Stockholm Public Library (interior view)

Recently read: What’s hot in science; academic blogging; and a paper by Maggie Simpson

In case you’re looking for inspiration for your next research project, in this week’s collection of noteworthy articles, I provide a list to the hottest fields in science. There are also some thoughts on how to discuss one’s blog to potentially sceptical peers, a story on linguistic discrimination and a narrative on the difficulties involved in correcting the scientific record. And, finally, I look into an inspiring story for authors who struggle to get their research published: If Maggie Simpson could get a paper in a journal, surely so can all of us!

What’s hot in science

According to researchinformation.info, Thomson Reuters have released a report listing what are, in their view, the most vibrant research fronts in the past year. Some of these, as selected by the website’s authors, are:

  • Uncovering Genetic Links to ALS and Dementia: Hexanucleotide Repeat Expansion and Its Association with Frontotemporal Dementia and ALS;
  • Longer-Life Batteries: Electrode Materials for Sodium-Ion Batteries;
  • Silicon Science: Growth Properties of Silicene;
  • Understanding Impacts of Drought and Heat: Drought- and Heat-Induced Tree Mortality; and
  • Psychology: Statistical Evidence and Replication in Experimental Psychology.

How to describe your blog to academic peers

While academic blogging is increasing in volume and legitimacy, it is still a fringe activity for many academics, and perhaps even frowned upon in some quarters. Terry McGlynn, of Small Pond Science, has published an brilliant post where he discusses how he described his blog in his promotion file, and he reflects on how he presents his blog to academic peers. Here are some excerpts:

I make a point of (almost) never bringing it up. If I were to mention that I have a blog, to someone who hasn’t seen it, I’d just get a roll of the eyes. I’ll shamelessly plug this site on twitter, but that’s an audience accustomed to this medium. […] I view this site as an important part of my role as a scientist. However, at this point in time, the broader scientific community doesn’t yet value this kind of blog. I’m not inclined to be the person to push that envelope, other than keep doing what I’m doing here.

More to read: Recent months have seen a proliferation in the discourse about the affordances and risks of social media and blogs for academics. The LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog hosts an excellent collection of such articles and posts.

On Linguistic Discrimination

Moving on to a linguistics topic, there was an article Professor John Rikford, of Stanford University, has pointed out that linguistic diversity can lead to discrimination in the (US) justice system. In a recent high-profile trial, Rikford argues, the testimony of key witnesses was discredited, because it was delivered in African American Vernacular English (AAVE):

Not fluent in AAVE themselves, the transcribers, attorneys and jury members involved in the Martin trial missed or misunderstood crucial elements in [witness] Jeantel’s testimony […] “People speaking non-standard English are even seen as being of poor character,” said Rickford, a native of Guyana, where a Creole English variety similar to AAVE is spoken.  He said he sees the politics of language at work every day from both research and personal perspectives.

More to read: Linguistic discrimination on account of one’s accent is pervasive and well documented. For instance, academics writing in Nigerian English are often mistaken for 419 scammers, according to this article.

 Correcting the scientific record

Publishing corrections and replications is vital to ensuring the integrity of the scientific record. However, this is not always easily done. François-Xavier Coudert, author of the FX blog, narrates the difficulties he and one of his MSc students encountered in publishing an article correcting what he describes as “several mistakes in series of related equations, in a dozen papers published […] throughout a decade”. Their short article was initially rejected, because one of the reviewers felt it was not significant enough. However, they persisted, and here’s what happened next:

[The paper] underwent further review, during which one of the referees said something very interesting: “I have checked ‘Enough significant new physics? No’ both times, but still tend to agree with the third referee — this should be published somewhere”. I think this is interesting, because it shows why correcting the scientific record is hard: it is considered not new science. The current standards for publication highlight (with some good reason) the original and the sexy. But while doing so, we need to keep room for corrections, comments and allow the discussion to go on, through peer-reviewed articles (original emphasis).

More to read:  A couple of weeks ago, I linked to a similar story about the difficulties a doctoral student faced when he attempted to correct a mistake in a published article. Disconcertingly, this study in PLOS One demonstrates that “even a clear demonstration that a finding is invalid often fails to shake acceptance of the finding“.

Congratulations Maggie Simpson!

While getting corrections published is not always easy, it is encouraging to know that journals always welcome original science. The Journal of Computational Intelligence and Electronic Systems and the Aperito Journal Of Nanoscience Technology are to be especially commended for looking past the well-documented bias against female academics, and publishing a groundbreaking paper by Maggie Simpson, Edna Krabappel, and Kim Jong Fun. The full story is amusing, but the conclusions are rather more sombre:

Scientists view this industry [i.e., predatory publishing] as a problem for a few reasons: it reduces trust in science, allows unqualified researchers to build their resumes with fake or unreliable work, and makes research for legitimate scientists more difficult, as they’re forced to wade through dozens of worthless papers to find useful ones.

More to read: The Simpsons paper builds on a long tradition of submitting hoax papers to expose predatory publishers [e.g., 1, 2, 3]. However, ‘credible’ publishers have also on occasion published fake papers. Here are some thoughts, by me, on the topic.


Featured Image: Stockholm Public Library, via Wikipedia

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