Digging into the hole

I want to share this story, this has just reached a crazy level of absurdity. Long story short: the name of a colleague of mine was forgotten on a paper, and it took more than a year to realize it. When he did so, my colleague wanted to correct that mistake. It was not a shift-of-paradigm kind of paper, but we academics like to keep the record straight, don’t we? It turned out to be an interesting experience. Oh, by the way, this is a journal published by Elsevier. Just saying.

It is quite unusual (or at least I hope so) to forget authors name on a paper, but here it was a genuine mistake. The corresponding author provided the following explanations:

In short words, a first draft of the paper was made about 3 years ago with all 6 names as authors. The original paper was never published and forgotten for more than one year. A brand new one was written from the initiative of the first author with the help of the other 3 published names. Although the authors to be included (XX and YY) did not take part of the final organisation and writing of the published paper, they made a significant contribution respectively to the execution and discussion of the reported study in its very first version.

As all the authors agreed to correct the record, the corresponding author of the published paper contacted the editor in chief of the journal, and his request was denied by both the editor in chief and the journal manager (some kind of admin people at Elsevier)(this involved several email exchanges). Adding authors to a published paper as a Corrigendum is an unusual procedure but it is well described in Elsevier’s publication policy (emphasis is mine):

Corrigendum refers to changes the author wants to introduce post-acceptance, at any time thereafter, during the publication processes or post-publication.”

After the accepted manuscript has been published in an online issue: Any requests to add, delete or rearrange author names in an article published in an online issue will follow the same policies as noted above and may result in a corrigendum.”

“May”, mark that word.  Appending new names to an author’s list is definitely not common, but not unaware of either. If there seem to be no legitimate reason for it, or if the reason sounds dodgy, I could understand the editor in chief to deny this request. But here there is apparently a legitimate reason and all authors agreed. Nevertheless, the editor just declined to do it. With no further reason, even when pressed to provide one.

So much about serving the research community. Here is the final email my colleague send to the journal manager and the editor in chief, FYI.

Dear XX,

I do appreciate you taking the time to reply. However, I must say that you did not supply an acceptable explanation.

The point you make is quite clearly that you claim to have the right to decide whether or not you will publish the corrigendum. Which, for the moment, let’s say you actually do. The point I will try to make is that you have no discernible reason to support your decision.

A mistake was made, the people who made it assumed it and took the necessary measures to make it right. You, however, chose to ignore them and reiterate the error. In doing so, you are actively denying me of what is my right as an legitimate author to be recognized as such. For what reason? Is it honestly just because you may? And even if you think you do, do you not recognize the difference in having the right to do something, and being right in doing so?

I thought your organization was founded on an relationship of mutual trust and respect between the authors and the publisher. I think you are not respecting this agreement. In fact, by denying the express wishes and unanimous accord of the authors that trusted you with their work for publication, you are very much doing the exact opposite: You are taking it upon yourself to decide who is recognized in the works that you publish. Does this seem reasonable to you? Which brings me to your interpretation of the journal’s Ethics.

“After the accepted manuscript has been published in an online issue: Any requests to add, delete or rearrange author names in an article published in an online issue will follow the same policies as noted above and may result in a corrigendum.”

You claim this grants you the right to decide who gets authorial recognition for the work this journal publishes, even if your opinion is contrary to those who in deed executed the work. I assume you take the word may to mean something like possibly. I refer you to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary definition of the word may: “shall, must —used in law where the sense, purpose, or policy requires this interpretation”. I will let you verify for yourself that the alternative definitions will not contradict the one here cited.

In conclusion, I take your actions to be frankly unacceptable. I lack the capacity to understand what you claim to be an explanation. I could have never imagined that one day I would have the Journal Manager of a scientific publication deciding who are the legitimately recognized authors of the work they publish. And I cannot get myself to understand: why on earth would you refuse the corrigendum? What have you to lose? Are the consequences you are trying to avoid really worse than correcting an error that nobody would never even claim you responsible for? It baffles me.

