On scientific publication
I have been working on some publications, you know those results-based things that scientists write, submit, are peer-reviewed and with a bit of luck get published in a fantastic journal and then with not as much luck just a journal. As Stephen Curry pointed out a few weeks ago there is sort of a love-hate relationship with publishing in general and high impact publishing specifically.
I have a love-hate relationship with ‘high impact publishing’ – or A* or 4* or whatever it is called. On one level good science should go where it is most likely to be read and will have the highest impact, which in my research area (fortunately) is a fairly broad range of journals. On another level it does feel really good to get one of your papers in something that is considered high impact in your field. It sometimes (but not always) leads to higher readership. I think we are all secret divas, scientists, we do want people to read our papers so in a sense high impact publishing makes you feel like: ‘Yes the lights are on and my public has arrived!”
I am writing a few papers all at the same time, they are in various stages and I have various responsibilities for them. I am supreme corresponding author in one case, joint corresponding author in another and 3rd spear carrier in yet another. This is all good stuff, but one of the problems is that I don’t just sit and diligently work on one draft at a time (it almost makes me miss the days of being a PhD student). In fact I do other things and then sit down at my desk and start to pick up the plot again. Its a bit like leaving War and Peace for a few months – you forget who all of the characters are, with their various names and nicknames. While you may retain the gist of the plot that is pretty much it and you have to spend hours in the Glossary figuring out who is who. Or at least I do.
So I was struggling this week thinking; What was I doing? How did I do this analysis? and such like until I remembered… George Whitesides’ paper! George Whitsides’ essay entitled:
Whitesides’ Group: Writing a Paper
Its in the journal Advanced Materials (Wiley-VCH) – and is downloadable to anyone as a .pdf.
George Whitesides is a chemist at Harvard and has done oodles of chemistry and contributed much to the field but this paper on papers in itself is precious. It seems like something you’d think is pretty basic, and in many ways it is, you might even think to yourself – come on I know how to write a paper, I have written papers! Even though its tennants are simple, sometimes the simplest things are worth remembering. And for me it is helpful to stop a minute and think – wait, stop! Why am I writing this?