Ask a Journal Editor: Peter Bednekoff

Yesterday was the last episode of my excellent “Tools for Conservation and Behavior” seminar (I think that’s what it was called, I was never quite sure). We had Peter Bednekoff in as a guest lecturer. Peter is an editor at Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. He inevitably had many interesting things to say about writing for science journals, and writing in general. Some of the pithier remarks:

Blind review:

It’s true that reviewers can probably guess the identity of the authors of the papers they receive under the blind review system. At least to the level of what research group they work in. Mostly, he felt, from the study system. If you’re working on the dominance structure of Presbytis rubicunda, you know who you are, and everyone else in the primatology dominance world probably does too, or can at least guess what lab you’re in. However, blind review can protect grad students and other young researchers, and reduce bias against female researchers. I’d like to think that people wouldn’t pick on unestablished authors because they think they can get away with it, but all the data says there is systemic discrimination against women in the sciences.

That angle hadn’t occurred to me. I had always thought blind review was just kind of silly.

Interpreting joint authorship:

Peter figures editors know the personalities in their area of study well enough that if a given senior scientist’s name isn’t on an underling’s paper, they know whether that means the senior scientist thought it was an especially good paper or an especially bad paper. And yes, it depends on the senior scientist.

In jokes:

In-jokes in the acknowledgments section is okay. Oh boy.

Productive writing:

A little pop psychology. Studies show that the best predictor of how much writing people get done isn’t whether they set long unbroken blocks of time aside, but rather how many days a week they at least make a start on it. Don’t dismiss a 1/2 hour as pointless. Also, “park on a downhill slope”. Stop when you know what you want to write next, so you’ll more willingly start again.

Keep trying:

More pop psychology perhaps, but encouraging: “Almost every paper will be rejected. Almost every paper will eventually be accepted. Well, could eventually be accepted.”

Yes, it’s like that:

And finally, (actually, it was the first thing he said) Dr. Bednekoff tells us that he knows within 10 minutes of picking up a freshly submitted paper whether or not it will be accepted, although he may not be able to immediately articulate why. He says judging merit is the easy part of reviewing, nurturing the best possible result is the hard part. Interesting. Very interesting.

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