Thursday, April 24, 2008

This Just In

If you happened to check your email moments before a conference session was about to begin and saw that the reviews had just arrived for a manuscript, and your co-author on that manuscript was about to give a talk on the research that is described in that manuscript, would you tell him/her that the reviews had just arrived? Would your decision depend on whether the manuscript had been accepted or rejected and/or on your co-author's pre-talk state of mind?

For example, one might imagine that saying "Hey, our paper was just accepted by The Journal of Awesomely Important Science" might be a bit of a morale boost just before a talk, whereas "Oh, too bad, our paper was rejected owing to some fatal flaws in the data and interpretations, but good luck with the talk anyway" might be a bit undermining.

Most reviews and editorial decisions are more complex; e.g. the manuscript is possibly acceptable pending revision of this and that (and that and that and that). It might be interesting for a speaker to know what flew and what didn't prior to speaking about the work, but perhaps not immediately before speaking about the work. One might imagine that being told "You know that graph you're going to show at the end of the talk? Don't.." could be a bit stressful for a speaker, even if the advice is kind of useful.

And then there's another possible scenario for this situation, which is not, by the way, hypothetical, but another True Life Academic Tale: the co-author announces that the reviews just came, but doesn't provide any more details.

8 comments:

Jonah said...

It doesn't seem to me that pre-talk 'stress' should have any bearing on the situation. If it is absolutely clear that the data is somehow faulty, it discredits the speaker to present it. And at any rate, by the point they're speaking at conferences, a last-minute modification to a presentation is likely much less stressful than a gang of confused scientists breathing down your neck with mind-piercing questions.

Anonymous said...

I was at a conference in March, giving my first invited talk. Reviews from a paper came in the day before the talk. Because I'm still so young and immature and all, I can sink into a foul mood lasting for, say, days after a rejection. I debated for hours over whether to open it. Also because I'm so young and all, I know that my mood and confidence level can greatly impact my ability to give a talk.

I realized over those hours that my mood was sinking anyway - cynicism at its worst. I opened the email; sure enough, rejection, and comments that both misunderstood and trivialized the work.

I gave a good talk anyway. Maybe I'm growing.

Anonymous said...

"Because I'm still so young and immature and all, I can sink into a foul mood lasting for, say, days after a rejection."

I am not young (though perhaps the jury is out on immature) and I still sink into a foul mood for longer than days after a rejection. I think the ability to bounce back is one of the halmarks of a successful scientist. The one's who look at the rejection and say "oops, that was bad, what can we do about it?" "that reviewer is off-base, how do I communicate that to him?"

I'm guessing speaker co-worker who announced reviews, with no further info is a man. :-)

Andrea said...

I had submitted my thesis research to Science (and it was pretty much everything I did for my PhD), about 2 months before my scheduled defense date. The day before my defense, I got the reviews back. Not surprisingly, they were less than positive.

So, then I had to stand up and defend my PhD thesis work, which a panel of Science reviewers had decided was not a significant advancement. It would definitely had been better to get the reviews back the day after my defense.

Yes, I was young. And yes, eventually I learned that it is extremely difficult to get in there. But that didn't really change the effect of the reviews. Especially with my less-than-supportive thesis advisor saying that they were right...

But, I have to agree with the general tone - unless the reviews have (correctly) pointed out some major flaw in the data taking or interpretation of the data, then I just wouldn't tell him. If the reviews were positive, I would definitely tell him.

Laura said...

I've enjoyed the columns on reviewing journal articles- probably because I'm fairly new to reviewing.

I wondered if others had heard about The American Physical Society's decision to recognize 130 "Outstanding Referees" each year with a lapel pin and a certificate. (534 reviewers were rewarded this year.) I don't know- it's nice to be honoured but a lapel pin for hours of work seems a bit odd.

http://publish.aps.org/OutstandingReferees

Ms.PhD said...

Maybe I'm just in a cynical, foul mood today, but this discussion is depressing me.

Personally I would want to know before I stuck my foot in my mouth, since inevitably what happens is that you take some data out of the paper but people remember vaguely that you presented it at a meeting. Worst case scenario will reject your paper elsewhere based on this vague feeling that they can't trust your data or don't believe your conclusions, without realizing it's because they should have just asked "hey, whatever happened to that graph?" Since there's usually a scientific explanation for these things, but the way we write papers is too formal to accommodate, you know, actual discourse on a topic and how you actually arrived at the final conclusions.

Anon 7:40, you give me hope that I'm not alone and that we might all grow out of it eventually.

Anon 9:21 gives us something to strive for. I would like to be bounce-backier, and faster about it. But you might want to review how to use apostrophes.

Andrea, your story makes me want to cry. You're so lucky to even have had your work REVIEWED at Science. I hope you know that now.

I hope your advisor got a clue.

And I hope that you can someday look back on this story and laugh. Right now all I can do is sympathize. =(

EliRabett said...

And to the idiotic referees, some who may be in the audience, allow me to point out exactly how clueless you are . . . .

vodalus said...

Man, I hate lapel pins. I'm a 23 year old woman--I wear something with lapels maybe twice a year! Those things are just junk for me.

FSP, one of the things that I really enjoy about your blog is the ability you have to reframe annoying or detrimental events into a tongue-in-cheek commentary on The Way of The Scientist.