Back in 2002 working on dissertation-derived manuscripts, my committee and I decided a particular result might be interesting enough for Science Magazine. So we submitted and, lo and behold, the manuscript went out for review. I must say this was exciting news. According to Pamela Hines, Senior editor, only 20-25% of manuscripts get reviewed. That’s still a large total number of papers, as they get as many as 200 manuscripts a week. The reviews came back and were favorable, and a revision was requested. But a review is no guarantee, resulting in a final publication rate of 6-7% of initial submissions. We tried to comply, but alas, were not able to satisfy Science. The work ended up in Limnology and Oceanography, a fine journal and leader in our field, but still, what happened?
In order to get into Science, work must be “excellent, of spectacular importance, and presented beautifully.” More specifically, again according to Pamela Hines, there are seven alternative big-picture criteria a manuscript could meet:
- It’s a large step forward.
- It’s a solution to a long-standing problem.
- It has broad implications.
- It has a big impact.
- It overturns conventional wisdom.
- It solves a long-standing debate.
- It rewrites textbooks.
Moreover, the two biggest reasons manuscripts get rejected are: “topics are not of broad interest” and “results are too small an advance”.
We had reported that zebra mussels were associated with Microcystis dominance of algae communities in lakes. Zebra mussels were invading in-land lakes at a startling rate, and Microcystis blooms were being reported in lakes where zebra mussels had recently invaded. Since Microcystis, which can make a disgusting mess when blooming, can also be toxic, we thought this was important. Indeed, I would’ve placed the paper in the “broad implication” category. But we were missing something, according to the reviewers.
What was missing was a mechanism. Indeed, we speculated on a mechanism, but that wasn’t the point of the paper. I asked Dr. Hines about the importance of reporting the mechanism last week at the AAAS meeting in Chicago. She said that Science papers should “rise above describing” a phenomenon, however interesting, troubling, or important it may be.
This gives me hope, actually. The manuscript I’m preparing is about explicitly demonstrating the mechanism behind an ecological phenomenon we’ve quantified. And it represents a “large step forward” and “big impact”, in my opinion. We’re going to try for a Brevia.
Monday: What Brevia are for, part 2 of a 4 part series on writing for Science Magazine.