[Coral-List] Peer review in coral reef science

Ulf Erlingsson ceo at lindorm.com
Thu May 23 12:23:10 EDT 2013

Unfortunately it seems to be true, when there is no economic pressure for efficiency, conflicts arise. I come from a department that once was world leading in its field, but there was no sense of mission any more, and the backstabbing killed it. I once asked the staff members in the coffee room what THEY thought the mission of the department was, and they had no answer. Leadership failure too, I'd say.

Ulf Erlingsson

On 2013-05-23, at 10:44, Griffin, Dale wrote:

> I agree with Mike, a little dose of introspection is always
> helpful.......and controvery drives good science.....it is to bad the
> occasional challenge or insult isn't crafted and thrown as eloquently as
> they are in the House of Commons....those exchanges are fun to watch!
> "Everybody is ignorant, just on different subjects"
>                                           Will Rogers
> Dale W. Griffin, Ph.D., MSPH
> Environmental/Public Health Microbiologist
> United States Geological Survey
> 600 4th Street South
> St. Petersburg, FL 33701
> Office # - 727-803-8747, ext. 3075
> Fax # - 727-803-2031
> Cell # 850-274-3566
> email - dgriffin at usgs.gov
> On Thu, May 23, 2013 at 9:25 AM, Michael Risk <riskmj at mcmaster.ca> wrote:
>> Hello Rebecca.
>> You and John have identified a phenomenon which most of us have
>> experienced. I guess the fundamental question is, are we imagining things,
>> or are reef people genuinely nasty? (One small anecdote: my wife, Jodie
>> Smith,  is a coral isotope chemist with quite a few excellent publications.
>> She gave up doing science 10 years ago, saying "this is a nasty business,
>> full of nasty people. And I'm not sure about YOU." )
>> I personally think this is  real, and there may be historical reasons for
>> it.
>> I am a  biologist by training, PhD USC, although most of my paychecks came
>> from a geology department.  I also have degrees in sedimentology, and
>> could never focus enough to concentrate on either biology or geology.
>> For many years, it was common knowledge that geologists gave far better
>> talks than biologists. Our department even ran a series of seminars in
>> proper presentation. ( The advent of PowerPoint has changed the playing
>> field.)  I think the reason for this goes back to the funding streams for
>> both parent disciplines. Since the days of Darwin, biology has relied
>> largely on philanthropy and government funding. Geology, on the other
>> hand, has had a hard economic focus driven by mining and oil exploration.
>> Say what you will about private enterprise, it fosters good communication
>> skills. If you have 10 minutes to persuade the chief geologist to drill
>> your favourite play,  you had better be able to convince her.
>> I think this mindset has carried over to the present. It is said that
>> academic disputes are so vicious because the stakes are so small. Funding
>> for coral reef research comes largely from government agencies, which means
>> bureaucracy, which means long complicated applications. There is no
>> selection pressure for focus and brevity.  As the benefits spring from
>> perpetuating this system, more and more our fortunes seem to depend on our
>> production, relative to the next person's.  What may set reef science apart
>> here is that, alone among the major funding streams, there is NO economic
>> pressure. All those thousands of coastal villagers in the Third World are
>> not going to take up a collection to fund our research, essential though it
>> may be.
>> There may also be another factor at work, and this may require some
>> introspection. I think the field self-selects for people with big egos, who
>> interpret their "success" as being due to their behaviour, and not in spite
>> of it.
>> In short, there is no hope of changing this.
>> Mike
>> John and coral listers,
>>> Thanks to John for an insightful post about the issues with peer review
>> in our field. This is a topic I often discuss with my students and
>> postdocs. As a former ousider to coral reef work (i am a microbiologist and
>> cell biologist by training) I was shocked by the reviews I and others in my
>> new lab received when we began to submit to reef focused journals. Many
>> were outright rude or personally insulting. There really should be no place
>> for these kinds of comments in our community.
>>> The result of this lack of civility is that we have a reputation among
>> biologist for our nastiness. In an era of reduced funding but increases in
>> collaberative science, we negatively affect our funding opportunities by
>> creating a negative atmosphere surrounding our field. Groups that have come
>> together to tackle big global issues are getting more funding.
>>> It's so bad that many of us young coral reef biologists commonly discuss
>> the lack of civil discourse in our field. We want to know what the root of
>> these harsh and sometimes personal insulting reviews is? And, honestly,
>> because many of us have toes in other fields, we avoid reef focused
>> journals. This is a disservice to the community.
>>> Yes we are a passionate bunch. And yes we care deeply about reefs. But
>> we are also suppose to be scientists who are objective. My sense is that
>> many reviewers forget that one's opinion and/or personal philosophy do not
>> trump good science. We need to judge manuscripts on the overall data, the
>> quality of the scientific procedures, and whether the conclusions are
>> supported by the findings. We must also accept that there are limitations
>> to what scientists can acheive in a given amount of time. There are time
>> constraints, logistical,biological, and legal issues that cause
>> mehodological difficulties, as well as financial limitations inherent in
>> every project.
>>> Peer review makes every published work better for the most part. But we
>> as a community need to do a better job at removing some of the emotion from
>> the process.
>>> -becky
>>> On May 20, 2013, at 8:14 AM, John Bruno <jbruno at unc.edu> wrote:
>>>> Hey coral reefers,
>>>> Ever wonder what other peoples reviews look like?  Want to peek behind
>> the veil of secrecy shrouding peer-review in science?  Come on over to
>> SeaMonster where I just posted typical reviews from our field's top
>> journals:
>> http://theseamonster.net/2013/05/are-unreasonably-harsh-reviewers-retarding-the-pace-of-coral-reef-science/
>>>> Trailer:  "I think the paper is crap"   "There is no there, there"
>>>> Enjoy! And share you experiences here or there.
>>>> JB
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>> Michael Risk
>> riskmj at mcmaster.ca
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