In the future, I will make sure to voice my extreme disappointment with the handling of this regretful situation. And I will share this story as yet another explanation for the scientific community’s growing distrust of Elsevier’s sense of publication ethics. Somehow, I am pretty sure I won’t be the only one.


As of today, no answer. I love you, Elsevier. Not. What you find when you start scrapping the varnish is definitely interesting. Anyone with a similar story ?

10 basic rules and tricks for science communication

My op-ed in Le Monde triggered a lot of discussions, both online (mostly on Twitter), and offline, in the labs. In the days following its publication, I came across many people who read it, professionals researcher or not. I got a lot of feedback, which will probably trigger a few more blog posts. Here I want to touch upon one particular topic, which is the need of a basic training in the tools we use daily to communicate.

I mentioned in my oped (and previously in my blog post here) that most people seem to have very little knowledge and training in communication. I use the word communication in its broadest meaning here: both to look up and receive information’s, and to exchange and expose it. We’re talking emails, softwares, talks, social networks, etc. These tools are so ubiquitous today that for most people, the idea that you need to be trained to use it is just preposterous. Everyone knows how to type and hit the « send » button, right ? So don’t tell me I need to be trained. Sounds familiar ? And yet, my experience is that most people would greatly benefits a very basic training in all the tools, including the ones we take for granted.

Most people, unfortunately, needs to be convinced of this. So here are the two main benefits I can think of:

  • #1: time saving. We have only 24hrs in day and seven days in a week. Saving time is certainly a benefits everyone can understand. Nobody has enough time for nothing these days. Choose wisely how you allocate your time, and try to save as much as you can. Automating many of such tasks can save you a lot of time.
  • #2: getting your message across. Whether you’re writing a paper, exchanging over new ideas for a research proposal, or presenting your work at a conference, your main goal is to be understood, right ? If not, think twice about why you are coming to this conference/meeting/whatever else.

Fortunately, you don’t need to spend years to acquire a few very basic skills that will greatly benefits you. Here’s a list I quickly came up with to get you started in 1h or so. Whenever I have a new PhD student starting with me, I walk him (her) through this. So with no particular order, here we go:

