Hello there bloggies and welcome to this week’s Science Sunday!

Today, I want to talk about something everyone remotely involved in research or science does: reading scientific articles. Whether you are simply trying to gain some background in a certain scientific area, figuring out how to perform a set of experiments/analyses, or trying to figure out where your results fit in the field, you will find yourself pouring over the scientific literature.

Trying to sift through these dense papers filled with their complex principles and nuanced jargon is hard enough. Unfortunately, some journals make this even more difficult with their formatting requirements. Here are some that I notice:

Crazy Word Limits

I think we can all applaud concision in writing. But, concision needs to be balanced with giving the writer the opportunity to make a compelling, logical argument and to contextualize it with the field. Not only that but sometimes the logical and specific details regarding methods, procedures, and the presentation of results need to be discussed more fully in order to convey them to the reader. Some of the top journals of limits of 2500-3000 words, which is not nearly enough to convey the groundbreaking information in these studies.

Limited Methods or Supplemental Methods

With these word limits and with other formatting restrictions, many of the specific details of materials, procedures, and methods tend to face the chopping block. In the best cases when this happens, these details end up relegated to the supplemental material or figure/table legends. Though annoying and usually hard to find, at least the information is there. In worse cases, authors simply cite previous papers (sometimes leading to an endless string of paper citing each other) or completely cut of these methods. Science is about reproducibility. If these details aren’t there, then others cannot replicate results.

Ridiculous Author Charges

Once researchers get their papers accepted into journals, the journal not only congratulates the authors but also typically sends them a bill. There are numerous charges that the authors must pay in order for the paper to be published. Two of the charges that always get me for the exorbitance are for color figures and for open access. While I can understand the need for journals to make money and offset costs, charging borderline obscene to make figures more easily interpretable and to make papers more accessible to the scientific and general community seems wrong to me (particularly as a huge chunk of research is paid for by the tax payer or through charitable foundations).

Table/Figure Limits

Just like word limits, there can also be limits on tables and figures in a manuscript. Tables and figures are typically where the meat of a research paper are located. The authors’ interpretation of the results are just that, the authors’ opinions. Good tables and figures are where the scientific community make their own decisions and conclusions of the data. Limited these can limit the reader’s ability to make these inferences.

Journal publications are one of the main ways scientists communicate their results to the rest of the scientific community and also how many are judged in job performance. Formatting, though seemingly innocuous, can limit scientists’ abilities to present and interpret science and hinder progression in the field. Cooperation and compromise between publishers and the scientific community are needed to help optimize how we present our work to the scientific and general community.

Thank you all for stopping by Science Sunday! Are there journal formatting rules that drive you insane? Let me know in the comments below or on twitter @DrFsThoughts.

See you all later!

-Dr. F

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