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Lab Times

1-2015

page

11

Opinion

Observations of the Owl (52)

Dear Customers

R

enaldo was here again!

Years ago, I introduced you

to Renaldo, the very best of

my veeery few human friends (

LT

6/2010: 16). Do you remember?

Exactly! That particular mouse ge-

neticist who regularly comes by

with some of his muscle-develop-

ment mutants in his bag.

Yesterday evening, Renaldo

served me his absolute “master-

pieces” to date. His freshest mu-

tants had definitely the most tender muscle meat I have ever de-

voured. I went completely gaga over the five specimens and, in

my ecstatic delight, almost gorged myself on them. The only sen-

tence my drivelling beak could utter after quite a while was:

“Mmm, I’m sure they’ll bring you a major publication.”

This thoughtless remark, however, immediately pressed one

of his buttons. “I’ll tell you about ruddy publications,” he down-

right spat out. “Okay, tell me,” I brainlessly replied, while my beak

was already aiming at the left-back hamstring of the fifth mouse.

“Right.” He took a deep breath. “Well, a couple of months ago

I received an invitation from a certain physiology journal to write

a comprehensive review about mammalian muscle development

for them. I wasn’t exactly excited about it but, nevertheless, I

agreed. So I emerged myself in this project... and, to my own sur-

prise, I finally came out with the best piece I have ever written,

at least in my own opinion. So, I happily sent the

manuscript to the editors at

Elsewhere

.”

“Mmm... Wot?…Who?” I mumbled.

Elsewhere

– the publishing company.”

“Ah, okay.” Meanwhile, my focus had turned to

the extremely soft and succulent neck muscles...

Renaldo continued. “Altogether they demanded two rounds

of revision – no problem, that’s just how it goes. But before hav-

ing finished the second round, the

Elsewhere

editors, completely

out of the blue, published the manuscript ‘online before print’ on

the journal’s webpage. Without any prior information.”

“Okay, and that was a problem?”

“Problem? It was a disaster! The reviewers, fortunately, had

noted two bigger mistakes – and I still hadn’t corrected them ap-

propriately when the ‘preliminary’ version suddenly appeared on-

line. With the mistakes still included, of course.”

“So they finally had to replace the online paper with a cor-

rected version, I assume,” I said while licking off my beak.

“Guess what! They refused to,” Renaldo almost screamed.

“They didn’t even add a correcting note. Nothing! And it got even

worse: From that day, the editors simply ignored all my requests

and protests and, in the end, also published the faulty version

in

print

. Again no correcting note – nothing!”

“Phew, hard stuff,” I responded, now finally focussed on his

story. “Can it be that those

Elsewhere

blockheads are a bit too pea-

cockish to tell the truth and admit having made a mistake?”

“Yes, it certainly seems so and this is the real scandal,” Renal-

do replied. “By signing the paper as responsible author

I

put my

reputation on the line. Therefore, it is essential to tell the truth

and clear my reputation – particularly, in the light that

they

made

the final mistake. But they just refused to do so. You cannot treat

an author this way! After all,

I

gave them the

privilege

of publish-

ing an exceptional review... This is so disappointing, it’s a night-

mare...”

“Well I guess this wouldn’t have happened in bird science,” I

asserted. “You know, in our world the publishing world follows a

completely different principle: instead of submitting your paper

to just one journal, you sort of auction it to the highest bidder.”

Renaldo’s face promptly turned from anger to perplexity,

“What d’you mean?”

“In a nutshell, it works like this: The authors send a short out-

line of their results to a whole number of appropriate journals, in

order to screen who might indeed be willing to publish the whole

story. After that, the editors have to express their interest and

convince the authors why their journal would be the best choice

for the final publication – meaning they really have to bid for the

paper. The authors then select their two or three favourites and

send them the complete manuscript. And if the editors still say,

‘Yes, we would consider it our privilege to publish your paper’ –

the authors finally decide, which journal they actually wish to

grant that privilege.”

“Sounds fantastic. But what about peer review?”

“Only some of our journals subject the manuscripts to an ad-

ditional round of pre-publication review – not with the aim of

judging over their acceptance but rather to suggest further im-

provements. The majority of our journals, on the

other hand, just publish the authors’ final versions

and offer the possibility for every

birdy

to comment

on the papers after publication. This is basically

what you now call post-publication peer review.”

“And it works this way?” Renaldo was still not convinced.

“Dear friend,” I replied. “Just imagine you have a really su-

perb discovery to sell. In that case, all journals would be bend-

ing over backwards to publish your paper. And whom would you

finally grant the favour? Exactly, the journal that provides you

with the very best service.

“I can tell you, this way the journals are certainly much more

aware that actually

they

are the service providers and

we scien-

tists

are their dear customers.

They

have to chase the authors rath-

er than the other way round. And,

by devil, they have to treat them in

the nicestpossible way to convince

them of their service. Otherwise,

they sincerely risk being swept

from the market.”

Stunned silence followed for a

couple of minutes, until Renaldo

said with a strained smile, “Some-

times, I really wish I were a bird.”

Comments:

owl@labtimes.org

“The journals have to

convince the authors, not

the other way round.”