I’m posting manuscript reviews

There’s a lot of comment floating around about the peer review process. For readers who aren’t academics (I hope that there are some!), peer review is the process whereby researchers submit their work to scholarly journals, which then send it to scholars in the field to evaluate, before a decision is made on whether or not to publish.  Reviewing other researchers’ work is part of our service to the whole research enterprise – almost all scientists review other people’s work, as well as having their own research reviewed. Reviewing can be rewarding, but it is also often challenging.  Being reviewed is always a bit stressful, because one is being judged and the criteria for judgement are not always obvious.  Owing to a general lack of clarity about the purposes of review (is the aim to improve the work or to keep “bad” science from getting published?), and lack of information about how an editor will use reviews to make editorial decisions (do we have to do exactly what the reviewers say to get the paper published?  are the reviewers making the decision or the editor?), many people are not very happy with the peer review process (although I suspect most researchers are less unhappy about how they review other people’s work than how other people review their work).  I’m not going to rehash this argument because I just read a really great post on the topic over at Small Pond Science – check it out.

I suspect that one reason many of us don’t think the peer review process is working well is that we get most of our information about it from our own experience.  It’s difficult to assess how knowledgeably or fairly your papers are being reviewed when you only ever see reviews of your own work or hear complaints from others about how their work was revealed.  As an editor, I do get to see mostly constructive reviews, but I suspect the authors’ reactions are more negative than mine, especially their initial responses (I don’t think anyone can respond happily to criticism of their work, no matter how justified or gently phrased).  I do try very hard to be fair and to word my comments positively.  Unfortunately, it is certainly true that reviewers are sometimes harsh, rude, or unfair in their criticisms.  This is especially hard on student authors.  About 5 years ago, a review came back on the first paper ever submitted by one of my students.  It started out by noting that our study species, Xylocopa virginica, is indeed fascinating, more research on carpenter bees  is needed,  etc., which was very nice.  The next comment definitely wasn’t: the reviewer described us as “incompetent”, the evidence for this being that we had done our observations in June rather than February.   Apparently the reviewer was unaware that in eastern Canada, carpenter bees (or almost any insects for that matter) do not fly in conditions more commonly associated with ice skating and hypothermia than with pollination and brood-rearing.   The grad student who wrote the paper was stunned and justifiably upset, and I was pretty mad.  It was the first and only time that I have challenged an editorial decision – eventually the paper was resubmitted and published, with an extra figure demonstrating that in southern Ontario, spring bee emergence begins in April or May.  I wish I could find that review and post it, together with a scathing rebuttal.

So instead, I’ve decided to emulate some other scientists in posting the reviews of my papers, together with my responses to the reviewers.  I hope that my students and others will learn from them.  I hope some of our undergraduates read these comments and realize that even professors are subject to critique and revision (lots and lots of revision!).  I really think that the more open the review process is, the more constructive (and less prescriptive) it is likely to be.  I think it is also time that I start signing my reviews.



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Novel, but not new, forms of societies in bees


Highlighting the article by da Silva, Stevens and Schwarz in Insectes Sociaux published online first on September 18

Written by Insectes Sociaux Associate Editor Miriam Richards

Xylocopa virginica on bee balm (Monarda) in late summer Xylocopa virginica on bee balm (Monarda) in late summer

My favourite social bee is generally the one that I am writing a paper on, which at the moment is the Eastern Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa virginica. The more we study this bee, the more complex and interesting its social behaviour gets, which is mildly ironic, because recently a reviewer suggested that despite complicated behavioural interactions among co-nesting females, these carpenter bees are not “truly social”. The still rather widespread presumption that caste-based eusociality is the only “true” form of sociality certainly influences how we think about social evolution in insects. [1] The recent publication in Insectes Sociaux of a paper entitled “Casteless sociality in an allodapine bee and evolutionary losses of social hierarchies” by…

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Want more hits on your website? Post about undergrads!

Undergraduate student Andrea Cardama has been working in our lab for almost a year.  She loves bees.  Her friends and family love posts about Andrea – a nice little blip on July 14th is the most recent wave of interest from the Cardama clan.  And since Andrea’s relatives are dispersed across the Americas and Western Europe, she generates lots of international exposure for us.  So much fun!

Cardama effect

An addendum 12 hours later:  Apparently posting about posts about undergrads generates even more interest!

second day stats

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Baby carpenter bee eating its pollen mass

Undergraduate Andrea Cardama is spending the summer watching carpenter bees and helping out with pan traps.  She is raising some pygmy carpenter bees in the lab.  Here’s a link to a short video that Andrea shot with her cell phone.  The larva in the video has munched about half way through its pollen provisions.  After it finishes, it will pupate and spend several more weeks developing into an adult.

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New carpenter bee paper from Brock Bee Lab

IMG_1458 Our paper on social organisation and reproductive queues in eastern carpenter bees, is now “pre-published” in manuscript form.  The paper analyses the foraging schedules of  individually marked bees like the one on the photo (which was taken by Jess Vickruck), and is based on data from Chris Course’s MSc thesis.  We will also post the reviews and data sets later in the summer – stay tuned! Richards MH, C Course. Ergonomic skew and reproductive queuing based on social and seasonal variation in foraging activity of eastern carpenter bees. Canadian Journal of Zoology, in press, DOI: 10.1139/cjz-2014-0330.

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Jess gets noticed at CSEE2015!


Jess’s talk on the phylogeography of Eastern Carpenter Bees was quite a hit!  It garnered an honorable mention in the student talk competition.

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Sweat bee workers that could start their own nests – but don’t


Miriam Richards, Associate Editor, Insectes Sociaux

In a recent issue of Insectes Sociaux, we described a rather surprising example of behavioural flexibility in an obligately eusocial sweat bee, Halictus ligatus (Rehan et al. 2013). This is a particularly well studied species that has been the subject of hundreds and hundreds of hours of behavioural observations. As in many eusocial sweat bees, there is considerable evidence in H. ligatus for queen-worker conflict over oviposition rights in Brood 2, a conflict that often results in queen domination, if not monopolization, of Brood 2 egg-laying. Many H. ligatus queens appear to be multiply mated, so relatedness of workers to queen-produced brood is low enough to suggest that workers might often achieve higher fitness through personal reproduction rather than by raising siblings (Richards et al. 1995). Why don’t workers that are bullied by queens and which can’t lay eggs in the natal nest simply…

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