Saturday, March 5, 2011

How to write a positive review

Title of a note in ESA's bulletin in 1988

Kendra passed this one on to me. It's a short note published in the Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America in 1988 on how to write an influential review. Rosenzweig, Davis, and Brown put together a short note on writing influential reviews. The structure of the note is important. There are sections entitled "Accentuate the positive" and "The Correlation Between Detail and Negativity in Reviews". The beauty of the note is the encapsulation of the generational shift in our science.

At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, a lot of emphasis in the modern system has been on timeliness. In the past, reviews were more a chance to help colleagues than potential competitors.

The note is worth anyone reading. I'll abstract one part:

"...when scientists are under attack, they circle round, wagon-train style. The physicists aim outward at their opponents. Biologists, on the other hand, aim inward, at each other. Their weapons, of course, are disparaging reviews and negative comments.

The earth pulses with fascinating ecological and evolutionary questions, and threatens with environmental concerns. The questions are as intellectually challenging as those facing any other scientific discipline. The answers are essential to deal with the environmental prob lems that beset the world. But we cannot con vince other scientists (or the public, or government officials) of the importance of our work if we seem to be calling each other incompetents."

For me, the older generation of ecologists were exceedingly civil to one another. It's good to remember that our research stands on the shoulders of our predecessors, not the backs of our competitors.

You can find the paper here:

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