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Sally Carter on the Council of Science Editors conference

8 Jun, 10 | by BMJ

I went to the Council of Science Editors conference in Atlanta, which was snazzily entitled “The Changing Climate of Scientific Publishing: The Heat is On.”

Atlanta was indeed hot. I had to get over the guilt of flying to a conference with climate change at its heart, then arriving at a completely air-conditioned hotel, wasting a ton of water because I couldn’t work out how to work the bath and shower, and not being able to eat all the huge portions of food that were available.

I’ve shot to office fame because I won the gadget of the moment in the conference’s prize draw – an iPad. Rest assured the competition involved no skill whatsoever.

I managed to do some exploring. I managed to take a tour of the CNN newsrooms, see the aquarium (they have two whale sharks you can swim with), explore the city on a segway, and go to the botanical gardens.

The sessions and speakers were all consistently good. Here they are in a nutshell.

Current science thinking on climate change
Great opening session from a polished speaker. His main messages were that climate change is happening and, “don’t let policies and economics taint good old science.”

Engaging readers’ attention
Three very different speakers. One gave his experience of trying to make his mark as editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, including updating the cover, redesigning the print version, introducing online polls for readers, and Continuing Medical Education features. Another talked about how to make journals “smarter” and more interactive online. And the final speaker from the American Association for the Advancement of Science had a great name, Ginger Pinholster. She gave some ideas on how smaller journals with few resources can reach the media. She also illustrated how science stories can generate a huge amount of interest in the strangest ways. The AAAS sent out a press release that someone decided to turn into a song.

Making sleepy statistics sing
I loved this one. I won’t go into detail, but the message I took away was these ideas were fab but, “you can’t hide bad science with cool visualisations.” Take a look at some of these sites if you have time. They’re great.
http://manyeyes.alphaworks.ibm.com/manyeyes/
http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/05/01/us/20100501-oil-spill-tracker.html

Workplace bullying
Very animated speaker. His message, “if you feel you’re being bullied, then you are.” It seems the UK has much better laws regarding bullying in the workplace than the US.

Public health and climate change
The epidemiologist, George Luber told us that “the public health effects of climate change remain largely unaddressed,” and we must, “reframe the climate change debate as a public health issue instead of an environmental one.”

A picture is worth a thousand words
Three speakers – the first talked about how their journal used fine art on all their covers. The second speaker was a woman from Nature who talked about “image integrity”  –  that is, how to spot a fraud. Very interesting. There are some case studies and examples of “how they dunnit” at http://ori.dhhs.gov/misconduct/cases/ The final speaker was the guy who set up JOVE – a journal that uses film to show how researchers have done their experiments.

The virtual office: optimising the remote workplace
The BMJ got a mention for its use of it’s virtual office after the 7 July bomb. Three speakers again. Good stuff, but nothing new and all from the employers point of view. The upshot was remote working can work well for some people (as long as the technology, and managers adapt the way they work to accommodate). All the employers recommended only letting employees who’d worked for the company for a few years go remote, and the ideal seemed to be a combination of working at home a few days a week and being in the office for the rest.

Banishing the ghost
A good one: research into honorary and ghost authors. The exec editor of Neurology   explained the journal’s approach to ensuring author transparency. Sparked an interesting Q&A session with some medical writers in the audience.

Industry climate change
Lots of techie stuff. There’s been huge changes since the internet, and there’s big change to come, but it’s all guesswork.

The future of science journalism
Michael Lemonick (ex-science writer for Time  magazine) gave a talk on his career in science journalism. In his words, “I think there is a future for science journalism, but I don’t know what it is.”

Best hiring practices
Three employers spoke. The first was a down to earth woman who recommended tests and scenarios, and getting salary ranges confirmed with HR before bringing people in for interview. Then a guy from Charlesworth talked through how they recruit in China. Initially, they hired four people for every two positions because they knew they’d lose half within weeks. He also said that recruiting could be a real family affair and a potential employee would bring his or her family in to check out the place and the employers. Finally, Ken Heideman of the American Meteoological Society talked of his experiences of hiring over the years, including “finding hidden gems” – people he hired thinking they were fine, but they turned out to be amazing.

Poster competition
The posters were on display in the exhibition area and all the delegates took a look at them between sessions, and voted for their favourite one. The topics were peer review and editing and editorial decisions. The winner was, “Author suggested versus editor selected reviews: a comparison of recommendations and effect on editor decision.” But there was also a poster for us tech eds – “A corpus based evaluation of usage advice from CSE and Chicago Style manuals”  – results – small sample, but STM use doesn’t consistently correspond to the advice of one manual over the other. Their conclusion – “Thus, an STM editor should be prudent when applying advice used in style manuals.”

Sally Carter is a technical editor, BMJ

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  • Steve Thompson

    Interesting…. do you think the venue was chosen to make a point or a good holiday? Am I cynical in my old age, or is this always the way with conferences :-)

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