Rediscover your Nature

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A message from Dr Philip Campbell, Editor in Chief of Nature:

From today, Nature has a new look, a clearer structure, and contains new types of content. Above all, our underlying goal is greater clarity in the reading experience, and this blog post describes a few of the changes we’ve made to this end. More details are given in the official press release.

For authors of original research and commissioned articles we provide an improved online template for the full-text version of articles (an example is here, free to access online). We’ve also updated and clarified Nature‘s guide to authors, including downloadable summary sheets to help in submission and preparation of manuscripts.

The print magazine component of Nature is now structured in a clearer way. The introductory material has been reduced to a simple table of contents. A new section called This Week contains Nature’s Editorials and summaries of recent developments in and around science. It also includes a new page, World View, in which external authors give prompt personal perspectives on live issues. More analytical and reflective content, presenting developments in the world of science in greater depth, appears as journalism in News in Focus and News Features, or as Comment, a forum for essays, debates, reviews, and readers’ correspondence. Online, these are presented as a unified News and Comment section for easy access to these features as well as to the journal’s specials.

The Research section includes accessible summaries of the latest research articles available now online, News and Views, review articles, and primary research content of Nature – its Articles and Letters. To provide additional and useful navigation for readers and authors, these contributions are presented online by subject as well as in the more conventional temporal (by issue) method.

Within these sections we have tried, in the redesign of our print layouts and key elements, to ensure that the reader gains as quickly as possible a clear idea of just why he or she should be reading an article. We’ve created space for more descriptive headlines and other display elements that allow a reader to get an immediate sense of what an article has to say and who its authors are. The new design also emphasizes the use of charts and graphics that offer a quick summary of the key data underlying an opinion piece or news story. It allows for more inventive, attractive pages as well.

Both in print and online, these changes have been developed over more than a year in consultation with members of the scientific community in their guises of readers, authors and peer-reviewers, with much positive feedback in the process. We have listened and we have changed. We hope that Nature’s subscribers will look forward to their weekly magazine all the more, and enjoy the improved online experience by a similarly enhanced degree.

As well as in print and online media, Nature is also available from today in a new, much improved digital edition. By visiting this link you can sign up for a free, three-month trial of the digital edition, and watch a video demonstrating the many new features in the journal.

As well as print, online or digital, you can read, follow and access the journal via our iPhone app, our weekly podcasts, or by video, Twitter, Facebook and Nature Network. Whether for readers or for authors, Nature is everywhere that matters. And, of course, we want to know what you think of it all, ideally by undertaking our brief survey.

Further reading:

Announcement: Nature‘s new look ( Nature 467, 368; 2010).

Grrl Scientist’s blog at Nature Network.

Press release.

New online article layout for Nature journals

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Several of the Nature journals have a new online article layout, a two-column format that increases on-screen article readability while providing enhanced navigation and a flexible set of tools. For more details of what is included, download a PDF showing the key aspects.

Journals so far in the new template include Nature, Nature Biotechnology, Nature Chemical Biology, Nature Chemistry, Nature Communications, Nature Genetics, Nature Immunology, Nature Materials, Nature Medicine, Nature Neuroscience and Nature Structural and Molecular Biology. The rest of the Nature journals will adopt the new design over the coming months.

An example of an article in the new template at Nature Communications.

Comment articles on genetics and genomics research

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From the Editors of Nature Reviews Genetics ( 11, 309; 2010):

Since the launch of Nature Reviews Genetics almost a decade ago, we have used a variety of ways to communicate the most important advances in genetics and genomics. As well as the classic Review format, our Perspective, Analysis and Progress articles have enabled authors to tackle topics in a range of useful and interesting ways. This month’s issue (May) sees our first Comment article, a new format that we hope you will find engaging and informative.

As the name suggests, Comment articles allow authors to provide a commentary on issues that are having an impact on how genetic, genomic and related research is carried out and applied. Such issues might range from the ethical to the technical, and will have broad relevance to the journal’s readership.

