Tired of submitting to the same old journals? JournalGuide wants to help.

I just got back from the big Science Online conference in Raleigh, NC, and when I was there I ran into someone who is working on the JournalGuide project. What is it, you ask? It’s a website where you can input your manuscript’s title and abstract/key words and get back a list of journals that publish similar content, with info on cost, impact factor, open access status, etc.

Who will this service help, you may ask! After all, most of us researchers are already pretty familiar with the journals in our field. I think there may still be a market for this, though.

Some of us work in small fields, with relatively few journals. I publish in one field in which there is one go-to journal for solid-but-not-paradigm-shifting manuscripts. If your article happens to get rejected by that journal, the choices get unattractive pretty quickly. In terms of readership, the audience for your findings drops precipitously. Also, since there is only that one journal everyone wants to publish one, a lot of us end up submitting there over and over. It gets boring! Lately, for these reasons, we have been trying to generate some new potential journal ideas. I think JournalGuide could help in a situation like this.

A feature I’m more interested in, though, and one that is not functional yet, is the journal rating system. You can create an account and anonymously rate your submission experience (the site is supposed to keep track of postings to weed out trolls). At some point, the JournalGuide is supposed to aggregate the results and make them available. I’m not sure when this will happen–the site says late 2013, and I’m writing this in March 2014–but I’m looking forward to it!

Right now, most of us depend on word of mouth to figure out which submission processes are so onerous that it’s best to just avoid a journal all together. You know what I’m talking about. The two week review process that often turns into four months somehow. The editor who seems to regularly lose track of submissions. The journal that wants nothing to do with negative results, whatever its stated policies. Then again, there are also the journals that end up shocking you with just how smooth their submission process actually is. It would be nice to have a more systematic process for collecting and making available information about how efficient and fair a journal is. I’m curious about whether this system will catch on, since its success really depends on the number of users who buy in.

Anybody else used this site or planning on using it?

Syphilis: Then and Now (Or What I’ve Been Doing For the Last 10 Years)

syphilisAn article about our work called Syphilis: Then and Now appeared in this month’s edition of The Scientist.

In it, Molly Zuckerman (U. Mississippi), George Armelagos (Emory U.), and I describe the work we’ve done together on the origins of syphilis. This was a great opportunity to look back at the last ten years, weaving together many different strands of research to figure out what exactly we have learned.

We talk about all the different approaches we’ve employed to try and learn more about the past of T. pallidum, the bacterium that causes syphilis, as well as the lesser-known non-sexually transmitted diseases, yaws and bejel. Looking at old bones in dusty basements? Building a phylogeny with T. pallidum samples collected from all over the world, including remote Amazonian villages? Getting to the bottom of a gruesome disease that causes wild baboons’ genitals to drop off? We’ve done it all! (With a lot of help from other people, of course.)

I will always feel incredibly lucky that I got to carry out my dream dissertation project. Every research project has its highs and lows, but throughout my PhD research I marveled that somebody was paying me to do what I would have gladly done for free. I will also be forever grateful that I had the privilege to work with so many amazing scientists. Thinking back on all this work was a really pleasant endeavor.

Writing this article also forced us to think about the future of this line of research. As we make clear in the article, although our work has shed some new light on the centuries-old debate about syphilis’s origins, there are plenty of questions left. As our ability to obtain whole genome sequences from even poor-quality samples improves, I’m really looking forward to seeing what we learn. The history of this bacterium is just as fascinating to me now as it was when I began my work.

Anyway, writing this article was a lot of fun–and if you are interested in the history of infectious diseases, I hope you will check it out!

And thanks to the folks at The Scientist, especially Jef Akst, for the chance to share our work. It was a pleasure to work with them on this.

My Geeky Pleasure: Retraction Watch

retractionwatch3An entire website devoted to the retraction of scientific articles. I know it doesn’t sound very exciting–but this site is actually pretty fascinating!

Let’s just take some recent examples. This is where I learned about the Czech scientist who broke into a lab that was trying to replicate his (falsified) findings, in an attempt to gum up the works. And about a principal investigator’s wife who apparently got her own PhD by borrowing liberally from a student in the lab.

Or what about this? Remember those lurid stories about a drug called krokodil that were all over a little while back? It supposedly turned up in St Louis–by way of Russia. It’s way cheaper than heroin, but it has the major drawback of making its users’ skin turn green and fall off. Gross, right? But it turns out there are some serious problems with the scientific article that those recent news stories were based on. Where did I find out about this? Retraction Watch! (In case you’re interested, here’s a Slate piece by Justin Peters that takes on the stories about krokodil in the US.)

All that stuff is pretty fascinating in a geeky-version-of-Judge-Judy-for-scientists way. But Retraction Watch is also where I have learned about problems that affect my own work. For example, I’ve done a lot of research on ways to get DNA out of old samples. One of the papers I looked at while doing this research turns out to be based on fabricated data. Good to know!

Finally, I think the website is important because it provides a space to look at the big picture. Are the growing number of retractions in the literature a good thing or a bad thing? Are we (journals and scientists) handling retractions in the right way? Could we be doing better?

This site is run by two guys–Adam Marcus, the managing editor of Anesthesiology News and a freelance writer, and Ivan Oransky, vice president and global editorial director of MedPage Today. I’m sure these are two busy people, and I can’t even imagine how much time it takes to run this site. Plus, it sounds like the authors involved in the retraction stories threaten them on a fairly regular basis, which must be stressful. Anyway, it’s a great public service to the science community. A big thanks to them both!

Two New Science Magazines

07OVER-articleInline-1Now that I don’t do research full time, there is nothing I love more than picking up a science magazine.

I’ve heard various complaints about the big science magazines. The stories are too superficial, they are aimed at the 60+ crowd, etc.

I recently learned about two new science magazines that are aiming to do something different.

Each issue of Nautilus collects stories (a lot of them) on a single theme. The most recent issue focuses on Secret Codes. You can read it online for free or read it in print (the issues are quarterly) for $50/year.

Matter is online-only and you can subscribe for $1/month. The focus is on long, in-depth pieces, and it got its start from a very successful Kickstarter campaign. I’m psyched to read a piece on how the revolution in Egypt is affecting archaeological research (and, in particular, the study of King Tut!).

Looking forward to exploring them both!