Archive for the 'Scientific Publication' category

Suggesting Reviewers

Who do you select when listing potential reviewers for your manuscripts? 

I go for suggestions that I think will be favorably inclined toward acceptance. This may be primarily because they work on similar stuff (otherwise they aren't going to be engaged at all) but also because I think* they are favorable towards my laboratory. 

Of course. 

(I have also taken to making sure I suggest at least 50% women but that is a different matter.)

I wouldn't suggest anyone that violates  the clearest statement of automatic COI that pertains to me, i.e. the NIH grant review 3-year window of collaboration.  

Where do you get your standards?

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*I could always be wrong of course

30 responses so far

Story boarding

When you "storyboard" the way a figure or figures for a scientific manuscript should look, or need to look, to make your point, you are on a very slippery slope.

It sets up a situation where you need the data to come out a particular way to fit the story you want to tell.

This leads to all kinds of bad shenanigans. From outright fakery to re-running experiments until you get it to look the way you want. 

Story boarding is for telling fictional stories. 

Science is for telling non-fiction stories. 

These are created after the fact. After the data are collected. With no need for storyboarding the narrative in advance.

32 responses so far

Placeholder figures

Honest scientists do not use "placeholder" images when creating manuscript figures. Period. 

See this nonsense from Cell

22 responses so far

On Responding to Prior Critique

The life of the academic scientist includes responding to criticism of their ideas, experimental techniques and results, interpretations and theoretical orientations*.

This comes up pointedly and formally in the submission of manuscripts for potential publication and in the submission of grant applications for potential funding.

There is an original submission, a return of detailed critical comments and an opportunity to respond to those critiques with revisions to the manuscript / grant application and/or argumentative rebuttal.

As I have said repeatedly in this forum, one of my most formative scientific mentors told me that you should take each and every comment seriously. Consider what is being said, why it is being said and try to respond accordingly. This mentor told me that I would usually find that by considering even the most idiotic seeming comments seriously, the manuscript (or grant application) is improved.

I have found this to be a universal truth of my professional work.

My understanding of what I was told by my mentor, versus what I have filled in additionally in my similar comments to my own trainees is now very fuzzy. I cannot remember exactly how extensively this mentor stamped down what is now my current understanding. For example, it is helpful to me to consider that Reviewer #3 represents about 33% of peers instead of thinking of this person as the rare outlier. I think that one may be my own formulation. Regardless of the relative contributions of my mentor versus my lived experience, it is all REALLY valuable advice that I have internalized.

The paper and grant review process is not there, by any means, to prove to you beyond a shadow of a doubt** that the reviewer's position is correct and you are wrong. A reviewer that provides citations for a criticism is not by any means the majority of my experience...although you will see this occasionally. Even there, you could always engage cited statements from an antagonistic default setting. This is unwise.

The upshot of this critique-not-proof system means that as a professional, you have to be able to argue against yourself in proxy for the reviewer. This is why I say you need to consider each comment thoughtfully and try to imagine where it is coming from and what the person is really saying to you. Assume that they are acting in good faith instead of reflexively jumping behind paranoid suspicions that they are just out to get you for nefarious purposes.

This helps you to critically evaluate your own product.

Ultimately, you are the one that knows your product best, so you are the one in position to most thoroughly locate the flaws. In a lot of ways, nobody else can do that for you.

Professionalism demands that you do so.

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*Not an exhaustive list.

**colloquially, they are leading you to water, not forcing you to drink.

3 responses so far

Introductions

May 26 2015 Published by under Science Publication, Scientific Publication

The Introduction section of research articles should evolve with a maturing field.

In the early going, every new lab that jumps into an emerging sub-sub-field of investigation tends to review the same arguments from a limited set of evidence. As time elapses, review articles are written and the body of prior work pretty much covers the bases.

So Intros should become shorter and simply reference that prior material.

Particularly when the current work is as much motivated by ongoing findings as it is by the original problem or question which motivated the original sub-sub-field. 