On p. 310, Sharon Terry uses the Comment format to argue that the traditional way of allocating funding for disease research is stunting the translational impact of genetics and genomics. She sees the earmarking of funds for research on specific diseases as outdated in an era in which genomics approaches are providing unprecedented means to identify connections between diseases.

Terry’s Comment calls on striking examples of how Mendelian diseases can inform about diseases with a multifactorial basis, and vice versa.

How to break new ground in the era of “big science”

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Leslie Sage, a senior editor at Nature, and Joanne Baker, Nature‘s Books & Arts editor and a former observational cosmologist, write from the astronomy perspective about the risks of ’big science’ in Nature Physics (6, 233; 2010). From their article:

Astronomy is in an era of unprecedented change. Once the preserve of a dedicated few who travelled to remote observatories to investigate the heavens, the discipline is now ‘big science’, carried out on an industrial scale by a workforce of postdocs. Just as bankers have been seduced by the sophistication of computer analyses, more and more astronomy papers are showing evidence that familiarity with the essential ‘dirtiness’ of data and models is being lost.

Overly confident with their polished results, researchers are tempted to cut corners. In competitive fields, such as searches for high-redshift galaxies, it is now common for papers to be presented for publication without showing the actual data on which the conclusions are based; error bars are often omitted. As journal editors who follow manuscript submissions, we are concerned that this indicates that astronomers are less inclined to consider the limitations of their data in an era of huge databases and automated reduction procedures. This remoteness is only set to increase — more and more students have never been to an observatory, let alone fought cranky equipment and poor weather. Theorists who use other people’s code run the same risk — they are not aware of the limitations and assumptions under which it was written.

In an era of big science, where will the maverick views come from that will break new scientific ground? Astronomers have long researched independently. By harnessing the competitive drive and curiosity of individuals and small teams, astronomical discoveries have multiplied in the last fifty years, from the cosmic microwave background to black holes and pulsars. Now we routinely see papers authored by over 200 people, happy to sign off that “All authors contributed significantly to the work reported here”. Such large collaborations distance researchers from the coal face of science and are dishonest in accrediting work. Postdocs and students fare worst, because it is hard to shine in such a crowd, and permanent jobs may escape the best, being awarded to those who have someone senior to lobby for them.

There are positive aspects to the growth in collaboration. Costly new telescopes become feasible and more people have access to more data. There is a gratifying trend towards multiwavelength studies, which require team members with expertise in the different fields. But collaborations involving hundreds of people are notoriously difficult to run. Formal memoranda of understanding between institutions that specify in excruciating detail how every communication is handled — down to the idiocy of gamma-ray-burst alerts having to go to a publications committee before being issued — are inimical to the free-wheeling world of astronomy. In private, many astronomers say that they regret being part of large collaborations because the rules don’t work for them.

There are solutions. The training of young astronomers should be seen as a greater priority; it is too common that they are used as data slaves and then cast adrift. Students need to understand how an instrument works, how data are collected and reduced, and they need to see that the effort they expend will be rewarded by recognition. They could be taught professional skills, such as how collaborations work in real life and how to manage projects, by looking at past examples. Astronomy’s long history includes many stories of success and failure in team-working. And being pragmatic, graduate schools should accept that more than half of their students will forge careers beyond academia and broaden the base of experience to better prepare students for alternative careers.

As journal editors, we can encourage people to write better papers and not aim only for the preprint timestamp to beat a competitor. We can exhort that more care be given to considering the quality of a person’s work, not just its quantity or whether it made a big splash, for right or wrong reasons. But it falls to the community itself to create its own culture.

In moving to big science, astronomy is adopting practices that go against decades of experience in how to keep our science innovative. The alarm has been sounded, but few are listening because the crisis is not yet upon us. It will come a generation from now, but it is coming.

Storing data forever

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From Nature Geoscience 3, 219 (May 2010)

Unlike accountants, scientists need to store their data forever. This expanding task requires dedication, expertise and substantial funds.

