The process shaping the landscape of scientific writing
Writer: Marie Emilie Maeland
Editor: Gracie Enticknap
Artist: Qiwen Liu
Did you notice the two mistakes in the title? If you did, it might’ve made you question the validity of this article, which is exactly what writers don’t want.
Kinesis is to scientific publishing what Model United Nations is to the UN. Even though Kinesis doesn’t publish academic papers, it continuously exposes us to the publishing process and allows us to gain new skills through individual practice in scientific journalism. This doesn’t only enable us to judge the best tone and style to express a message but also gives us experience in guiding others in our ever-so-new editorial shoes. This gradually enhances our capability to give people advice on their writing while improving our own.
The peer review process is pivotal to ensure that published articles are fluent and clean, without grammar and spelling errors. The content of a piece is revised to make sure it aligns with the publisher’s expectations because some publishing companies focus on niche fields of science. The formatting and images produced by graphic designers are also closely assessed as they are equally important for capturing and informing the audience. This also applies to scientific journalism. Usually, editors undertake two rounds of peer review, where the author can make amendments in between. This process can be blind and, therefore, less biased in the sense that the reviewer and author don’t reveal their names.
Nevertheless, external noise impacts the publishing process. One aspect that influences whether a manuscript gets published is the temporal context. Take the field of ageing for example. The damage-maintenance era pumped out a vast magnitude of data in support of the free radical theory of ageing. However, with quite a bit of reluctance, the field has now shifted towards a programmatic theory, where articles stating that molecular damage doesn’t play such a big role are being published. This is just one example showing that what gets published is highly reliant on the popular view at the time.
Elsevier, Wiley, Taylor & Francis, Springer Nature, and SAGE are the dominating publishing companies today. Universities also often have their own publishing platforms (e.g., Harvard Press, Oxford Press). Although the main aim of these companies is to share the discoveries, developments and ideas brought forth by science to further collective knowledge in subjects ranging from translational medicine to astronomy, publishing is still an industry. This means that there is money involved. Interestingly, the publishing business has been suggested to be more profitable than companies, such as Microsoft and Google, whereby the majority of profit comes from subscriptions made by individuals, educational institutions, or firms who require access to the information. Moreover, most peer review is voluntary, incurring no costs for the publishing companies.
Science continuously evolves, with the possibility of new theories and contradictions every day. This reminds us that “in science, a pencil is more valuable than a pen.” Being able to erase, replace, and amend is not just essential but valuable in moving science forward. In fact, new techniques uncover flaws that were invisible to earlier methods. For instance, electron microscopes can visualise objects at the 10-10 m scale, which is a huge advance from light microscopes that measure to the 10-7 m scale.
Failure is a huge part of scientific publishing and journalism. As a matter of fact, an article can make it quite far down the line of the peer review process before it gets rejected. Being faced with rejection can be disappointing; however, communication and honesty ensure that the end product is reliable and appreciated by the readers. Without the publishing and editorial process, there would be no limitations on what reaches the public. Wed end up with sometings that sounds as this. Therefore, peer review and the larger publishing process are something we should appreciate and prepare for as we move onwards in our scientific careers.