  1. Use the « subject » field when you send an email. Sounds basic, right ? Be precise with it, « FYI » is not. Receiving email with en empty subject field is one of the thing that drives me really crazy.
  2. Check your email only once a day. I’m working hard to meet this. I routinely achieve checking email just twice a day. If there’s an emergency that you have to deal with, people will call you. Of course, disable the animation that comes with new emails arriving.
  3. Use rules to sort your emails. Many emails do not need your attention (receipts, admin stuff) and can be sorted directly in folders you can archive. I recently came across this neat filter to further filter spam: if email contains « if this email does not display properly ». More email etiquette rules here.
  4. Choose the right tools to write. Yes, there’s a life beyond Word, but too few people seem to be aware of it. I am now using Writer for all the steps from drafting to an almost final version. The only feature of Word I appreciate is the review mode, when collaborating on a paper.
  5. Use a citation management software. Life is too short to insert your references manually. You have terrific choices today (Mendeley, Zotero, Papers, Endnote, Refworks, etc.), Endnote is not ruling anymore. I settled on Mendeley a while ago. My two favorites features are (1) automatic bibtex file. Terrific if you’re a LaTex user and (2) automatically import the references in your library if you are opening a file with references inserted with Mendeley. This second feature is a killer when you are collaborating over a paper.
  6. When preparing your slides for a talk, keep in mind the following hierarchy: movie>picture>plot>text>table. Of course not everyone has the same constraints, depending on your domain.
  7. Use large font size. By large, I mean greater than 30 or 40. Academics have the tendency of occupying the latest seat rows in a conference. So you’d better use a large font. This will also force you to limit the number of words on your slide. I am now using text only for the title of the slide (if any, full screen micrograph are extremely effective), and to cite references of interest for the audience. The problem with text is that attendees will read it first, and then listen to you. Be kind, avoid unwarranted death by Powerpoint. You want them to listen to you, of course.
  8. When delivering a talk, use as much as 30% of your time to introduce the topic. Unless you are at a very specific conference where 100% of the audience comprises specialists, of course. Most of the speakers are jumping to the hardcore details of the methods on their second slide, loosing 80% of the audience. Your main goal should be to get the audience interested enough so that they will look it up after the talk.
  9. Automate your literature watch as much as you can. I settled on RSS a long time ago. I added two tools in this workflow recently: Google Scholar alerts, and Twitter. Google Scholar alerts are excellent to keep track of articles in your specialized field of interest. Google is updating its results daily, and you can get an email summarizing the recent additions. I also use it to keep track of new articles of selected people I’m following. Talking about that, now might be a good time to set up a Google Scholar profile, it is becoming a standard and provide visibility with a minimal amount of work, as Google will keep track of your papers (and your metrics) for you. It has become a very valuable tool to discover people, too. I use Twitter to keep track of the discussion in the twittersphere, among other things.
  10. Learn the basics of graphic design. I know, I know, you don’t have a lot of time, you’re busy doing research. Watch this 15 seconds gif, it will bring you a long way if you apply it.  Think about this: you spent years and 10k or 100k of $ for your research, weeks or months writing your paper, so there’s nothing crazy about spending a few days preparing nice figures for your papers and slides. And no, Paint is not a proper software for preparing your figures.
  11. A bonus one for you, since you spent a long time reading this post. To avoid email overload when you’re back from vacations, delete every incoming message and have an out of-the-office reply that says « I am currently on vacations and deleting every incoming message, to avoid death by email. If you’re emailing me something important, please send it again after XXX, once I’m back from vacations. Sorry for the inconvenience ». Unless you’re waiting for something extra-important, this will save you a lot of time. And you can always check the status of your submitted papers on ManuscriptCentral. Some companies are getting rid of email completely, so it’s not as absurd as it sounds, right ?

Do you have good ones to share ? Shout it in the comments.

Le jour d’après

Enfin, trois jours après. Un enchaînement d’événements bien intéressants ces derniers jours, suite à la publication de mon article sur le site du Monde. Petit historique pour ceux qui ont raté le fil.

Voici quelques jours, je me demande sur twitter pourquoi si peu de chercheurs (c’est mon ressenti) se servent de ce réseau. Tweet qui devient quelques jours de réflexion plus tard un post sur ce même blog. Passent quelques jours de plus, et émerge une discussion entre blogueurs de science et journalistes scientifiques, au cours de laquelle mon post est mentionné, attirant l’oeil de Pierre Barthélémy, qui tient la rubrique science du monde. Je m’envole pour la Floride pour quelques jours, d’où je reçois son invitation à traduire mon billet vers le français pour le poster sur le site du Monde. Rien que ça. Echaudé par ma précédente expérience avec Rue89, où mon email avait été publié sans corrections ni éditions (fautes de frappe comprises), je prend le soin de travailler le texte au mieux. Quelques aller/retour avec Pierre, qui me l’améliore, et celui ci est finalement publié mercredi en milieu de journée.

Le mercredi, je suis à la maison, et ça tombe bien car ma TL explose rapidement. L’article circule très rapidement sur le réseau. Attirant l’oeil notamment de Mathieu Vidard, journaliste scientifique sur France Inter.

Celui-ci me propose alors de témoigner en direct dans l’émission La Tête au Carrée, sur France Inter, en attendant peut être une émission plus complète. Et me voici à témoigner en direct par téléphone (expérience étrange, quand on ne voit pas ses interlocuteurs). Pfiou.

Les réactions à l’article se concentrent principalement sur twitter. A l’ultra-majorité, les gens sont plutôt d’accord avec mon analyse.

Le choix du titre, positif, court mais sans être trop réducteur, n’a pas été facile. Il ne fait pas l’unanimité.

J’ai un peu noirci le tableau (volontairement) en ce qui concerne la communication scientifique, et me fait vite corriger, ce qui n’est pas volé. Bien sur que l’on communique en France, tout de même.

