Bodo Stern seminar 02/07/2014

Why Publish

  1. lay claims of priority (historic and present)
  2. responsibility to communicate results back to the public
    • reach a broader audience than people in the same field

This talk

  • not about tricks
  • about editors and their task
  • corresponding do’s and dont’s

Editor’s as judges

  • Editor makes decision. Reviewers are purely advisors
  • Editor’s are “not academics”,

Editors goals

  • how significant is this advance
  • How interesting is the paper across the fields — not just a quality of science judgement

Tips to get the message

  • Take adventage of the cover letter!
    • not seen by reviewers: can be broader, can give a punchline that is not being criticized by scientists for accuracy
    • what was known before (more colloquial)
    • not bad to exclude reviewers (generally honored)
  • presubmission inquery
    • can send to several journals at once
    • be prepared to accept their advice if you ask for it.
    • very often editor response will not be informative.
  • Help the editor understand the logic
    • some non-expert should be able to read and understand the paper.
    • don’t just give it to people in the lab
  • Make the figures self-explanatory and easy to understand
    • editors have ways to review quickly. Often look at figures before any of the text.
  • biggest problem with papers is the logic.

Editors as Mediators

  • Editors would rather be on the side of publishing something that’s incomplete if it will be cited.
  • Reviewers will always point out where the story could go.
  • Editor’s need to take risks, just because it’s published in cell doesn’t mean it’s wrong’.

Editorial letters: invitation to resubmit

  • Look for we would be happy to consider or we would be prepared to consider. Anything else is a rejection, regardless of positive feedback.
  • if you want to go further you better get in touch with the editor.
  • If positive, get in touch with an editor early
  • be positive in line-by-line responses. don’t be aggressive, be constructive.
  • email first, can set up a time to call and adress


  • if rejected: don’t respond within 24hrs. this will not go over well
  • stick purely to science. Can present facts for why reviewer is incorrect.
  • Take-home message: Be Assertive. Easier to be assertive if you know the editors (this is an advantage of senior faculty).

Meet and talk to editors

  • Editor’s like to meet people in science. More editors are going to conferences.
  • Editor’s will recruit papers that they really want
  • certainly want new reviewers.
  • review for journals you want to publish in.
  • Journals have pet projects they want to publish more in. Meet editors find out what they are looking for.
  • Bodo Cell didn’t use to publish a lot of single molecule. Less competition at first.
  • new interests of journals not advertised on web
  • get a sense of the editor and their logic as a scientist. See how you relate. Find an editor you respect.

On reviewing papers

  • easier to find the flaws and plus than make decision.
  • Goals:
    • review the technical quality (this the editor wont overrule)
    • comment on significance / context / clarity (these are also up to editor)
    • don’t give a laundry list. At least sub-class them: critical, supporting, etc.
    • don’t keep all the signficance etc arguments in confidential comments. Keep it all in the open review if possible.
    • Ask people in your lab to help you and acknowledge in your comments to the editor who helped you.
    • either keep confidential or sign it.

After publication. Online presence of scientific work

  • Work with Harvard communications office (Peter Reuell
  • good to get a press release.
  • Add ‘final author version’ (i.e. your format not their layout / copy-editing). You always own this copy.
  • Add paper to PubMedCentral (required by NIH, need PubMedCentral ID#s). all program officers will check that the papers are there.

Copyright and open access

  • Harvard keeps copyright to everything (since 2008)
  • Nature, Science, Cell require Harvard to waive this copyright
  • NIH requires final-author version on PubMedCentral within a year (many journals do this automatically, but you need to check).
  • number of scientists has tripled in recent years, Cell, Nature, Science have flat rates
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