What constitutes a citable scientific work?

There was a lively discussion on Twitter the other day regarding what constitutes a citable piece of scientific work. In particular, Matthew Hahn was concerned about where to draw the line, and he felt that unless something is traditionally published there’s no need to cite it. When reading this dicussion, I felt it was muddled by the lack of clear criteria separating citable works from other forms of scientific communication. In my mind, there is a clear distinction between preprints, which I consider to be citable works, and presentation slides or tweets, which are not. To formalize this distinction, I would like to propose four conditions that need to be satisfied for a document to be considered a citable piece of scientific work. The document needs to be: (i) uniquely and unambiguously citable; (ii) available in perpetuity, in unchanged form; (iii) accessible to the public; (iv) self-contained and complete.

Read More

Post-publication review of the PLOS ONE paper comparing MS Word and LaTeX: How not to compare document preparation

PLOS ONE just published a paper comparing MS Word with LaTeX, which argues that LaTeX has little benefits over MS Word and should not be allowed by scientific journals:

Knauff M, Nejasmic J (2014) An Efficiency Comparison of Document Preparation Systems Used in Academic Research and Development. PLoS ONE 9(12): e115069.

In my mind, this paper makes extremely strong claims based on a rather flawed and thin analysis. I am sure there are useful things to be said about MS Word vs. LaTeX. However, this paper does not make much of a contribution to this question. 

Read More

Perfectly smooth transition between fixed and variable positioning of HTML elements using CSS and Javascript

The last couple of days I have been working on a new webpage. In doing so, I wanted to create a design where the menu bar initially resides at the bottom of the page and moves upwards as the user scrolls down. However, once the menu bar hits the top edge of the viewport, it should remain fixed there. A bit of googling quickly revealed a solution for this problem, using a combination of CSS and Javascript. However, I wasn’t happy with the solution, because it created a visible jump in the layout every time the menu bar hit the top edge of the screen. In fact, this jump is quite common among most web pages that use this design trick. For example, check out a profile page on Google Scholar: As you scroll down, the heading above the publication list stays fixed as soon as it hits the top edge of the screen. And if you scroll slowly, you’ll see that the layout jumps the moment the element hits the top edge. I didn’t like this effect at all, so I devised a way to work around it.

Read More

How to prepare an article for resubmission, Part II

In my previous post on how to prepare an article for resubmission, I failed to mention one important point: In your response to the reviewers, quote the entire referee report, even the introductory sentences. Don’t just quote the specific comments to which you are replying. This may seem unnecessary but it is in fact crucial, in particular if the introductory sentences were largely positive. (If they were highly critical, you may want to omit them, even though in this case you probably should provide a response.)

Read More

Relationship between h index and total citations count

I came across an interesting paper* that derives a mathematical relationship between the total number of citations a scientist has received, Ntot, and the scientist’s h index**. The paper, written by Alexander Yong, argues that for typical scientists, h is given simply as 0.54 times the square-root of Ntot. The paper also derives confidence bounds on this estimate, and it shows that scientists who have written only a few highly-cited works will generally fall below this estimate. While the paper is set up as a critique of the h index, I think it shows that the h index works largely as intended. It measures the total amount of citations a researcher has received, but it adequately down-weighs the effect of a few extremely highly cited works in a researcher’s publication list. 

Read More

How to prepare an article for resubmission

So your latest scientific masterpiece has come back from review with the most likely outcome other than rejection: major revision. The reviewers and the editor think that your work has merit, but they also have a long list of comments and criticism that they expect you to address before the article is acceptable for publication. You read the reviews and you feel like they lay out two years worth of work. How do you best deal with this situation?

Read More

The Google Scholar preprint bug

Google Scholar has a serious bug when it comes to preprints. If you have published a preprint of your paper, the later journal publication can be completely invisible to Google Scholar, seemingly absent from their entire database. Even a search for the exact article title will not find the article. And this condition remains for months. (It will eventually fix itself, though. After about a year.) I have now seen this bug in action for several of my papers, and I am confident it’s a reproducible flaw and not a one-off. I reported the issue to the Google Scholar team about a year ago (or at least, I filled in some web form that seemed to be designed to send them feedback) but I have received no response and the bug clearly still exists. I hope that with this blog-post I can draw some attention to this serious issue, so we can have it fixed. Thousands of scientists rely on Google Scholar every day. For many recent articles, this bug will steer these scientists towards outdated, early versions and make the authoritative article versions completely inaccessible.

 

Read More

Should peer-review be double-blind?

As part of the recent discussion on anonymous peer review, several people spoke out in favor of double-blind peer review, where neither the authors nor the reviewers know who the others are. I have thought a lot about double-blind peer review, and I’m not entirely convinced, in particular when it comes to grant applications. While double-blind review might solve certain problems and remove certain biases, it would almost certainly amplify other issues, and whether the net effect would be good or bad is unclear. It would also give more power to people such as editors and program managers who operate outside the blinded process.

Read More

How to schedule a committee meeting

One of the key challenges in obtaining a PhD is scheduling a committee meeting. In fact, I think that anybody who has managed to successfully schedule three or four committee meetings probably deserves a PhD just for that feat. After all, getting five professors into the same room at the same time is a tall order. Since scheduling committee meetings is such an integral part of graduate education, there should probably be a class on how to do this successfully. However, I don’t think any such class exists. So maybe this blog post can serve as a substitute.

Read More