Je deviens officiellement un des moteurs de la réflexion sur le blogging en science, rien que ça.

Le scepticisme reste de mise, témoignages confortant mon analyse initiale.

Toutes les communautés ne sont pas logées à la même adresse.

De nouveaux témoignages remontent également sur les bénéfices de l’utilisation de twitter dans un contexte de recherche.

De nouveaux labos font leur apparition sur le réseau (Yes !)

Petite ironie, l’article est RT par l’INSERM… mais twitter semble bloqué dans certains labos de l’INSERM.

La réflexion s’étend en dehors de la France, notamment au Québec.

Quelques pistes de réflexion supplémentaire, comme l’usage pédagogique.

L’article devrait servir de support pour quelques discussions et cours à venir.

J’ai gagné deux invitations (bon, ok, un prévues déja mais disons que ca va enrichir les débats)

Globalement, je suis donc très content de cette petite semaine. Une expérience assez unique en ce qui me concerne. L’article a au moins eu le mérite de lancer le débat, ce qui était l’objectif. La plupart des réactions se sont toutefois concentrées sur l’aspect communication vers le public, alors que je distinguais bien les deux dans l’article. Twitter ne me semble vraiment pas idéal pour communiquer vers le public, si ce n’est pour partager des liens vers des ressources. L’outil twitter, dans un cadre professionnel et comme décrit dans l’article, n’a été que peu relevé, alors que c’est mon principal usage pour l’instant, tant comme source d’informations scientifiques que comme développement d’un réseau personnel.

Et maintenant ? Attendons un peu que l’histoire retombe et la réflexion avance. Allez, bon weekend.

Ah oui, un dernier commentaire: je ne suis à la solde ni de Twitter, qui j’ai découvert hier a apparemment quelques soucis financiers, ni du CNRS. Je suis un lecteur assidu du journal du CNRS depuis de nombreuses années, sans être payé pour…

Et puis comme dis Mix, à défaut d’une rollex (pas gagné avec un salaire de chercheur), j’aurai au moins eu ma tribune :).

Open review

To: the editor of ???

Dear editor,

I don’t know who you are and whom you work for, but thank you for sending me this work for review. I have to say this is a rather unusual request, as I have no idea of the journal to which this work was submitted, and amount of information’s submitted was unusually low. Actually, I didn’t get any information. Only the samples. I guess you probably forget to send the paper. Since it did not wanted to delay the evaluation of the work, I proceeded as I could, since the work was clearly of interest to me.

The only thing I could evaluate were the samples, and so I did. Although the packaging was a bit rough, the appearance was fine (see picture here). I tested the samples at room temperature, which was apparently below the glass transition temperature of the coating. The texture was rather firm (although no stiffness value were provided). The adhesion between the coating and the substrate was good enough to resist the first step of mastication, and ensure a progressive release of the carbohydrates. Diffusion into the mouth appeared very appropriate, as expected. As far as I can tell, the quality of the samples is outstanding.

The absence of any additional information is rather annoying, though. I had to look up in the twitter timeline of the author to find information’s about the processing conditions (here, here, here and there), although time and temperature information’s were missing. The source of the raw materials is unknown. Digging a bit further, I managed to find the motivation for the work (“Eat them”), which seems very appropriate.

I have therefore only a few minor recommendations before this work can be accepted:
– please provide a title for the work, and list authors. it is not clear from the pics if this is a single author work.
– introduction was missing
– experimental section: tweeting pics of the authors processing the samples is not enough, in addition to be quite unusual. At least upload them to figshare. Additional informations warranted.
– results: please provide results. Submitting the samples alone, no matter how good they are, is not enough.
– no discussion section were found since no paper was written. Add a discussion.
– a few words of conclusion, with suggestions for future work and improvement, would be welcome.

Overall, the work should be of interest to the community, and I recommend tasting. I nevertheless expect the authors to address the requested minor points listed above. I am of course available to review the revised version, provided the authors send more samples.

Sincerely yours,