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.
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.
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 →
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 →
I’ve noticed that acknowledgements sections in papers published before the 2000s usually thank people who read and commented on the paper before it was published. Yet recently-published papers are more likely to thank funding bodies or data collectors than peer reviewers. Why is this?
But how does a scientist navigate the co-authorship issue when translating their work beyond their discipline?
Say you have co-authored an academic paper that’s just been published in a journal, and now you want to translate those findings into a popular science article for a public audience. Who should initiate the scicomm piece? Do all authors on the paper have to be involved? Continue reading →
If you believe the hype, peer review is flawed and corrupt, a broken system threatening to undermine the very foundations of academia…particularly science. From fake reviews to biased ones, one of the main arguments for ditching the system is the myth that reviewers can no longer be trusted to give a fair assessment of another scientist’s paper.
But the problem is not with peer review per se, it’s with our expectations of the system.
The academic review system as we know it today began around the 1960s. But the process of peer review has been around for centuries, formally and informally, from the Greek Agora to the first Royal Society meetings.
We need peer review because science (and scholarship generally) is a community endeavour.