This can be a problem for latecomers who want to showcase all of the beautiful justification and background that they have been writing up. This is especially problematic for graduate students who have been writing at dissertation length and are loathe to kill-their-babies (as the real writers say).

It is generally problematic for trainees because they have so few of their sentences, paragraphs and pages published at this point of their career.

As a reviewer I try as best I can to be tolerant to these issues. You can generally tell when a long Intro section comes from dissertation writing so I try to be kind. 

Likewise, even though I lean for a substantial Intro myself, if someone wrote sparely with clear reference to the motivating literature, well I try to resist demanding comprehensive background. 

I had a recent review of one of our manuscripts which demanded repetition of what is now a substantial body of Introductory material across many, many papers. The two semi-district tracks of prior research we are bringing together each have enough papers and reviews to make all the points clear. I had thought that in fact we were risking someone telling us to cut a paragraph off of our Introdiction, frankly. 

That's the great thing about peer review, I suppose.

You get all kinds.

18 responses so far

Citation Curmudgeonry

  • In response to a post at Potnia Theron's blog:

26 responses so far

Scientific Publishers 

Apr 23 2015 Published by under Science Publication, Scientific Publication

Scientific publishers being told they can't keep fleecing the taxpayer so badly are basically Cliven Bundy. Discuss.

7 responses so far

New plan for angry authors

Two years after your paper is published in Journal of SocietyB send the citation report showing that it quadrupled the JIF of the JournalA that rejected it to the rejecting Editor. 

Let's make this a thing, people. 

25 responses so far

Dear Authors, Don't do this. Ever.

this has been bopping around on the Twitts lately..

6 responses so far

The Journal Ban Hammer: Nastier implications

Mar 02 2015 Published by under Ethics, Science Ethics, Scientific Publication

There is one thing that concerns me about the Journal of Neuroscience banning three authors from future submission in the wake of a paper retraction.

One reason you might seek to get harsh with some authors is if they have a track record of corrigenda and errata supplied to correct mistakes in their papers. This kind of pattern would support the idea that they are pursuing an intentional strategy of sloppiness to beat other competitors to the punch and/or just don't really give a care about good science. A Journal might think either "Ok, but not in our Journal, chumpos" or "Apparently we need to do something to get their attention in a serious way".

There is another reason that is a bit worrisome.

One of the issues I struggle with is the whisper campaign about chronic data fakers. "You just can't trust anything from that lab". "Everyone knows they fake their data."

I have heard these comments frequently in my career.

On the one hand, I am a big believer in innocent-until-proven-guilty and therefore this kind of crap is totally out of bounds. If you have evidence of fraud, present it. If not, shut the hell up. It is far to easy to assassinate someone's character unfairly and we should not encourage this for a second.

Right?

I can't find anything on PubMed that is associated with the last two authors of this paper in combination with erratum or corrigendum as keywords. So, there is no (public) track record of sloppiness and therefore there should be no thought of having to bring a chronic offender to task.

On the other hand, there is a lot of undetected and unproven fraud in science. Just review the ORI notices and you can see just how long it takes to bust the scientists who were ultimately proved to be fraudsters. The public revelation of fraud to the world of science can be many years after someone first noticed a problem with a published paper. You also can see that convicted fraudsters have quite often continued to publish additional fraudulent papers (and win grants on fraudulent data) for years after they are first accused.

I am morally certain that I know at least one chronic fraudster who has, to date, kept one step ahead of the long short and ineffectual arm of the ORI law despite formal investigation. There was also a very curious case I discussed for which there were insider whispers of fraud and yet no findings that I have seen yet.

This is very frustrating. While data faking is a very high risk behavior, it is also a high reward behavior. And the risks are not inevitable. Some people get away with it.

I can see how it would be very tempting to enact a harsh penalty on an otherwise mild pretext for those authors that you suspected of being chronic fraudsters.

But I still don't see how we can reasonably support doing so, if there is no evidence of misconduct other than the rumor mill.

5 responses so far

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