Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Recruiting new scientists

Last Tuesday I got the chance to talk about peatland restoration with a younger audience than the one I usually teach. The bilingual pre-school were my 3 year old son goes had asked me to come and talk about my work, with kids who speak mostly polish, and a bit of English. The challenge was explaining it in a language they could understand. Fen became “a place in nature with a lot of water and a lot of flowers”. I explained how

flowers disappeared from these places when people earlier removed the water to grow food. Today we don´t grow food on all these places, and we want to bring back the flowers. If we want the flowers back, we have to get the water back again. Then we can go to other places were there are flowers and take seeds and spread the seeds.

They really understood it, and seamed interested. I brought a small Herbarium, a Flora book, a 30 m measuring tape for field work, and a pair of wading-boots. The wading boots was an instant hit, and it was fun seeing kids wanting to try boots that were larger than they were, and big enough for them to fit entirely into one leg. The measuring tape that never seamed to end was also to great enjoyment to kids who quickly took the tape and encircled the room. Something clicked, and they will now this spring collect flowers and make a mini herbarium. Children have a natural curiosity, and in the end that is what all science is based on.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

All is well in the universe – almost; or will be – some day.

4 days have passed since I received the in print version of our paper, and with eyes large as dinner plates, and the chin dropped down to the floor tried to grasp the fact that lightning had indeed struck twice. Obviously I was disappointed, but most of all I felt as if all the work that I and others put in was not taken seriously, and that hurt. This blog, who mostly has been a place for me to share my work and ideas with friends at home, got flooded and it hasn´t stopped.

I do want to say this. I am very grateful for that everybody from the Journal Manager Ms Shanmugam, the handling editor, the chief editor Professor Primack, Dr Broerse at the Publishing department, and senior vice president of Elsevier Journal Publishing Mr Terheggen have expressed understanding, apologized, and taken quick actions to correct this.

I understand that the entire Issue has been put on hold, and this illustrates clearly how seriously you take this incident, which I think speaks well of you.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Elsevier added value. The story of how a figure from a paper by other scientists ended up in our paper

What I will show you in this post is hopefully the worst example of scientific editing by a publisher that you will ever see. As scientists we spend endless times in the field. As peatland scientists this involves hard sweaty work in terrain with no shade and lot of mosquitoes. When we have the data we spend a long time analyzing it and writing a manuscript. We choose a journal that we see fit for the study. Other scientists volunteer their time as reviewers. Then the paper, if accepted, goes over to the publisher who in this case is Elsevier. Elsevier has recently been criticized by a big boycott campaign for charging high prices fore their journals, but one of the arguments made by Elsevier has been the “added value” they bring to a manuscript. Many times this “added value” is indeed real. The layout is nice, typos are identified. Sometimes however, you end up with something so messed up that you first lack words to describe it. “I am shocked” and “One of the worst mistakes I have ever seen” are so far comments I have heard from distinguished colleagues in the field with decades of experience.

Directly when our paper was made available online at Science Direct I realized that something was very wrong with figure 3d. The error bar was hanging separated from the data point in one place, and was on the wrong year in the other series of the same graph. I directly contacted Elsevier and the Journal Manager got involved. She send me 2 versions and asked me which one was correct. I pointed out the one that she took from our raw manuscript. Phew problem solved you would think. You can see the wrong figure below, followed by the correct figure below it.

Wrong figure 3 d

Correct figure 3d

Yesterday the article went in print, and the wrong graph was switched to the correct one (bravo), but……..our figure 2 of the experimental layout had been switched to a completely wrong figure of a completely different paper about wildlife-friendly vs. wildlife-unfriendly farming. The correct figure is listed below, followed by the (for the context) horrendous figure that Elsevier put in.

Correct figure 2

Wrong figure 2 (can you spot the difference?)

Perhaps I am being to harsh here. I mean, at least the figure text below is still the same (although it now has no connection to the figure).

I have no words for how this could have happened, except perhaps intentional sabotage. Other options are blatant incompetence. It sure adds something to the paper, but what it adds has no value. Who are the people working at the production team? Have they any idea about scientific editing at all. Do they know anything about separating files from different projects? Has the entire work been outsourced so far that Elsevier has really no control anymore, or is this their level of competence in editing?

How this could have happened, I simply do not know. I just know that it absolutely raises the question what the “added value” Elsevier brings really is, if they are unable to identify such an obvious mistake before sending it out for print.

I will present this study on the Intecol 9th International Wetland Conference in Orlando, U.S.A. in June, and it will also be referred to during SER 2012: 8th European Conference on Ecological Restoration in Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic in September. I can only hope that this mother-and-father of editing mistakes has been fixed by then. We will of course demand a correction. Should it not have been fixed, well perhaps we can only apologize and refer to the mistake as “Elsevier added value”.

I also here would like to apologize to the people who Elsevier took this figure from and put it into our paper and send it out for print. We had nothing to do with this as you certainly already knew. I only hope you did not receive our figure in your paper, but considering what has happened so far, it wouldn´t come as a shock anymore.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Has the once roaring Elsevier boycott vehicle lost its engine?

The academic publisher Elsevier recently announced that they will remove their support for the controversial Research and Work Act in the U.S. and they will keep the price of their Math journals low. When the protest started the support for RWA, SOPA and the high prices of journals were some of the arguments mentioned at the protests homepage, were a mix of high ranking scientist, former scientists, undergraduate students and others signed to not publish, review or do editorial work for Elsevier. There is a real problem with the current publishing model, and the opposition to Open Access There is no question about that. Exactly why Elsevier is picked out when journals from Wiley and Springer fall in the category ludicrously expensive to is something I am not sure of, and among the worst arguments I have heard is that Elsevier is Dutch so the profits go to the Netherlands. Come on, this is not “I drive GM, because I am an American” we are talking about I hope. If that was the reason then Springer Verlag would be in trouble as well. Still the reaction against publishers overly high prices and opposition of Open Access is good, and picking a major player is good to, as long as you don´t pretend that many of the other publishers are different. So far the promise from Elsevier has been to stretch out a hand to the Mathematician, which is probably because this has mostly been a Mathematician, Computer science, Physics thing. Perhaps most biologists have the memory of Oikos, once run by scientists, and then handed over to Wiley, to fresh in memory for signing up.

I have tracked the protest for the last 36 days, and it does appear as the Boycott-Elsevier roadster has lost its momentum. If one would pick the closest logarithmic equation

R² = 0.949

and predict the future (quite risky based on this little data), then we should not expect the number of signatures to double from today’s number (7798) until 23: rd of August 2019. The black symbol in the figure below is today date (2012-03-04).

As I said, this is based on limited number of observations, and the forward prediction here is more as a fun tool. The protest may do much better or much worse.

It will be interesting to see how this develops. Pressure on publishers who charge overly high prices for journals and oppose Open Access is good. If some of the less thought through arguments are disregarded, this protest was well founded, and reached an important milestone when Elsevier met the protesters, by abandoning its support for RWA, and vowed to keep prices on Math journals low. This is unlikely to stop a protest of more than 7000 signees, which although it was started by Field Medalist Timothy Gowers, today is really led by nobody.