Data are at the heart of scientific research. Therefore, all data and metadata should be stored — forever, and accessibly. But it would be naïve to think that such a ‘gold standard’ of preservation could be achieved. In one spectacular example of the failure of science to save its treasures, some of NASA’s early satellite data were erased from the high-resolution master tapes in the 1980s. The lost data could now help extend truly global climate observations back to the 1960s — had they not been taped over. At the time, the storage capacity of the tapes seemed more valuable than the data they contained.

Until the introduction of full-scale supplementary information, ensuring that accessible records were kept was down to the authors. Of course, the loss of important information is unacceptable from a scientific point of view. But it is hardly surprising and probably widespread: scientists are not well-placed to guarantee continuity of data storage, especially while they are still in their vagabond years of PhD and post-doc work.

Nature Geoscience, in common with all the Nature journals, requires that authors make their data available on publication. The easiest way of ensuring that all the relevant information is accessible, and will remain so in the long term, is to use professionally run databases, which are now available for all sorts of Earth science data.

The creative push in science will always be for the production of better-resolved, more complicated data sets. Ingenious ways of storing and releasing these data are invariably developed with considerable lag. But this is not an excuse to neglect the issue. The preservation of valuable data sets and their distribution on demand is of utmost importance for the progress of science. The continuous attention of dedicated professionals — and substantial funds — is needed for database development to keep up with the science.

Howy Jacobs receives a letter

From EMBO reports 11, 325 (2010).

Dear [Dr/Prof] [Last name]

Your letter of [date] addressed to the Rector has been passed to me. The Rector thanks you for your comments and apologizes for his inability to respond personally to the many individual letters of this kind that he receives, begging your understanding in the matter.

First, please accept my sincere congratulations on your recent retirement. The University has a strong desire to remain in contact with former staff members and to ensure that their contributions over many years continue to be appropriately recognized.

On the subject of your pension, I do appreciate the difficulties resulting from your unusual career path. However, under its standard terms and conditions of service, the University is not responsible for the superannuation arrangements of its staff prior to their most recent appointment. The University’s pension scheme shows no contributions from you during the [number] years during which you were a PhD student on a tax-free scholarship, or the [number] years when you worked abroad as a postdoctoral scientist and junior faculty member. Unfortunately, where no bilateral arrangements exist between the governments concerned, pension contributions in one country cannot be counted towards those in another, nor is the pension transferable. I suggest that you take up the matter with the ministry responsible for handling social insurance matters in [name of country/countries]. The University pension scheme is also unable to credit you for the years during your career when you were on sabbatical abroad. This would have been strictly your personal responsibility or that of any sponsoring organization that supported you while you were in [name of exotic location]. I am also obliged to remind you that payment of your pension in future years is conditional on your continued residence in this country. I fully understand, as you write, that science is an ‘inherently international business’. However, this is a matter of choice and thus is not the responsibility of the employer or taxpayer.

Read more

Announcing Nature Climate Change

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From Olive Heffernan, Editor of Nature Reports Climate Change:

Nature Reports Climate Change has published its final issue, on 5 May 2010. In practical terms, thais means that the site will no longer be updated, but the archived content will still be freely available online. Although an ending of sorts, the closure of Nature Reports Climate Change is necessary to facilitate what will ultimately be a much larger effort by Nature Publishing Group to cover climate change.

In April 2011, we will launch Nature Climate Change, a full-fledged journal, whose mission will be to publish original research on climate change and its impacts, as well as to place such change in a wider social and political context. This new addition to the Nature family of journals is exciting for a number of reasons. As an interdisciplinary publication, Nature Climate Change will be the first Nature journal to publish research from social scientists. This marks an exciting new venture for us, but also a challenge in reaching out to a new community.

In addition to publishing the very best research from the natural and social sciences, Nature Climate Change will take forward the features, commentary, analysis and reviews that Nature Reports Climate Change has become known for over the past three years. Blending high-quality original research and opinion from international experts with unique reporting from renowned journalists, Nature Climate Change will set itself apart from existing climate research journals, enabling it to reach out beyond the confines of academia to decision-makers and other stakeholders.

