Friday, October 06, 2006

Paper Revision

I spent this week in the "well, we're going to submit this paper tomorrow afternoon, so ..." phase. The paper in question has eight authors, including four faculty members here. I hadn't fully appreciated just how... fun... it can be to have so many authors on a paper. Granted, at least everyone on this list is on speaking terms with one another, and they're all reasonable people with a distinct desire to get this paper finished.

I gave people all of last weekend to get comments to me. A few people actually sent comments, several others acknowledged (in person—their offices are down the hall from mine) that they had received my email, and the rest were silent, but easily tracked down. One person had actually checked most of my references, finding one error that amounted to something like this: "Like Jones et al. (2003), we used the spherical black cow model of Appleseed et al. (1994) ..." But if you go and look in the relevant table of Appleseed et al. (1994), you will find that the cow is actually brown, not black. There's nothing in any of the tables in the entire Appleseed et al. (1994) paper that says anything about black at all. Jones et al. just mistyped something somewhere, it seems. No big deal; we add a footnote saying we realize that Appleseed et al. found the cow to be brown, but since Jones et al. used black, we will too. Meanwhile, one of the authors who felt like they should actually "contribute" in order to be included in the author list, starts considering whether or not the cow prefers greener pastures, and in the process does a simple calculation to reveal that the cow is actually a nice hamburger (with pickles and mayonnaise). Well and good: I type out a paragraph explaining how this is odd, as cows who are hamburgers don't make for very stable cows. But as it turns out, this calulation depends sensitively on what color the cow is. So we redo the calculation using brown instead of black, and find out that the cow is only dangerously close to wanting to be a hamburger, but since this situation is still not very stable, we keep the paragraph in. But now we're making a big deal of what color the cow is! And so the author in charge of running the simulations is asked to re-run the simulations with a brown cow, which, of course, takes another day.

Then there was the author who said, "I don't know anything about elephants, so I won't comment on that section." Said author then came back with a huge list of complaints about how they didn't understand the section about elephants. Unfortunately, some of these complaints were perfectly valid, but others... not so much. And I don't yet have the skill (or tact) to politely explain why certain points simply do not need to be addressed.

I also learned this week to not show coauthors un-proofread versions of a paper. It seems so obvious, when I put it that way, but I didn't phrase it as such last night in my head as I rushed out in order to have dinner with the colloquium speaker. And so the emails started pouring in about repeated words and dangling participles when all I really wanted people to do was to comment on the new science.

There are interesting differences in approaches here. I was personally rather annoyed at myself this morning, as most (if not all) of the minutiae pointed out to me I could have caught if I had, you know, just read the paper. This made some of the more pedantic emails all that more annoying: it's not that I don't know what a dangling participle is and that they should be banished, but I simply hadn't yet read the paper and fixed those particular problems. Then there were the emails which implied that I hadn't caught errors such as variables having one value in a table and another in the text because my eyes had "glazed over" upon reading the paper so much. Erm, not really. The most productive approach was taken by the author who simply read the paper, checked for internal consistency and good grammar, and gave it back to me mid-morning with a few scientific comments and suggested citations to boot.

I did finally post the paper to astro-ph this afternoon, and I really do hope all of the co-authors are sated by the current version. I'm still waiting for one of them to send me one-more-sentence before actually submitting it to the journal... but I fully expect to submit it Monday. Hopefully this particular iterative process terminates...

1 comment:

Jon Voisey said...

You may not know what a dangling participle is, but it seems you've got the extended metaphor down pat.