Saturday, April 13, 2013

EGU review part 2

After three days of action, we were both basically planning on being observers for the remainder. We even had a bit of a lie-in on Thursday and missed the 8:30 talks. I let the sea level wash over me, there was an interesting review of various projection methods for global sea level change and some detailed local investigations. I then briefly popped into some paleoclimate variability stuff, which is an area that our new project/post-doc will probably be looking into in the near future.

We were planning on staying late into the evening, so chose a gentle option for the afternoon - the panel discussion on blogs and social media in scientific research. It was, perhaps predictably, fairly rubbish. I've been to enough of these sort of things (e.g. at the AGU) that I should have known better, but like I said, I needed a mental break anyway. There was the usual po-faced advice for "professionalism" etc, and the ubiquitous stern advice to under no circumstances blog any research in progress, because the journals won't like it, because of copyright, or prior publication, or some other generally ill-defined bogey-man.

It took all of 30 seconds to confirm what I was already pretty confident about, that Nature explicitly allows pre-publication on a personal blog or server such as Arxiv. The AGU and AMS have basically the same policy for all of their journals. Of course the EGU does too - almost all of its journals provide open access to the submitted manuscript prior to publication anyway. That EGU web page handily has links for similar statements from Elsevier, PNAS, and PLoS. Can anyone find a single case of a journal rejecting a paper based on the fact that an author has discussed some of the content on a blog?

But still, the myth propagates. Sigh. I'm sure he meant well, but that's little excuse for making up stuff (and thereby potentially misleading the audience) that could have been so easily checked.

[Update: but see comment below - apparently, the Geological Societies of America and London both prohibit any prior publication of "results, data, ideas and/or interpretations", including on any electronic media. It's therefore understandable that the speaker might have assumed these conditions would apply more widely. But fortunately, they don't!]

Of course, there is no compulsion to write about work in progress, if it is something you'd rather keep private. There is no compulsion to write about anything at all! Perhaps it's time to present to the world, jules and James' three rules for scientific bloggers and twitterers:
1. There are no rules.
2. See 1.
3. You have the right to remain silent, but anything you do say will be taken down and may be used in evidence.
Rule 3 brings us on to the other big bogey-man which was, remarkably, that some people seemed genuinely concerned about getting sued. Honestly. As if anyone actually cares what inconsequential drivel you write on your personal corner of the internet. Of course it wouldn't be sensible to libel anyone, but that's nothing to do with blogging per se, but rather a matter of ... being careful not to libel anyone, irrespective of the format. You should remember that you are effectively standing in public shouting with a megaphone - most of the time, no-one is listening, but someone could be, and it's the embarrassing bits that will get propagated - like, that someone said that blogging research in progress is a big no-no :-) I would guess that the knee-jerk re-tweeting of a libel might be more of a risk than writing a blog-post on some scientific topic, regardless of whether you are critical or cheer-leading. But it's certainly not a particular issue for scientists that I can see.

The humorous highlight was when one panellist stated that blogging had doubled his citation rate, which he supported by a histogram of his citations over time. I of course immediately assumed (based on the graphic) that he was joking, but it soon became clear that he was being serious.

I may re-post his stats when I have access to WOK next week, but for now a verbal description will have to do. His histogram showed the rapidly increasing quasi-exponential growth in citation rate that just about every mid-career scientist will have seen over the first 10-15 years of their career, though the last few years in his case seemed to showed a distinct plateau. His blogging started shortly before the last year in the increasing phase, and hence (or otherwise) he attributed the final doubling to this. If I was him, I'd be more concerned that his blogging efforts might have hurt his performance sufficiently to kill off the expected subsequent growth in citations, as this seems to me to be a far more plausible interpretation of the data he presented. I don't want to embarrass him too much (hence not naming him, though he'll be easily enough tracked down if you try) but google scholar suggests he hasn't actually published a great deal in the last few years, at least compared to the arbitrary handful of other mid-career scientists of similar overall performance that I bothered to check. Not that I care about his output one way or the other - I'm just pointing out that his claim that blogging gave him a boost is hardly supported by the evidence. Of course there may be an number of alternative explanations for his particular trajectory.

Rant over, I'll demonstrate that I'm also quite capable of posting entirely positive and enthusiastic commentary without snark when the situation deserves it. Jules and I greatly enjoyed the short course on nonlinear time series analysis oven by Reik Donner and Jonathan Donges. I'd seen the former giving a "Young Scientist" prize lecture a few years ago, which at the time was a bit too detailed and I never got round to chasing up the content. The gentler didactic style this time round was much more digestible, even up to the 8pm finishing time. This event was certainly the highlight of Thursday, and one of the highlights of the week for me.

