signing reviews pays back (and about sharing good and bad news)

Quick post to share an awesome experience I had today. I received an email from an author I just reviewed a paper. The paper was rejected. To my surprise that was a “thank you” email. I feel I have to quote it, hope that is ok…

I write to thank you for all the comments and suggestions. They have been extremely helpful in improving the quality of the manuscript and in calling our attention to previously unnoticed weaknesses.


I have been signing reviews for a couple of years now. So far I had one “thank you” letter, and zero angry letters. If I didn´t convince you before, are you still not convinced to sign your reviews now?

On a side note I realize I tend to share the good news, but not always the bad ones. However we should do it too. Twitter and blogs also work a bit like an empathy box and is good to share new cool papers and experiences, but also is good to share rejections (Yes, for example last week Proc B rejected my paper without review) or experiment failing (The aphids that were supposed to be my herbivory treatment, were ate by coccinelids), specially to show PhD students that everyone has ups and downs, and struggles to do science. Now I have to go to try to fix the aphid issue …




Peer-Review, making the numbers

We know it, the system is saturated, but what are we doing? Here are some numbers from 4 recent Journals I reviewed and published (or tried to publish) recently.

Time given to me to complete the review Time to take a 1st decision in my ms
PNAS 10 days > 3 months
PLoSOne 10 days 2 months
EcolLett 20 days 2 months
GCB 30 days 2 months

I think most reviewers do handle the ms on time (or almost on time), and that editors handle ms’s as fast as possible, so where are we losing the time? On finding the reviewers! In my limited experience in J Ecol I have to invite 6-10 reviewers to get two to accept, and that imply at least 15 days delay at best. And note that all the above are leading journals, so I don’t want to know how much it take for a low-tier Journal.

However, the positive line is: There are people willing to review all this papers. Seriously, there is a lot of potential reviewers that like to read an interesting paper on their topic, specially if they get some reward other than being the first on knowing about that paper. So I see two problems, which rewards can we offer and how to find the people who is interested in reviewing that paper efficiently.

1) Rewards: Yes, I love reviewing, I learn and I feel engaged with the community, but it also takes a lot of time. However, a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down. I don’t want money, I want to feel appreciated. For example, Ecol Lett offers you a free subscription for 3 months or GCB a free color figure in your next accepted ms (given that you manage to get one accepted). I am sure other options are out there, including some fun rewards, like for example “the person with more reviews in a year wins a dinner at next ESA/Intecol meeting with the chief editor” to put a silly example. Recognition is another powerful reward, but more on that line in the next item.

2) Interests matching: Rather than a blind guess from the editor of who will be interested in reviewing a paper, we should be able maximize interests. Can we adapt an internet dating system for finding a suitable partner to find a suitable reviewer? As an editor, I would love to see which reviewers with “my interests” are “single” (i.e. available) at this moment. Why sing in as a reviewer? May be because you want the free subscription to Ecol Lett or you die for this dinner with Dr. X. Also, by making your profile and activity public is easy to track your reputation as a reviewer (and of course you can put your reputation-score in your CV). Identify cheaters in the system (which submit papers but don’t review) will be also easy, and new PhD students can enter the game faster. Any entrepreneur wants to develop it?

While  there is still also a lot of bad advice out there which contribute to saturate the system, other models to de-saturate the system are possible (PubCreds are an other awesome idea). I am looking forward to see how all it evolves.

Native bees buffer the negative impact of climate warming on honey bee pollination

We have a new paper in GCB lead by Romina. In this paper we do a very cool thing. We characterize the daily activity period of a bunch of bee species and how this activity is modulated by temperature. We show that while honeybees decrease visitation to watermelon at very high temperatures (literature suggest that the reason is that honeybees need to go for water more often when hot, hence have less time to visit flowers), some native bees concentrate its visits on the warmer hours. I think that understanding behavioural differences among species is neat to answer BEF questions.

wtbeeIn addition, we play a bit with future temperature scenarios to see if (all else being equal) visitation and pollen deposition will change with warmer temperatures. We show that the visitation reduction predicted for honeybees is compensated by an increased visitation rate by native bees (taken altogether). Despite this predictions should be interpreted with care, it adds up to the several lines of evidence suggesting that conserving all species is needed in order to have flexible ecosystems able to cope with environmental change.