Thursday, January 9, 2014

Why to write and publish scientific papers in hydrology

Luca Brocca (also here) brought to my attention a series of slides from Demetris Koutsoyiannis (see also here) about the challenges faced in publishing a paper.  I dedicated one of my first, and others posts, to this, but a further lecture can be interesting and this is even enjoyable.

From Demetris slides (here) I cite some  from Schulman E.R.'s humorous paper:

"Scientific papers … are an important—though poorly understood—method of publication. They are important because without  them scientists cannot get money from the government or from universities. They are poorly  understood because they are not written very well.
… "

and three statements which could be interpreted as truisms, but they are not (with my comments):
  • Reading other good papers is much more useful than reading guidelines about how to write and publish papers (but you have to know the basics of writing a scientific paper, and someone that dissects it for you would help)
  • Writing a good paper presupposes good understanding of the subject studied (In my view not entirely true ... you just need to have an intuition and pursue it. Having it all clear can take decades, and in the long range we are all dead. As D.K. says too, a good scientific paper is something in the flow of knowledge. Do not wait too much to write it)
  • Publishing the paper presupposes good understanding of how the peer review process works (definitely true. Some opportunistic behaviour is necessary to survive).
To sum up, D.K. presentation is a "must read".

Looking at publishing from another side,  papers are not all the outcomes of a research, but one among others, as are models, patents, books, data, and other stuff, especially if one considers  that not everybody is a professor in real life (is here is sort of an equation ? -  academy=publishing / not academy .. : do not care ?). Certainly writing a paper and going trough a review process can challenge your certainties, and refine your knowledge. IMHO doing research and writing are two different jobs, that meet only in good papers (and with the further note that unpublished research does not produced shared knowledge, and therefore science^2^2b).

Finishing with who started the thread, Luca B. also tries to point out (the papers in figure are from his own CV^1) that publications history, and peer review process can be weird and, at the light of history, even wrong (as a brief report of Keith Beven^3 included  in D.K presentation also tells). However, being consistent, he could publish. Being consistent about consistency, besides being smart, is certainly a key of success.


^1 -  I could also put the same comment on some of my papers,and, I could further include a paper that was never published after good reviews, just for the decision of the AE. Never mind: peer review is the worst form of selecting papers, except all the others form that have been tried from time to time (paraphrasing W. Churchill).

^2 - Something is still transmitted through oral communication though.

^2b - Science, however, is not just shared knowledge. For instance, it is substantiated by the possibility of checking  (well, falsifying) assertions with experiments, yes, at the uncertain light of probability.

^3 - I admire K. Beven work, and I almost completely agree on what Jeff McDonnell (Google scholar here) says on him (reported in D.K slides). However, I am urged to remind, without offending anyone, that there is a certain difference between Saul Bellow and Stephen King. The first has certainly less readers than the first, but ...


  1. Riccardo, interesting consideration.

    I point out another issue. For my point of view, paper still the best instrument we have to communicate science, bot now are too slow, long and oldstilish for the current "fast" world we live.

    In my view should become shorter, without long introductions and going directly to the point for be used. Now if you do not mention all very likely you upset the reviewer because they want to be cited. But then are of little use. 90% one use a paper only giving to it a very quick look to cite it to support one statement.

    Another issue is to recognize in the academic world also the same Impact Factor of o good Journal publications of documented and open access models and dataset. Often such a instruments are much more useful than papers.


  2. That is a quite interesting presentation that was done at EGU. I came accross it while searching for papers and publications written by Vit Klemes.