Here’s the draft introduction to my book about ecology. Please tear it apart. (UPDATED)

If you’re a very avid reader of this blog, you need to get a life will know that I’m writing a book about ecology. It’s for University of Chicago Press. The working title is “Ecology At Work”, though that’s only one of several candidate titles. Other candidate titles include “Ecology Master Class”, “Re-engineering Ecology”, and the joke titles that I and others tweeted recently.

Anyway, I’m very excited by this new challenge I’ve set myself, and also very nervous that I can pull it off. Which is where you come in. Below the fold is a draft introduction to my book. Please tear it apart.

Ok, don’t just tear it apart; any and all feedback is most welcome. But critical feedback and suggestions for improvement are particularly welcome. If you think the style sucks, or that the book sounds boring, or whatever, you are not doing me any favors unless you tell me that!

Feel free as well to ask me questions about the book, suggest things I should read, etc.

I’ll of course be getting feedback from more traditional sources as well. But every little helps.

Since many readers prefer not to comment, at the end there’s a little poll for you to tell me what you thought.

UPDATE: The comments have already given me some good feedback: it’s not as clear as it should be up front what the book is about and who the target audience is. And for some readers it’s still not totally clear even by the end. So: the book will comprise comparative case studies of what works and what doesn’t in ecological research. It’s not an introductory ecology textbook, it’s not a methods handbook, and it’s not an “ecology grad student skills” manual like How To Do Ecology. If you think of it as “kind of like A Critique For Ecology, but with lots of positive bits to go along with the critical bits and without a single narrow prescription for how to do ecology properly”, you won’t be too far off. The target audience is ecologists and ecology grad students interested in fundamental research.

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Axios Review is working. And now it’s a non-profit. You should try it.

As regular readers will know, I’m on the board of Axios Review, an independent editorial board in ecology and evolution (see old posts here and here). It’s a service that authors can use to get their papers rigorously pre-reviewed by expert reviewers chosen an independent editor, before being referred to a journal of the author’s choice. Quoting from an old post of mine:

Authors get back peer reviews, just like with a journal, along with an editorial decision as to which journals (from an author-supplied list of “targets”) the editor would recommend the ms to (following appropriate revision, if needed). Axios then forwards the ms, reviews, and recommendation to the target journal, asking them if they’d like the paper to be revised and submitted…

Axios Review has benefits for both authors and journals. For authors, the reviews improve the ms, and the referral process prevents you from wasting time by targeting a journal that’s too selective or a bad fit, saving you from unnecessary rejection and resubmission. It also prevents you from losing audience and impact by aiming too low. Journals get pre-reviewed mss that are very likely to meet their standards.

I’m posting on Axios Review again for two reasons. First, Axios Review founder Tim Vines recently updated the board on how the service is working, and on some important changes to the service. I think that information will be of interest to many of you as potential users of Axios Review, so I wanted to pass it along. Second, I used the service myself recently and wanted to share my experience.

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Dear journals: please list some keywords for your editors

When submitting a paper to a journal, you ordinarily want to suggest one or two editors who would be well-qualified to handle the paper. Many journals require you to do this. This makes it much easier for the EiC to assign your paper to the most appropriate editor.

Journals can help authors do this by listing some keywords for their editors. Or even better, organizing the editors into broad subject areas. For instance, here’s BMC Ecology’s nicely-categorized list of editors. This is SO helpful! As someone who does not have a mental Rolodex of every single ecologist and evolutionary biologist in the world, I cannot always just glance at an alphabetical list of approximately eleventy-thousand editors and instantly recognize an appropriate name. I mean, yes, I always do know the names of some people whom I think would be good candidates to handle my paper. But in the fairly-likely event that none of those people happen to be on your board, I need a fallback. And it is not feasible to google all eleventy-thousand editors, or to click links to eleventy-thousand personal websites.

Less commonly, there’s such a thing as too much information. I’m looking at you, Journal of Ecology. Your editorial board is excellent. But the only reason the online list of editors exists is so authors can quickly skim it to identify promising candidates to handle their papers. So I’m sorry, but a whole paragraph on every editor’s research is too much information to easily skim. Well, except for the various J Ecol editors for whom there’s no information at all…

In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a big deal. But it’s not a big deal to fix either. So Brian, remember when you asked what you can do as EiC to encourage authors to submit to your journal? Here’s a suggestion: add some keywords to your list of editors. 🙂

Fun ways of deciding authorship order

Last spring, I did a poll related to authorship order in ecology. I’ve written up a couple of posts presenting the results of that poll (part 1, part 2), and plan on writing more. But, for now, I want to focus on some . . . less standard ways of deciding authorship for ecology and evolutionary biology papers.*

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A book is everything a tweet is not (but please tweet about my book)

Note from Jeremy: This is a guest post from Mark Vellend.



