One thing that sprung out of the 2016 Presidential Election is the role that fake news played in the spread of misinformation, and potentially lead to the current disastrous result.
Sometimes this is because the editorial staff has a slant on an issue that they are actively pushing. But sometimes there’s simply bad reporting because it’s easier to do and can make you more successful than good reporting does. Even when addressing something as objective as science.
Think about it: a new study comes out, with a sweeping groundbreaking conclusion. There’s a press release that accompanies the study, if you’re a journalist do you:
- Only write about it if you, yourself, are an expert in the field, capable of digging into the details and evaluating it in the context of everything else known yourself?
- Consult with a slew of experts, assuming you’re not one yourself, to ensure you evaluate the release properly — as best you can — before you craft your narrative?
- Call a few people to interview them, writing down quotes, so that when you write about the study and its conclusion, you can add in either affirming or dissenting opinions from experts?
- Or do you simply write a catchy headline designed to highlight the new, spectacular conclusions, and base your story entirely on the press release?
Forbes wrote an article addressing this exact problem.
Or if you want the TL;DR version watch this Last Week Tonight clip, where John Oliver explains how important it is to understand science.
Over at Dynamic Ecology Megan Duffy just did an awesome blog post about how to determine authorship. From alphabetical ordering to a coin flip, to the current status of the British Pound vs. American Dollar, and my personal favorite, authorship was determined by a twenty-five-game croquet series, things are not as straightforward as they may seem.
Read about it over at Dynamic Ecology!
My mother is an international lawyer of some renown and she is also my editor, and BOY am I lucky to have her (She recently asked me if commas had hurt me as a child…).
But if you’re not lucky enough to have a world class writer editing your work, here is a list of Top Ten style checks for PhDs or creative non-fiction writers: Ways to assess your paragraphs or sentences over Medium. Not all of them are gold, but one sample:
5. Are you using active verbs with real subjects?[good] Or passive verbs, whose subjects are abstractions, reifications or anthromorphized concepts? [bad] Word and other equivalents will identify every passive formulation in the Spellchecker facility — go through and change them all over.
Well worth the read!
At a conference a few years ago I spoke with a friend who said “when I talk to people who say “I’m going to publish 5 papers this year, even though I haven’t submitted any” and it’s July I smile inside. It takes so long to publish papers there is no way they will be able to publish 5 by December”. It’s true, it takes forever to publish (after the writing and submitting part, which for me takes awhile too).
But some scientist, even Nobel Prize laureates, are publishing things online before even submitting it for review in an “official” publication. Not only does this cut out the journals who are arguably making a ton of profit off our free labor (see here and here), but it gets your work out to the scientific community faster.
Read about it over at the New York Times!
We’re told early and often that this means that your data is significant. But statisticians and biologists that are statistically inclined, while tell you (and have been telling us for awhile) that this is a completely arbitrary figure. Like most tools, in statistics if you use the pvalue incorrectly you’re doing yourself and your science a disservice.
And the American Statistics Association agreed, and disagreed. Last week they released an AWESOME statement on p-values.
Read the original, or the equally excellent synopsis over at the Molecular Ecologist (I can’t give that blog enough love…)
I know friends who celebrate every paper they submit. I think that is awesome.
But by the time I get a paper submitted, back for revisions, revised, submitted again, accepted and final edited, I hate that paper. I have seen it so many times, and written each sentence with exacting intention that I never want to see it again.
Which is why a post over at the blog “Ecology B1ts” entitled Reflections on my first first-author pub (and the seven years it took to get there) was so interesting to me. Margret Kosmala talks about how life, mentorship and rejection can all influence getting a paper published.
Well worth the read!
I’m abysmally bad at acknowledgments sections of papers. I just want to write a quick “thanks guys!”
But over at Scientist Sees Squirrel there is a really good post by Stephen Heard about how to acknowledge criticism.
“For critical suggestions and discussion I thank [names]. Not everyone agreed with everything but even that helped (West-Eberhard 2014).”
The post goes on to discuss how, feedback on a manuscript helps the most when it comes from people who don’t agree with you. It makes your paper and your argument stronger.
Also, for those of you who don’t get to the footnote, it also mentions how “constructive criticism” is important, but being a jerk is just that… being a huge jerk:
“*^It’s true that some reviewers don’t understand this. I once submitted a manuscript reporting some limited but (I think) interesting natural-history data. One reviewer wrote, anonymously, that they wouldn’t have given my manuscript a passing grade in their undergraduate Introduction to Ecology course. Nothing more – they didn’t explain what they thought was wrong, or how they thought it might be improved! The editor should never even have passed this “review” on to me; but fortunately, I was too stubborn to give up, and I sent the manuscript to another (better) journal. It was accepted with a few minor revisions, and now I have a funny story to put in a footnote.”