Writing #6--Where to publish your work

This post doesn't exactly fit into the theme of the rest of this blog, but it's something I feel compelled to write anyway.  I recently was asked to provide expert opinion about two colleagues for the purposes of an award, in one case, and promotion, in the other. The nominee for the award is very well known in his/her field.  Everyone thinks the world of him/her.  The award is for outstanding research only.  When I got into the CV, I thought, wow, this is going to be easy.  The nominee has lots of peer-reviewed publications.  When I got further into it, I was surprised that more of them were not in peer-reviewed journals.  The rest were in various kinds of publications, no doubt all peer reviewed, but not the most rigorously peer reviewed.  Many were in conference or special volumes. Then came the real shock.  A person of his/her stature and longevity should have a huge number of citations.  In fact, the most highly cited papers were old (from the 70s and 80s), and there

Reviewing #11--Reviewing an excellent paper

You get a paper from a journal and read it.  It's great!  You have no comments or criticisms.  You read it again, just to be sure, and your opinion doesn't change.  So your review consists of something like the following:  "This is the best paper I've ever read.  It's great!  I have no comments.  Publish immediately." That's a good thing, right? No, it is not a good thing.  Such a review is useless to an editor.  In fact, it's worse than useless.  How can that possibly be? You're Reviewer #1.  Reviewer #2, who is an expert in one aspect of the paper, has all kind of comments and criticisms and recommends "major revisions".  Reviewer #3, who is an expert in another aspect of the paper, has all kinds of problems with the paper and recommends "reject".  Both Reviewers 2 and 3 have presented long, detailed reviews outlining the problem with the paper.  One of them may even be an expert in the same aspect of the paper that you

Writing #5--Don't be this guy! And don't be me.

I recently witnessed a most unfortunate incident.  An author misinterpreted the editor's letter, which had rejected the paper but invited resubmission.  The author thought that two reviewers had colluded and submitted almost identical reviews.  He documented what he (thought he) saw.  And he wrote to the editor about it. So far so good. Was I that editor?  No, and this is where things went badly awry.  The author, who was definitely on his high horse, copied all the other editors of the journal.  That's how I found out about it.  I did a "reply all", stripping out all the recipients except the other editors, and indicated that I thought it did kind of look bad.  I should not have done that, but the saving grace was that my comment only went to the other editors.  Unfortunately, not all of the people who reacted to the author's email stripped out the authors.  An investigation was launched. So far so good, sort of. Here's the kicker:  The editor in ques

Reading #4--citing the literature

As you have no doubt noticed, authors of scientific papers cite other papers--a lot.  Why do we cite other work?  This may seem like an obvious question, but breaking down the citations by their purpose provides some insights that might help guide you through this surprisingly perilous part of scholarship. Here are most of the reasons we cite other papers: (1)  To provide background, history, and context:  We all build on the work of those who have gone before us.  The history leading up to the work you've done is important to readers for understanding the context of the work.  It is also important to acknowledge the work of those who are working on similar topics if their results could augment--or counter--yours. (2)  To give credit where it is due.  Chances are someone before you has come up with at least part of the answer you are seeking.  Acknowledging priority is an important part of what makes a good scientist.  And this should be done both for those who might h

link to excellent article

The article in this link has some really excellent advice for how to write a scientific paper.  Most of the advice is directed toward what I called elsewhere "transparency".  In this case, transparency is not revealing everything you know or have done, although that doesn't hurt.  It means writing clearly enough that the reader is not aware of the writing but only of the message.   Such papers are much more enjoyable to read.

Reading #3--accessing the literature

If you read "Reading #2--reading the literature ("The Literature"), you probably were wailing something along the lines of "But I just did a Google Scholar search in my own field and there are thousands of papers!  I don't have time to read all those!".  You're right.  You don't. First, the good news:  Most of those papers will not be relevant.   Now, the bad news:  You need to at least scan then to determine their relevancy. Now, the  really  bad news:  Such searches can overlook papers that are more important and relevant, and not just because your search terms weren't adequate. It's enough to make one throw in the towel.  Don't. Before I start on the topic of this blog entry, let me clarify what I mean by "accessing".  I'm not talking about the technical side.  I'm assuming you know that part.  If you don't, go to your library and make them teach you.  However, I can't avoid the old trope

Reading #2--reading the literature ("The Literature")

As graduate students, we are required to read something called "The Literature".  Until I started this post, I never really cottoned to the fact that how we speak, often reverently, of The Literature actually does require the use of upper case.  It is one of the quirks of science. So, what is The Literature and why is it so important to read it?  Of course, the literature (I will revert now to a more sensible style) consists of all the books and journal papers--sometimes even commentaries--written on the general topic of our chosen subdiscipline within geology.  This is one area where I'm reluctant to use my own career as an example because my work has incorporated elements of just about every topic in geology except, I think, metamorphic rocks and structure, and not a few elements of biology, atmospheric science, and oceanography.  So for the time being, let's assume I've spent my career working on eolian sedimentary rocks and associated deposits (my current