Author Archives: Bastien Boussau

About Bastien Boussau

I develop and use computational methods for phylogenomics and evolutionary biology.

A new phylogeneticist blogger

I’d like to advertise a newcomer among bloggers in phylogenetics: Nicolas Lartillot, now a researcher in Lyon. Nicolas just started blogging a couple of weeks ago but, judging from the number of posts he has already contributed, he seems bound to become a very prolific blogger.

Nicolas has made several noteworthy contributions to the field of phylogenetics, in particular Bayesian phylogenetics. For instance he has developed the CAT model of protein evolution, which seems to be more resilient against the Long Branch Attraction artifact, he has proposed Thermodynamic Integration for computing Bayes factors, he has developed a model for investigating correlations between continuous traits and rates of molecular evolution along a phylogeny, and he maintains the PhyloBayes package.

His blog is called “The Bayesian kitchen”, which I believe means that, underneath the nice theoretical properties of Bayesian inference, a fair amount of cooking is sometimes necessary to get things to work. So far his posts have been about the Bayesian/frequentist divide, about the philosophy of Bayesian inference, or about the interpretation of posterior probabilities, among other things. He uses examples from phylogenetics (e.g. dating, diversification models, ), comparative methods, or gene tree-species tree methods) or population genetics to help make his points. I’m certain I’m going to learn a lot from his posts, and I believe some of the readers of this blog will enjoy them too!

Motivating/rewarding reviewers

Among other things, researchers are expected to do research, publish the results of this research, and review the research of others. It is this reviewing part that I want to talk about today.

Reviewing is obviously one of the most important responsibilities of a researcher, one that can take a significant amount of time, but one that brings little reward, as it’s usually done for free. All a reviewer can show for it is a line on a CV saying “Reviewer for [put your favorite journal here]”. The purpose of this post is to propose a way to reward researchers who are good reviewers and spend a significant amount of time improving the work of others, often anonymously.

What if journals had awards for “Best reviewer of the year”? The laureate could then add this award on her CV, showing that she is doing a huge amount of service to her field. The award could be based on objective measures, such as the number of reviews returned in time, the number of reviews that concurred with the Editor-In-Chief’s decision, or could be more subjective, based on the Associate Editors and Editor-In-Chief assessments of the quality of the reviews they received. The award could be given with much ceremony at conference banquets, like awards for the best student paper, and perhaps with some money attached to it. Anonymity would not be broken, because all we would know about the laureate is that she reviewed N papers for journal X, not that she reviewed my paper submitted to journal X.

One could also think of a wall-of-fame type of thing, where reviewers would compete for the largest number of reviews returned in time, for instance. Or, to keep high levels of anonymity, give a way for a reviewer to know how her reviewing work compares to others: have I been reviewing more papers than 1%, 50%, 80% of the reviewers of this journal? If I see that I review less that my fellow researchers, perhaps I’ll be willing to accept the next invitation to review a paper. If I see that I review way more than my fellow researchers, perhaps I want to put that on my CV to show how altruistic I am.

Short of paying the reviewers for their reviews, which would perhaps be expensive for the smallest scientific societies, I think some type of reward/award system could be useful to appreciate the amount of time some researchers spend reviewing and improving the work of others. Given that systems for handling submissions and revisions such as “Manuscript Central” have all the stats available, that’s probably not very hard to do.