Author Archive

March 28, 2011

The peer’s point of view

by Beki Hill

Reviewers scrutinise the papers they receive

All the while we’ve been talking about peer review, whether we’re lamenting its failures or singing its praises, we’ve only heard from publishers and academics about going through the process (or not in some cases). What we haven’t done is look at it from the reviewer’s point of view. Well all that’s about to change.

Andy Hitchcock is a final year PhD student at the University of Sheffield, and has been lucky enough to review papers for three journals already (and no I’m not saying that sarcastically, it’s not everyone who gets that chance and it’s hugely beneficial if you want to continue your career in academia). I went to speak him about his experiences and to ask what he thinks of this controversial method of scientific publishing.

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March 25, 2011

Media coverage and citation bias?

by Beki Hill

Throughout this project, we’ve been analysing the potential bias within our papers, their citations and authors, and examining the flaws, benefits and necessities of peer review. One thing we haven’t yet looked at is the media coverage our papers received.

Originally we wanted to look at the media coverage for each of our citations, but with over 3500 citations in Web Of Knowledge alone (i.e. not including all the cross-checking required with the PubMed citations) this was unfeasible, especially as it was a side project, rather than the crux of our research.

So instead I sat down this morning with the task of looking at the media coverage of each of our original papers in Nature. I was actually fairly surprised – this is a high impact journal for which most of the big newspaper journalists get pre-embargo press releases sent to them. What I saw, however, was that 60% of the papers received no press coverage at all.

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March 24, 2011

Asia-Pacific gets specific: Nature publishing data

by Beki Hill

This week the Nature Publishing Group released their annual stats on the Asia-Pacific region’s NPG papers. This uses data from the Nature Publishing Index, which counts the number of papers published in any of the NPG journals that year. They first tally up the number of articles according to the named workplaces (or affiliations) of the authors (counting each country only once per paper) and then produce a “corrected count”. This takes into account factors such as authors being affiliated to more than one institution and the percentage of authors from that institution or country in that paper.

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March 20, 2011

Negativity doesn’t get you anywhere

by Beki Hill

In my last post I was talking about the way peer review can affect your career, and I commented that in some countries you need to have published (first author) paper(s) in order to complete your PhD.

This is a particular bugbear of mine, owing to the fact I’ve just completed my PhD without publishing any papers, peer reviewed or otherwise. I don’t think my research was bad (they don’t just give these qualifications away after all), and it’s not that I have nothing to say (in fact a 2oo-odd page thesis sitting in front of me suggests otherwise). It’s that a large proportion of my results were ‘negative’, and those that had potential came too late into my four years to be expanded on sufficiently to make them publishable.

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March 20, 2011

Your career in the hands of peer review

by Beki Hill

This month the Centre for Studies in Higher Education at University of California, Berkley, has released a document of fairly epic proportions on peer review – more specifically on its meaning, locus and future. Weighing in at nearly 120 pages I’m not about to pretend I’ve read the whole thing. Instead, when I saw it I planned to look at some of the key points it raises (in the land of science this often equates to “I read the abstract”, but I promise you I did start by doing more than that!).

This is part of a project the authors, Dianne Harley and Sophia Accord, have been doing since 2005 to explore:

how academic values—including those related to peer review, publishing, sharing, and collaboration—influence scholarly communication practices and engagement with new technological affordances, open access publishing, and the public good.”

But before I could get more than 10 pages in*, I was struck by this sentence: “Moreover, it regulates opportunities throughout a scholar’s career”. This made me pause for thought – it’s so accurate, and yet it hadn’t really occurred to me before. As an academic your life revolves around the imperfect system of peer review, from your first day as a PhD student to your last as a professor.

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March 18, 2011

Outside your peers

by Beki Hill
Chixulub meteorite

A chunk of the Chixulub meteorite thought to wipe out the dinosaurs - just one of the stories the Geoscientist published in spite of scepticism

Imagine you’re a researcher with ideas that don’t fit in with everyone else’s. You’d expect to still be able to publish your work in the same journals as them (obviously assuming it’s good data). But it’s not necessarily as simple as that, and the sad truth is that sometimes the publishing process isn’t as free of bias as we’d like it to be. An in-crowd can develop fairly easily, especially in very ‘niche’ areas of science, and when that happens it can lead to the exclusion of those who don’t fall in with the rest.

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