After that ~12h day, we thought we deserved the morning off. I don't think I have ever done 5 full days at a meeting of this nature without missing a session, and I'm not sure it would be sensible to try. Friday always has the feel of a wind-down and this time seemed particularly weak in terms of my interests. It is hard not to feel sorry for the afternoon speakers. We managed a morning run before heading into town for a really good cake. One thing that we have been repeatedly reminded of is that Viennese standards of service are not on the same planet as what we have come to expect in Japan. But once you get used to that, it's pleasant enough really.

In to the conference for the afternoon, there wasn't actually a great deal I could focus on. I wrote most of this post in the climate data homogenisation session, which had a few interesting things, including rather bizarrely a talk on the periodicity (or otherwise) of Dansgaard-Oeschger events. I wonder what the satellite calibration guys made of that!
Then off to Salm Bräu for probably the best meal of the week. I've been pleased with how well the Tripadvisor recomendations have turned out. Next Sunday's half marathon may suffer as a result, however.


EliRabett said...

FWIW, Eli has always thought that James and Jules are among the most skillful in using their blog to bring their science to public and professional attention.

Without the Empty Blog, you almost certainly would have been steamrollered by the uniform prior. Both of you have been expert in picking your fights (and IEHO a bit too conservative).

So in a sense one of you should have been giving that talk. Of course neither of you ever would because that would defeat your strategy:)

jules said...

That's a funny idea. We could have done, "The best of both worlds: how to live in Japan and still irritate everyone back home just as much as before".

David Young said...

Sounds like an interesting conference. I have also observed the burn out phenomenon where you decide to sleep in and skip a few sessions. Most of the action at conferences is conversations with people you know or want to know. My experience is that 90% of the presentations are forgettable. A further 5% are self prootional exercises and the remaining 5% are interesting.

The advantage of blogging is that you attract verbose geezers like me who can imagine (probably incorrectly) that they actually are having an influence on climate science. :-) I actually think blogging is a public service and sometimes brings in interesting stuff you would never hear about otherwise. Your blog provides a good forum that provides a lot of interesting material for public discussion and it is relatively free of the usual trolls!! There were a few on the thread on Jules interview though. They should not be taken seriously.

Dr Dave said...

For much of the audience, the journals published by the Geologiocal Society of America and/or the Geological Society of London are an important potential location for their research findings. Both have the following policy:

"Manuscripts should contain original, new results, data, ideas and/or interpretations not previously published or under consideration for publication elsewhere (including electronic media and databases)"

James Annan said...

Wow. Thanks for the info, that's pretty amazing to me. I wonder what it is about this particular corner of science that makes it take such a retrograde attitude. It must make it very difficult to submit abstracts to conferences such as the EGU where they are freely published on line, if you cannot describe any of your unpublished ideas, results, data and/or interpretations in the abstract. Where (if anywhere) do you actually present the work prior to peer-reviewed publication? Or do you just write things like "I did some cool work that is relevant to this session, I'll tell you about it if you come to my talk"?

Fortunately, you now have ESurf as a more forward-looking alternative :-)

James Annan said...

Oh, and perhaps Solid Earth too. As you can probably tell, I'm not well up on rocks.

I'll amend the post to point to your comment anyway.

Dr Dave said...

At a meeting of the European Geosciences Union, the journals published by the Geological Society of London and the Geological Society of America are important to a very large proportion of the conference attendees. The panel were all geoscientists for example.

It would be different at a Climate Science meeting of course. However, these sorts of restrictions are not limited to those two organisations - The Lancet is an example of a jourmal that consders presentation at conferences and in abstracts to be an exception to its normal rules about pre-publication.

James Annan said...

Dr Dave,

That's plainly a rather ridiculous line of argument - the "geo" in EGU whole refers to the planet (and indeed all planets) and is much broader than geology. I think AS, CL and BG are the biggest three divisions out of 24, but none of them is more than about 10% of the meeting each. The nonrepresentative nature of the blogging panel was a bug not a feature, and may help to explain its unbalanced attitude.

Nevertheless I'm happy to accept that these publishers are major players in your field, and in that context, the statements were understandable.

More importantly, I'm interested in your views about the abstracts in sessions such as GM6.1. It seems to me that most of the abstracts - and certainly the first three - quite explicitly present methods, ideas, interpretations and results, albeit the data are in a rather summarised form. Do you think that geology journals would therefore reject submissions based on this research?

Anonymous said...

Nice post James. I claim prior art on the rules' though.

bigcitylib said...

Different in different fields maybe. On the dinosaur list "wait for the paper" is a cry often heard.

James Annan said...

yeah, and we all know what happened to the dinosaurs :-)

tallbloke, well I guess the good news is that suggests the rules are probably fairly easily deduced and don't need telling. Though your call for manners isn't quite the same thing as our rule 3.