I was not at the ESA meeting this year, but a handful of advance copies of my book, The Theory of Ecological Communities, were, and Margaret Kosmala was kind enough to send me a photo of the first buyers.  I’d like to be able to play it cool and say this was just another ho-hum moment in the life of a scientist, but it wasn’t.  I stared at the photo for a good while with a huge smile on my face.  Maybe that was just because smiling is contagious and it was instinctual to smile back at the two people smiling at me through the screen.  But there was also a sense of deep gratification.  Following in the footsteps of some of my scientific heroes, my name was on the cover of a green and yellow book, the book was now born, and at least two people other than my Mom and Dad were willing to pay money for it.  Success!

Writing a book is a teeny bit like having a child, but also not like it at all.  The similarities: long gestation period, intense anticipation for its arrival, major investment in its success, worry about its uncertain future, and sometimes wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into.  The differences: I (gender: male) actually did most of the work this time getting it to parturition, books are decidedly precocial (no diapers, bottles, tantrums, lunch boxes, or swimming lessons), I’m not sure anything I do now will influence its future, and although one might say the journey was difficult at times (f*$%ing index!), it’s not even in the same universe…I’ll just stop there instead of pretending that words can do justice to the difference on this point (just received stink eye from across the room).  I guess I’m just trying to say that there’s a bit of emotion involved.

This post is the last (I think) in a short series based on thoughts that grew out of the process of writing the book.  The others (here, here, and here) focused largely on scientific issues that flowed directly out of the contents of the book.  In addition to the little story and handful of thoughts above, I figured I’d now step back from the content of the book, and share some thoughts on writing books in general.  (Pretty thin cover story for shamelessly advertising a just-released book now available from, I know.)  Before diving into this project, I had a short-lived but intense bout of wondering why anyone would write a really long document that people need to pay for in an age when nobody reads anything they can’t download for free.  Now I can think of several reasons:

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What factors influence views on last authorship in ecology?

As summarized in my post giving the major results of our authorship survey, there seems to have been a rapid shift in views on last authorship in ecology. When I started grad school, the predominant view was that the last author was the person who had done the least work. (Indeed, I am last author on a paper from when I was a grad student because I did the least work on the project.) But the survey found that 43% answered a solid “Yes” to the question “For ecology papers, do you consider the last author to be the senior author?” An additional 43% answered either “It depends, but probably yes” or “Not sure, but probably yes”. Thus, 86% of respondents view the last author as the senior author.

As far as I know, we don’t have great data across time regarding views on this. The best comparison I know of is to a smaller survey done in 2010 by Ethan White. (I based the first draft of my survey on Ethan’s.) In that, only 19% of respondents answered “Yes” to the same question, with an additional 33% answering “Not sure, but probably yes”. (That earlier survey didn’t have the “It depends, but probably yes” option. That was added in based on feedback on the initial survey I drafted.) So, while it would be nice to have more data on this, it seems that views on last authorship in ecology have probably shifted pretty rapidly.

The goal of this post is to explore whether there are factors that are associated with views on last authorship.

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Last and corresponding authorship practices in ecology: Part 1

Who is the last author on a paper? Is it the person who did the least work? Or is it the PI of the lab where the work was done? When I started grad school in 2000, the norm in ecology was still that the last author on a paper was the person who did the least work. But, more recently, it has seemed to me that the norm is that the last author on a paper is the “senior” author (usually the PI). However, if you talk with other ecologists about the topic, it’s clear that there’s variation in views, and that not everyone is on the same page.

Similarly, my impression is that there’s been a shift in how corresponding authorship is viewed. When I was a grad student, the corresponding author was usually the first author, and mostly just indicated who had submitted the manuscript. But there’s been a shift to having the last author be the corresponding author. I am not alone in noticing this shift and in thinking that now corresponding authorship is used to claim leadership for the work.

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Impact factors are means and therefore very noisy

Last week the 2015 ISI Impact Factors were announced. Hopefully this was not a date circled on your calendar. But if you were on a editorial board you could not escape a quick announcement of your journal’s new impact factor, whether it gained or lost in rank relative to other journals, and cheers and (email) back-slaps all around or solemn faces and vows to do better. And in my experience authors will now switch allegiance in which journals they submit to so as to follow those ranked highest in impact factor. Is this justified?

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