It’s fascinating to see how outsiders think a process works compared to how it actually works.
Like last year, I asked my biological writing students, “What happens to a manuscript between the author finishing writing and it being final form that an audience can read?” I asked them to make a little flowchart. This year, there seemed to be greater understanding that there was some sort of review, though only about half specifically mentioned peer review.
Like last year, students were uncertain about who was doing the reviewing. Some people said publisher, some said editor, and some said reviewers.
One of the more interesting points in discussion, though, was when I asked them, “Who makes the decision about whether a paper goes into a journal or not?”
The students were unanimous in their opinion: the publisher decided if an article was accepted for a scientific journal. They thought the role of the editor was to check for grammatical errors, consistency, and things like proper comma usage. And students considered the reviewers to be more like fact-checkers, rather than people evaluating things like the significance of the work, experimental design, and other bigger picture stuff.
I tried to explain that in scientific publishing, a “publisher” usually refers to a large entity, like a large multi-national for profit corporation or a non-profit organization. Individuals are rarely publishers, and publishers don’t have much say in day-to-day decisions. I don’t interact with publishers directly when I submit a manuscript; I’m getting emails from editors.
The names of the titles are no doubt contributing to the confusion here. It’s so logical to think that a decision to publish would be made by a publisher. Students hear us talking about editing manuscripts, and think that the language crafting is all the job entails.
I wonder at what point a student working in the sciences figures out how the publishing system works. At the undergrad stage? Early graduate career? Late career? Whenever that first manuscript goes out?
When did you figure out how a manuscript turns into a paper? And did you get someone explicitly telling you, or did you figure it out by example?
How students see scientific publishing