Friday links: ASN Young Investigator Award winners, and more (UPDATED)

Also this week: college textbook prices are dropping, death vs. citations, and more.

From Jeremy:

Sad news: evolutionary biologist George Gilchrist has passed away. His work on the evolution and consequences of thermal sensitivity underpinned the very first project I worked on in grad school. Donations in his honor to support graduate student research and travel to the Evolution annual meeting can be made here.

Congratulations to this year’s ASN Jasper Loftus-Hills Young Investigator Award winners: Stephen De Lisle, Moises Exposito-Alonso, María Natalia Umaña Medina, and Diana Rennison!

A recent Nature paper on streamflow response to forest removal and planting has been retracted for honest mistakes in the underlying data and analytical assumptions.

I’m late to this, but writing in the American Journal of Sociology, Azoulay et al. find that a scientist’s premature death increases the rate at which that scientist’s work is cited. The effect is especially strong and long-lasting for scientists who die young and who were not highly cited in life. The effect seems to be due to posthumous recognition efforts by the associates of the deceased scientists. Note that I haven’t read the paper (it’s on my list…); just passing on the link in case you want to read it yourself.

In a survey of 1106 scientists from 46 countries, 58% reported receiving “unprofessional” comments in peer reviews, which is far higher than I’d have guessed. Which I assume means that unprofessional peer review comments are much more common in countries, journals, and/or fields other than those with which I have experience as an editor. Women and non-white scientists were no more likely than white men to report receiving unprofessional peer review comments, but were more likely than white men to report that the comments made them doubt their own scientific abilities. (note: link goes to a news article, not the original survey, to which no link is provided) (ht @noahpinion) (UPDATE: see the comments for discussion of details of the survey methods, including reasons to think that the survey may have oversampled people who’ve received unprofessional reviews)

US inflation-adjusted college textbook prices have been falling (slowly) for a couple of years now. Student spending on textbooks is dropping too. (ht Marginal Revolution)


14 thoughts on “Friday links: ASN Young Investigator Award winners, and more (UPDATED)

  1. I can’t access the study (perhaps because I’m in the EU?), but 58% doesn’t surprise me – I realise it’s field dependent, but most people are going to see dozens if not hundreds of referee reports, so you really only a small fraction of reports to have unprofessional comments to get a high fraction of people exposed.

    I’ve seen – oh, about thirty referee reports, and only seen what I’d call unprofessional comments in one of them. But that turns a comparatively low rate of unprofessional comments into a comparatively high rate of having seen unprofessional comments.

  2. “Which I assume means that unprofessional peer review comments are much more common in countries, journals, and/or fields other than those with which I have experience as an editor.”

    Or maybe that you are less inclined to interpret a reviewer’s comments as unprofessional. I can imagine that some people might think that the reviewer being ‘wrong’ is an example of ‘unprofessional’.

    And, who knew bumping my citation rate would be that easy.

    • “And, who knew bumping my citation rate would be that easy.”

      I’m reminded of an old Loony Tunes cartoon in which Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny have competing vaudeville-type acts. Daffy keeps doing more and more outrageous things to draw audience approval, only for Bugs to outdo him effortlessly. Until Daffy finally resorts to blowing himself up on stage. The cartoon ends with Bugs applauding Daffy’s angel, and Daffy replying “Yeah, but I can only do it once.”

      In seriousness, cartoon deaths are one thing, real deaths are another. As the authors of the linked piece note, their study uses the aftermaths of tragedies to reveal something about scientific behavior: that who we cite isn’t determined solely by scientific considerations.

      • Nothing like a Bugs Bunny reference to confirm where you fall in the age distribution. Although maybe Bugs Bunny is hip again?

    • “Or maybe that you are less inclined to interpret a reviewer’s comments as unprofessional.”

      I think there’s something in that. I had an exchange recently in which the author of a rejected manuscript was raging against the corrupt, gatekeeper behaviour of other scientists who were trying to “suppress his work”. I’d seen all of the reviews to the manuscript and there was nothing in them other than perfectly reasonable critiques of the work and how it was presented.

      Eye of the beholder, and all that?

  3. The mistakes in the retracted Nature paper may be honest, but also appear to be quite careless, e.g., the assumption that 100% of Earth’s land surface is forest to begin with. It does beg the question of how it got past the editors and reviewers at Nature to begin with.

    • I’ve been astonished at the uncritical stories about this work in Science, Nature, Newscientist, and elsewhere. It was based on a biased, self-selected sampling scheme, but then extrapolated to scientific peer review in general. Their email and social media solicitations announced that they were conducting a “research study to better understand the impacts of receiving unprofessional peer reviews in STEM fields…” (SI-2) So rather than a neutral solicitation about peer review experiences which included questions on unprofessional peer review in the survey, it was clear to potential respondents what the authors were looking for. So there was a bias for positive survey results from the outset. They give this a brief nod with a statement about limitations that “there also may have been non-response bias for individuals who did not experience negative comments during peer review…” but it’s buried among other sweeping statements

      The authors concluded that “our study shows that unprofessional peer reviews are pervasive and that they disproportionately harm underrepresented groups in STEM.” A more appropriate conclusion would have been that they found several hundred people who reported unprofessional peer reviews and within their self-selected respondents, underrepresented groups in STEM reported disproportionate harm. There’s no basis for extrapolating beyond their sample.

      Still, just because this study on biases in science publishing was itself biased, it doesn’t mean it should be dismissed. Reviewers that give excessively critical comments, base comments on the people doing the work rather than the work itself, provide self-serving or non-evidence based criticisms should, in my view, be called out.

  4. EDIT: just deleted a comment of mine from a few hours ago on a trivial matter (# of clicks on certain links in today’s post), because it was based on a misreading of our stats page. My bad.

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