A fairly typical peer review process goes like this*. Author submits their paper to a journal. If it’s suitable to send to review, the handling editor sources a minimum of 2 or 3 relevant independent experts to review the paper. Very few papers are suitable for publication at first submission, so their review comments are returned to the author for consideration. Author revises the paper in response to the comments and resubmits the revised version. If the revisions are very minor and the response appropriate, the editor might make a decision immediately. Otherwise, this revised version is sent back to the original reviewers, who assess whether the authors have addressed the original comments appropriately and potentially pick up any new issues. The editor then makes the decision whether to accept (or reject) the paper or continue with further revisions.
This process can obviously take many months, but is fairly straightforward when it all goes smoothly.
The ‘boycott peer review’ hot takes are reappearing on social media. Long-time readers of my blog may remember my post on why I think boycotting peer review is unreasonable, written the last time this hot take was doing the rounds. In that post I mostly focused on the impacts on the system and the editors, which are important reasons not to boycott peer review.
But refusing to review papers also impacts the authors. This is obvious and should not have to be said, but it seems that it is often forgotten when academics shake their fists at Big Publishing.
This week, a syndicated article appeared across a number of online media platforms under various different headlines. It covers the doomsday insect apocalypse narrative and appears to cast doubt on the issue of insect decline, largely blaming media and ‘activists’ for promoting the hype. The author links to my blog posts on the insect apocalypse, my BioScience paper co-authored with Jasmine Janes & James O’Hanlon, and my American Scientist article as evidence against the hype, and some sections paraphrase or directly quote from my work. To the average reader, it could appear that I have talked to the author, and that I endorse the article. I did not, I do not, and I was not aware the article was being written.
I’ve written a lot of posts here about how frustrating it is to try and publish conceptual or expert opinion-style articles in peer reviewed journals. Most journals have very few standards for this article category, and peer reviewers often don’t seem to have the guidance to know how to review them fairly.
Note, I’m not talking about popular media opinion pieces in the general definition.
I’m talking about the peer reviewed articles that many journals publish in various ‘non-data’ categories, depending on the journal, often called e.g. Opinion, Perspective, Forum, Viewpoint, Essay etc. They are a separate category to standard research data papers or formal literature reviews. The journals that publish these articles generally only provide vague instructions, which may contribute to the confusion over how to review them.
I read this recent Thesis Whisperer post a few times, and it troubled me. Then they posted this follow-up post doubling down on the original argument denouncing academic writing.
Comments aren’t allowed on the Thesis Whisperer blog, so I’m writing here. I really think these posts send negative messaging to prospective (and current) PhDs. Do read the original posts, but here’s a quick summary of how I interpreted the Thesis Whisperer’s argument:
(i) the way we do PhDs needs to change;
(ii) we should galvanise PhD students to go against the norms of academia to get the personal outcome they want.
(iii) academic writing is ritualised and archaic and it “sucks”.
From a distance, this general argument might resonate. Yes, as with most sectors, there are many ways the past is holding academia back.
I agree, PhD students need to make sure they get what they need out of the 3 or more years they spend on the PhD.
But PhDs are definitely still “a degree worth having”. They will always provide the opportunity for graduates to develop a unique set of skills and expertise that are useful for academic and non-academic careers. Continue reading
A few opinion pieces are doing the rounds arguing that scientists should boycott peer review, especially for paywalled journals. The argument goes that this action is a protest against Big Publishing, because peer reviewers should be paid, and because we should support ‘open science’. I genuinely don’t understand this logic.
Peer review is a community service because scholarship is a community endeavour. Peer review is an important part of an academic’s role. Each individual’s service collectively contributes to a rigorous body of scientific knowledge. This is much better than the pre-peer review days of a single editor deciding on publication (this tradition persists in the desk reject).
A community service is generally unpaid – that’s the difference between a service for the good of the system and a business transaction for individual benefit. Do you volunteer for your kid’s sports club? Do you belong to your neighbourhood watch group? Do you contribute to your local conservation or landcare groups?
Why do you volunteer your time? Do you expect payment for these activities? Continue reading
After my first year as an Academic Editor at PLOS One, I’ve learned a lot about the peer review process, including what happens to my own papers when I submit them for review, and why sometimes it takes longer than you expect to get reviews back.
Getting editorial experience. How do early-mid career researchers find access to editorial experience? I have no idea what the norm is. But I think access to mentorship in this process is a critical gap for early career researchers. Not only does it enable early career researchers to contribute a vital service to their research community, it also gives us an opportunity to gain some perspective on the editorial process when we submit our own papers for review. Continue reading
Scientific disciplines grow from new concepts, ideas, theories and expert opinions, not just data. But conceptual papers are the hardest kind of scientific paper to publish.
Too many researchers…seem to think that any non-empirical paper is simply an essay and devoid of deeper scholarship. Nothing could be further from the truth. More than once I have received comments from reviewers claiming a paper is nothing more than an essay, implying essays are little more than opinions. But aren’t all papers “opinions” in one form or another?
~ Rudy Hirschheim (2008)
By definition, a conceptual paper doesn’t present original data…but it must present an original concept. It synthesises knowledge from previous work on a particular topic, and presents it in a new context to provide a springboard for new research that will fill knowledge gaps.
Conceptual papers shouldn’t follow the status quo; they need to show how moving beyond the current norm will enhance knowledge. Continue reading
The number of authors included on research papers in many disciplines has increased over time. This editorial in Journal of Applied Ecology is the latest analysis of this trend, finding that published single-author research papers in that journal have declined since 1966 (two years after the journal started publishing). N.B. the authors only quantify research papers (i.e. data papers, but they don’t specify if they include reviews/meta-analyses…see below), and applied ecology should be a multidisciplinary field, so this is a good thing.
The editorial is excellent, and you should read it – the discussion of underlying causes of this trend is mostly reasons why we should encourage more multi-author papers.
But…there will always be a place for single-author papers in research, especially for early career researchers. Continue reading
This is a guest post from a colleague, Neil Taylor, who is Professor of Science Education at UNE. We hear a lot about predatory journals from an author’s perspective. But I found this combination of editorial & author experience interesting.
The International Journal of Environmental and Science Education (IJESE) began in 2006 under the editorship of Dr Huseyin Bağ of Pamuakkle University, Turkey. I was asked to be on the editorial board and for a number of years I reviewed for the journal, published some articles in and co-edited a Special Issue on Scientific Literacy in 2009. After 2012 when I published my final article in IJESE, I lost touch with the journal and received no further requests to review. However, at the beginning of 2017 I wrote an article about a school gardening project in Oman that seemed to be a good fit for the readership of IJESE. As is often the case these days, as part of the submission process I was asked to provide the names and contact details of three potential reviewers. About six weeks after submission, I received notification from the editor that the article had been accepted without revisions. This was surprising but I was busy at the time (and perhaps a little vain), and given that IJESE was a reputable journal – I just accepted this outcome. Good quality galley proofs subsequently arrived and all requested changes were made efficiently and the article was published on the IJESE website. Continue reading