been talking about it on blog for some time). In that context, the benefit of having more, rather than fewer, papers emerging from a given laboratory group is that individual trainees have more chance of getting a first-author slot. Or they get more of them. This is highly important in a world where the first-author publications on the CV loom so large. Huge in fact.

I've also alluded to the fact that LPU tendencies are a benefit to the conduct of science (as a group enterprise) because it allows the faster communication of results, the inclusion of more methodological detail (critical for replication and extension) and potentially the inclusion of more negative outcomes (which saves the group time).

I have also staked my claim that in an era when most of us find, sort and organize literature with search engine tools from our desktop computers, the "costs" of the LPU approach are minimal.

The recent APS Observer reprinted a column in the NYT that I'd originally missed entitled "The Perils of 'Bite sized' Science" (MARCO BERTAMINI and MARCUS R. MUNAFÒ; Published: January 28, 2012 ). Woot! No offense, commentariat, but you've done a dismal job so far of making an argument for why the LPU approach is so bad or detrimental to the conduct of science, particularly in response to my reasons. So I was really stoked to see this, in hopes of gaining some insight. I was sadly disappointed. Continue Reading »

12 responses so far

Who will shelter the "shitasse" society journals?

Jan 27 2012 Published by under Science Communication, Science Publication

In the previous post on journal publishing, I observed that sub-sub-specialty journals were an anachronism of the era prior to the establishment of nearly comprehensive search engines and databases like PubMed. In that era, dividing the monthly output of scientific papers into journals made sense. First of all, it would be pretty hard to pick up a monthly issue of "The Omnibus Journal of Biomedical Science". Second, it would be unduly laborious (and paper cut-y) to keep flipping around from some index or TOC to the abstracts you wanted to scan. So there were certain physical realities driving journal specialization.

Not to mention the fact that across the decades from 1886 to 1996 (PubMed established) there was a gradual and sustained addition of sub-specialty societies, narrower and narrower subfields of interest and an all around expansion of academic science. This came with a desire for yet another group of scientists to have selection of the studies they most wanted to read into a smaller number of journals.

I am not privy to all the details of the history of journals in academic science. Not even close. But what I do know is that a publisher such as Elsevier has a metric boatload of small sub-specialty journals at present time. Many of which are tied to an academic society. They continue to launch NEW ones. (Phew, I'm already link exhausted- Google "Official Journal Elsevier" and see what you get. The list is enormous.)

It is, or has been, in the interests of both Elsevier and the academic society to continue this arrangement. Occasionally societies will switch publishers. For example, Neuropsychopharmacology jumped from Elsevier to Nature Publishing Group in recent memory**. Occasionally you'll be looking at the online site for a journal and notice a truncation in the archive..and have to Google around to figure out who used to publish the journal. Nevertheless, it is clear that Elsevier thinks these arrangements are good ones. Presumably because they get good return from libraries when they bundle a bunch of journals into a fixed price menu.

[Sidebar: This is a bit of a fly in the ointment, btw. One thing I do laud the publishers for is when they've taken effort to PDF all of their back catalog...back to vol 1, issue 1 in the dark ages in some cases. When there's a shift in the publisher that took place prior to the online age it seems to me that their motivation for putting up a back catalog for a journal they no longer publish is not very high.]

What do the societies get in return?

I am, shall we say*, somewhat informed about moves by at least two society level journals to switch their default member subscription from print to online. The response seemed to be overwhelming approval and lack of opting-for-print amongst the memberships. No surprise, almost all of us are complete and total converts to the benefits of online access to journal articles and personal PDF archives on our computers. Yes, even the rapidly emeritizing cohort. Still, it is nice to see the data, so to speak. Nice to see that if a society stops sending print issues to clog up faculty bookshelves collecting dust, nobody objects.

But......ego. Somehow I bet the existing societies would get their backs up a little bit if there was a suggestion that they simply give up their journal. Neuropolarbear asked what could be done about the assy position being taken by some publishers on the Research Works Act issue. This is the one trying to reverse the law demanding the deposit of all NIH funded papers into PubMedCentral (in peer-reviewed, accepted, manuscript form).

One thing we could do is to demand our society journals stop working with the jerky publishers.

This thought is what brought up all the above blathering. It is very likely that each and every small journal couldn't make it on their own. Well, duh, of course not. As noted by the irrepressible Comrade Physioproffe

From what I understand, the other issue moneywise is that big publishers like Elsevier force institutions to pay subscription fees for shitteasse journals that no one reads by bundling them with their flagship journals. Those journals wouldn’t even exist if they had to survive on their own submission/publication fees.

But if all we're talking about is a sort of virtual journal...why can't some other umbrella journal publisher just kind of take up the slack? Why couldn't a PLoS ONE type of outfit agree to provide all the publishing services and put some sort of tag on the article to group by academic society?

_
*christ that was priggish, wasn't it?

**fascinating. In the case of Neuropsychopharmacology, the entire back catalog was transferred over to NPG so if you click on an article that your print copy insists was published by Elsevier, boom, you end up at NPG.

24 responses so far

Call Your Congress Critter: The Research Works Act

Websearch your CongressCritter and navigate to the email / reply form. Then give him or her an earful (eyeful) about the attempt by Reps Maloney and Issa to discontinue the requirement for public funded science to be made publicly available (by the Omnibus Appropriation passed in Mar 2009).

Please. Put your Critter on alert that this is bad legislation that is bad for taxpayers. Additional detail is after the jump. Continue Reading »

9 responses so far

Authoritarians always confuse credentials with expertise. Take Eleven.

I am greatly enjoying reading this measured takedown

For example, the article on foxnews.com states, “Grad students often co-author scientific papers to help with the laborious task of writing. Such papers are rarely the cornerstone for trillions of dollars worth of government climate funding, however — nor do they win Nobel Peace prizes.” I will assume that the bit about “Nobel Peace prizes” was a mistake made by the Fox News writer, since as I’m sure you’re aware, scientific achievements do not lead to Peace prizes. Further, most science of any kind doesn’t lead to a Nobel Prize. They really don’t hand out that many of them.

But let’s de-construct this one a little more. Grad students often are the lead author on scientific publications, because they carried out the work. I know you feel that this shouldn’t be the case. How can they do science without a Ph.D?! Well, it turns out that’s how you get a Ph.D. By doing research that leads to publications.

of this variety of ignorant mewling about the conduct of science.

“We’ve been told for the past two decades that 'the Climate Bible' was written by the world’s foremost experts,” Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise told FoxNews.com. “But the fact is, you are just not qualified without a doctorate. In academia you aren't even on the radar at that point.”

In academia, the people who are "on the radar" for any given topic are those who are most directly and deeply involved in the work. Sometimes that breadth and depth comes from a longer career in the field. Sometimes it comes because as a grad student you have done nothing else other than focus exclusively, think deeply and read exhaustively on a given topic. Ultimately, those who should be listened to most are those that know the most.

Academic credentials can be the marker, but are no substitute, for expertise.

4 responses so far

Citation

May 26 2011 Published by under Science Communication

How often do you cite a paper for the overall, Gestalt thrust of the story? For the whole picture?

How frequently do you cite a paper for only a figure or two out of the whole thing? Or for a method?

What does this tell you about the notion that there is such a thing as a meaningful standard of a "complete story"?

12 responses so far

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