Archive for August, 2009

More on Abstracts

Monday, August 24th, 2009

In an August 14, 2009 review in Science (Volume 325, pp. 828-832), Allen H. Renear and Carole L. Palmer predict, “reading practices [of scientists] will become even more rapid and indirect, transforming the ways in which scientists engage the literature and shaping the evolution of scientific publishing.” They describe how newer tools – search engines, relevance rankings, etc. – allow scientists to read more at a faster pace.

In an earlier blog posting, I noted the growing importance of grabbing readers with a good abstract. The Science review confirms this. Yet, I still find abstracts wasting as many as their first eight (!) sentences on an introduction. By that time, the digital reader is long gone, see ya’ later!

I’ve been trying to catch these flaws at the “tentative accept” level. The message once again is: Get right to the point.

Defaulting Reviewers

Monday, August 17th, 2009

Why, oh why, do people agree to review a paper then not do so? It’s not like we grab them in a headlock until they agree! We just had another author inconvenienced because an inconsiderate reviewer disappeared off the radar. Yeah, we’ll find another, but we would have liked to have done so two months ago.

We realize sometimes you’re busy. There is no shame in declining to review a paper; we’re not even concerned about the reason. “Thanks, I but can’t do it now. Try again some other time” works just fine. Even if you look at a paper and then feel you’re not really qualified, or you need some more time, a quick note to Susan or the Associate Editor will get you off the hook with a thanks for your courtesy.

Manuscript Central has a long memory. There are two ways to be sure you’re not asked to review papers. The honorable one is to simply ask us to mark you as unavailable. The other one is a blot on your record.

Woodstock and Adaptive Managment

Monday, August 17th, 2009

The Woodstock Festival marks its 40th anniversary this week. The Age of Aquarius might have broken the stifling conformity of the post-WWII years, but it did less well for science. One really can’t blame flower children for wondering if the science which brought us agent orange, kill ratios, and The Bomb really was going to make the world a better place. But many of my generation developed a deep distrust and misunderstanding of science and the whole scientific process. We scientists and engineers have had to work long and hard to regain a small measure of the public trust.

This thought brings me to the AWRA 2009 Summer Specialty Conference on Adaptive Management. Adaptive Management recognizes that, though we may need some elements of a project now, we may know more about costs and impacts later. A more flexible, staged design and management process can better adapt to changing conditions and even changing values. The more successful examples presented at the conference (and in some forthcoming JAWRA manuscripts) seem to a good job of involving parties with a wide variety of viewpoints. A successful dialog respects all ideas, even “unscientific” ones, but holds all to the same standards of observation and testing, resulting in a higher degree of trust and commitment to the success of a project. It was refreshing to see these efforts at finding a way around our current gridlock and partisanship.

Odds of Acceptance

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

All 2008 manuscripts are in late stages of review, so we are able to estimate some statistics of interest to potential authors:
43% of manuscripts were accepted;
16% were rejected after review, or were withdrawn; and
41% were returned without review.

Time-to-first-decision for reviewed manuscripts (i.e. excluding those returned without review) was a median 84 days, with 92% decided within 120 days. I’ve adopted the practice of notifying authors when their reviews extend beyond 120 days — quality always trumps schedule.

These are pretty good production statistics, as good, I believe, as any volunteer system can do. The real heroes are our Associate Editors. Volunteers all, they assign and track reviewers, keeping manuscripts moving. If your paper now gets published faster, thank an Associate Editor!

Do invited papers get a “free ride?”

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Do invited papers get a “free ride?” This one’s easy to answer: “No!” All JAWRA papers, invited or otherwise, must meet the same high quality standards.

Invited papers (e.g., those for featured collections) have some advantages in our initial screening, where an Associate Editor and I decide whether a paper is suitable to go to review. For example, an invited topic clearly is of interest. Also, invited authors have a reputation of producing quality work and are thus more likely to produce a suitable submittal. It’s not a given, however. We’ve had to return without review some invited submissions where, let’s just say, authors seem to have put their word processors on “cruise control.”

In planning a featured collection, one of the most important responsibilities of the Guest Associate Editor is forming a good reviewer pool. Our regular reviewers are available, but a large collection on one topic may strain the resources. Regardless of how they are selected, we expect all reviewers to provide a rigorous and fair review. I work closely with the Guest Associate Editors to ensure they are exemplary in choosing reviewers and evaluating their work. We might stick with a critical paper for an extra round of review, but there’s no “free ride” here! Let me emphasize: If a paper doesn’t meet our standards, it doesn’t get into JAWRA.

Finally all invited papers are subject to the same page charges. Sometimes a featured collection’s organizer arranges for payment, but that’s between the authors and the organizer. We also try to make sure invited authors from developing nations are aware of the rules for page-charge relief.

2009 Boggess Award

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

The William R. Boggess Award is given to the author or authors of the paper, published in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association during the preceding year, that best describes, delineates, or analyzes a major problem or aspect of water resources from either a theoretical, applied, or philosophical standpoint. Established in 1973, the Award honors William R. “Randy” Boggess, a member of AWRA, one of the first Directors, and a former President of the Association, who has also made significant contributions to AWRA as an Editor of JAWRA.

I am pleased to report the winner of the 2009 Boggess Award, chosen from among the 2008 JAWRA papers is:

D. Garrick, K. Jacobs, and G. Garfin: Models, assumptions, and stakeholders: Planning for water-supply variability in the Colorado River Basin, April 2008, 381-398.

The abstract may be viewed at: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119414237/abstract .

The award will be presented at the luncheon of the AWRA 2009 Annual Conference, this November in Seattle. Congratulations to all the authors!

Disclosing Funding Sources

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

The New York Times today published an article, “Medical Papers by Ghostwriters Pushed Therapy.” The article describes how reputable medical journals unknowingly published papers by ghostwriters working for drug companies. The papers in question typically involved review articles, and not surprisingly favored the products of the sponsoring companies. Though the doctors listed as authors claim to have reviewed and approved the papers, the practice naturally raises the question of objectivity.

Fortunately (or not!), research in the water field is not afflicted by the big bucks involved in medical research. I’m pretty confident our authors write their own papers. Nevertheless, it brings up some good questions about authorship practices and objectivity

JAWRA guidelines state, “Authors must disclose any interests or affiliations that could be perceived as influencing the objectivity of their writings.” Some disclosure comes in the agency affiliations listed in the author footnote. Other disclosures become clear in the context of the paper, e.g. in describing the purpose of the study. The Acknowledgements section is where more serious disclosure issues should be presented.

I like to see papers that take on the tough questions, papers where there may not be a consensus. Contentious issues sometimes involve parties willing to spend so their viewpoint prevails. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this; it costs money to collect data and learn the facts. Nevertheless, funding sources can create a perception of bias. Our standard is one of disclosure: Tell our readers and reviewers who funded your study, and let them judge for themselves based on your presentation and your reputation.

I’m not saying every paper should disclose all its funding. That’s probably overkill. However, authors need to look at their funding from the perception of readers seeking the truth. A little disclosure upfront may be preferable to an extensive explanation later.