Although April 2011 is some time away, launching a journal is a protracted process, and already the wheels are in motion to ensure that it happens on schedule. So, as the Editor-in-Chief of the new journal, it is with a mixture of anticipation and relief that I sign off on the last issue of Nature Reports Climate Change. Since its inception, the site has provided a home for engaging content from a host of thought-provoking authors and climate change experts. And Nature Publishing Group has done a wonderful service to society in making this content freely available to all. Nature Reports Climate Change has been the obvious precursor to what will be a bigger, better beast.

Our regular readers can follow the journal’s launch on our Climate Feedback blog which will continue to be a mainstay of discussions on climate science in the world at large, but will also become a vehicle for informing a wider audience of the new insights, analysis and opinion published in the subscription-based journal.

Finally, sincere thanks to those who have followed and contributed to Nature Reports Climate Change since its launch in 2007. We hope that you share our excitement about our new venture, and we welcome your thoughts and suggestions for its evolution.

Nature Climate Change - preliminary website.

About the new journal.

Contact the journal.

Climate Feedback blog.

NSMB’s tips for revising your paper in response to reviewers

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From: Nature Structural & Molecular Biology 17, 389 (2010)

Your paper went out to review, and after anxious waiting, you receive the letter asking for a revised paper. However, those ever-demanding editors and reviewers want more. One of the most important elements of a revision is the point-by-point response. Here are some tips for making it more effective.

Keep to the point. We [the NSMB editors] internally call this a point-by-point rather than a rebuttal, implying that it makes a series of points in response to each point raised by the reviewers. We will, and indeed have, read through 17-page point-by-points. But the longer the document gets, the more likely it is that the essence of your arguments will be lost in the mix.

Keep it objective. We have received comments from bewildered reviewers who do not understand why the tone of the point-by-point is so aggressive. Therefore, we will sometimes ask you to rewrite your response if it is overly pugnacious and we feel that this could affect the outcome of the review.

Keep things under control. There are definitely times for making a logical argument rather than adding new data and experimentation. That said, when fundamental technical concerns are raised or missing controls are being requested, the point-by-point is not the place for trying to dazzle your reviewers with argument and debate skills. Know when to go to the bench and when to argue.

The scope of things. Some requests might genuinely be beyond the scope of the manuscript or might simply be unfeasible. Make your response here as objective as possible. Say clearly and succinctly if something is unfeasible or if you think the results of such an experiment would be uninterpretable, and in both cases explain clearly why (pointing to the literature if needed) and how long the experiment will take to help make the case.

Some final points. There are some don’ts that should be obvious; but just in case, here are a few, in no particular order:

Telling us about your reputation, your pedigree, number of citations of your previous papers, your h-index, other Nature journals you have recently published in, etc. All interesting information but not pertinent to deciding the fate of the paper at hand.

Celebrity endorsements. Letting us know that a Nobel laureate enjoyed your talk at a recent meeting. Good to know but relatively meaningless. In fact, you never know—they could be moonlighting as your most critical anonymous reviewer.

Trying to guess who the reviewers are and then launching into a diatribe about their qualifications (or lack thereof).

And finally: “You recently published an even worse paper.”

All of these can be amusing to varying degrees but will do little to further your case.

Overall, it can be helpful to put yourself in the reviewer’s shoes and compose a response s/he would find appropriate, where the concerns raised are considered and fully addressed. In its ideal state, the review process is a positive and constructive back and forth, an intellectual discussion in which the manuscript is the ultimate beneficiary. Although it can be frustrating to be told at this stage that further revisions and experiments are a condition for publication of work that you felt was complete enough to submit, a common refrain after publication is for authors to express that, with the benefit of hindsight, the review process strengthened the paper. And a strengthened paper submitted at revision is the strongest rebuttal of all.