Publishing Prowess

Delighted to have a paper out today in PeerJ describing my work with Lauren Schiebelhut where we show that the apparently overdominant diversity at an elongation factor locus in Pisaster ochraceus is, somehow, miraculously, associated with sea star wasting disease.

I'm super pleased with the paper - I'd had a hunch about this for years - but also pleased with the collaboration. Getting the chance to work with Lauren, who is at UC Merced, happened opportunistically because she is also studying diversity in Pisaster. But the way Lauren threw herself into the project on my behalf was really nice, and in the end we found a surprising result that we - and everybody else - will still have to scratch our heads on "how?".

In fact, the fortuitous sharing involved in bringing a project like this together - samples were also kindly provided by Morgan Eisenlord, a student in Drew Harvell's lab, along with specimens collected by PISCO and by folks working with Mike Hart at Simon Fraser - is one of several reasons I went with PeerJ over a better-known, dare I say "prestigious" journal.

I've had three papers now, along with several other pre-prints, published at PeerJ. The experience has always been great: super professional and friendly, inexpensive, quick, effective. My paper on mitochondrial diversity in Agaricia corals was intended as a minor contribution, yet has been downloaded over 300 times already. These alt-metrics give us a better sense of how our work is actually being utilized. It has only been cited once so far (it is only 18 months old) but as I said, I assumed it would be of minor impact, and if nothing else it led me to a great interaction with Josh Drew through his student.

But this Pisaster paper I actually do think could have a greater impact. I even pondered if it was good enough for a "big" prestige journal. What stopped me? I'm tired of the ego-stroke of these big journals, in exchange for huge dollars going into publisher pockets, my science being hidden behind a paywall for students and scientists who are at institutions that do not subscribe, and no guarantee that this work gets any better exposure. The peer review works the same at PeerJ, only they actually tell me they are sorry when it takes more than a few weeks. The reviews are published alongside the manuscript so you can learn some of the process by which the paper is improved. I believe that publishing is changing, and if I cling to the old way I cannot contribute to that change.

I've been very happy with my PeerJ publications so far. This paper is probably my most interesting test. As a pre-print, it had already been downloaded nearly 100 times - that suggests that the work is of interest to people. It is free for you to read, or for a young person in a distant country to read if they have internet access. The science is just as good as in any other journal, but it is immediately accessible and I believe that I'm not contributing to this name game that scientists play: without reading each others' papers, they gain a general sense of not just the TYPE of science, but the quality of that science, by simply scanning a CV. We all know that isn't true, but it is a shorthand, a means of quickly pondering what somebody has done.

Instead, I'm asking you to read my work. In ten years, I hope that a huge number of my papers are in PeerJ, and you won't know if the work is interesting unless you actually read it.