Thank you for this interesting contribution that presents a multicultural viewpoint and accounts for various aspects of diversity! Let me just comment on one thing you said. Making a move on your own without waiting for your supervisor is all right, providing you inform her/him about your plans or intentions beforehand. We should recognize that everyone has a right to criticize their supervisors without fear. If we feel that we are discriminated on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, family responsibilities, age or other similar reasons, we shall say loudly that it is wrong and we will not stand for it. If we are victims of workplace bullying, we can (and should!) initiate informal as well as formal actions against it. We should not ignore the red flags in a lab or office and do not wait to leave a toxic environment while we can, although it takes courage to do it. Sometimes our decision to change a team is just a right one. But if leaving a research group is not taken into consideration, making crucial decisions behind the supervisor’s back can create a lot of bad blood. Personally, I was a witness of such situations and they always ended badly. So my advice is a bit different. Be creative, think independently, cooperate and communicate, but also be sincere and considerate to other people. Never be afraid to take decisions, but first think about the effects they may have.
Perhaps the most memorable review I have ever received was the one in which the referee, after demanding more experimental and theoretical data to be included, stated directly: "I cannot recommend the publication of this manuscript in any X journal" (where X stands for one of the leading professional publishing houses). The second reviewer, while critical, was down to earth and provided very helpful insights into the study. Our manuscript was rejected, but we have quickly introduced the corrections suggested by the referee #2 and my colleague, who was the corresponding author, submitted it to another journal of a different publisher, where it was entirely accepted with only very minor tinkering of details.
I am just wondering if the reviewer #1 keeps that kind of attitude with other manuscripts. In my opinion it is the role of Editors to moderate the peer review process and express opinions if the language used by the reviewers can be an issue.
A powerful post, Kamil. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Also, please let us know how your Women in Crystallography session goes - we would love to hear more about this event!
Thank you Ruth! I promise to write a separate post about the session.
Hi Michelle, thanks for answering. I like your post very much and I really believe we think along the same lines. I do agree that, as you has noted, the baseline of 'no simpler' is constantly moving. But while equality does not mean equity (as you have very nicely explained), we need to mind also the vast difference between being simple and being simplistic. I took a closer look at the shark paper and I agree - it is a very interesting and original study. I am pretty convinced that talking about playing music to sharks is much more appealing to general audience than the same message wrapped in incomprehensible scientific jargon, but selling the simplistic image of scientific research is something that we should avoid by all means. Staying with this example: cartoons can make complicated ideas more accessible and engaging, but a doodle of an anthropomorphic smiling shark wearing headphones would be a step in the wrong direction. Public outreach and science communication must be always done wisely, with extreme care and responsibility - since misinformation is worse than ignorance. So if someone of my family or friends wants to catch up on what my research is about, I warn them it will take time. Then I try to explain everything step by step using simple language (but not simplifying concepts), sending a clear message without compromising details and avoiding ambiguity. Usually both sides are satisfied at the end of a long chat. After all, not every idea can be explained during an elevator ride. Sometimes shortcuts are not the way to go.
I absolutely agree that scientific achievements should belong to all humankind, but I am not convinced if the language of science must be always interpreted for the general public. The scientific literacy is defined in the National Science Education Standards (https://www.nap.edu/catalog/4962/national-science-education-standards) as: "the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity". For instance, I would like to know enough about the effectiveness, side effects, precautions and interactions of a prescription drug before taking the decision to start therapy, but I do not necessarily need to know its mechanism of action on a molecular level. In the case of the cited paper, I am not an expert in the field but I presume that not all the elasmobranchs are sharks and not all the auditory cues can be considered as music. There is another famous quote often attributed to Einstein (but there is no direct evidence he actually said that): "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler". By oversimplifying things we can fall into the trap of vagueness, and the science must be accurate to work. That is why the Nature journals also publish News and Views, short and accessible articles that "inform nonspecialist readers about new scientific advances, as reported either in recently published papers or at scientific meetings" (https://www.nature.com/others.html#newsandviews). On the other hand, I agree that the scientific literature become increasingly unreadable and peppered with scientific jargon that is hard to understand, even by experts in the field (https://elifesciences.org/articles/27725), which make the studies virtually inaccessible and irreproducible.
Science and technology can make our world and life better and better. The more people that know it, the wider the impact will be. One hundred years ago, a few master scientists made discoveries and inventions, pushing a poor world into a modern industrial society. In past decades, millions of researchers have made contributions to science and technology and shared the results via limited-access journals and the internet, changing the world into an information society. In the future, via the OA system where everyone can access newly reported science and technology, the world will go into an intelligent society in which each person can make contributions to science and technology and enjoy the timely outcomes thereof equally.
I admit the utopian vision you paint is tempting, but let me look at it with a more skeptical eye. Providing everyone limitless access to the resources is not sufficient to maximize the impact of science and technology in the modern world. For example, predatory journals have done a notoriously bad job of creating chaos, confusion and misinformation by spreading pseudo-scientific fake news. Therefore, all the contributions must be rigorously evaluated to safeguard against ‘bad apples’ or, in case of some fraudulent publishers, ‘bad apple trees’. Critical assessment is the role of legitimate academic publishers, who are not only merely ‘intermediaries’ that pass on knowledge, but - to use Bruno Latour’s terminology - are ‘mediators’ that, through a process of editing and on the basis of feedback from peer review, are able to select, transform, shape and curate content enforcing ethical standards, guaranteeing scientific soundness and suiting the needs of the global research community.
This requires the continued hard work of teams of people, professionals who should be paid accordingly. So who is going to bear the costs? If the readers, then we are back to pay-per-access model. If the authors, then the costs may be not affordable to everyone, favoring well-resourced groups from developed countries in the way I have shown in my post. It is hard to find the golden mean, but I am afraid there is a fine line between a utopian full OA heaven and a dystopian hell of growing inequalities.