Monthly Archives: December 2013

Open Science: Peer Review

On 23rd December 2013 I received notification that the paper Bryan Alvaerz and I wrote, “White matter microstructure throughout the brain correlates with visual imagery in grapheme-color synesthesia”, was accepted to NeuroImage.

It was the best Christmas present.

The whole experience with NeuroImage has been excellent. We had good reviewers who were polite and thoughtful. Their comments have improved the manuscript and we were accepted after one round of revisions. In our letter to the editor we thanked the reviewers for their insightful comments and I almost included a footnote: “No, really, I mean it!”.

On 24th December I sat down and made sure to pay this forward. I was asked on 18th December to review a paper, and I wanted to make sure that it didn’t get forgotten in the Christmas rush. I was given quite a tight deadline (2 weeks) and I really wanted to encourage these sorts of speedy turnarounds from journals and other reviewers.

It really sucks to be left waiting once you’ve sent your baby out into the ether.

I’ve submitted the review now, but I’d like to keep a track of how long each of these processes take. I strongly believe that scientists should be rewarded for their reviews even if they are anonymous. Peer review is the foundation that all of academia is built upon, and while it has its flaws, there’s a chance that the system we have is the best we’ve got.

However, I’d like to contribute a little to the #OpenScience movement. And to that end, I’m going to make public on my GitHub account two CSV files. One, reviews_for_me, logs all of the submissions of my papers, and the other, reviews_by_me, logs my reviews and how long I took to send them in.

Once there are more than one entry in each I’ll make a little graph of the times to review.

Even if the least it does is keep me honest and motivated, that will be enough. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll encourage others to take as much care as those thoughtful reviewers Bryan and I had for our paper.

Question for Commander Chris Hadfield

Sitting at the table in the Netherlands talking to Chris Hadfield on Radio 5 live.

Sitting at the table in the Netherlands talking to Chris Hadfield on Radio 5 live.

I’m writing this while sitting listening to BBC Radio 5 live and preparing for my five minutes of overwhelming excitement that will happen in about 20 minutes. The producers of the Victoria Derbyshire show will call me at 10:30 and I’ll have the opportunity to ask my absolute most favourite person on the whole planet a question. Just one question. What on earth am I going to say?

What I love most about Chris Hadfield is how well he communicates with people, and what an exceptional role model he is to everyone back on earth. I know he’s answered so many questions already (check out his three reddit AMAs before, during and after his time on the international space station) and so I spent all of last night trying to come up with an interesting question that might not already have been considered.

Here’s what I came up with:

My name is Kirstie Whitaker, I’m a researcher at the University of Cambridge and I study brain development. I’m really passionate about encouraging the next generation of scientists to join STEM careers, and I don’t know of anyone who has fulfilled that mission better than you [Commander Hadfield]. If anyone hasn’t watched the experiment of what happens when you wring out a wet towel in space, you really have to google it now! (I think I watch it almost every week when I need to be reminded of the magic of what human beings have achieved!)

My question is: You receive so much training as part of the Canadian Armed Forces, CSA and NASA for all the challenges of living in space. Did anyone give you any advice on how to deal with becoming a celebrity? Did anyone predict that you were going to be such a hit? And how did your family react to your fame?

I has so many follow up questions that were related to this idea: Do you think there is additional pressure on future astronauts to fill your boots? Is there a responsibility for “federal employees” to communicate what they’re doing to the taxpayers? Did the ability to interact with millions of people come naturally or is it something you worked to improve?

There were a few off topic questions that my friends brought up too: Do your vocal cords work differently in space? Did you save off your mustache now that movember is over? Is your son single?

It’s somewhat silly to be so excited about being able to talk to your hero, but I’m running with it. I thought his answer to my question was wonderful, as were his responses to all the other questions. He talked about the psychological support that NASA provides, and how it stands in contrast to the very little support that the early astronauts received. He thanked his son for spreading his tweets to other social media forums, and pointed out that social media is just that: social. It was through these interactions with everyone down on Earth that he created such a wonderful feeling of community.

You can listen to the interview here.

Let me know what you think.

What would you have asked?

Reproducibility and Replicability

I am extremely passionate about both reproducibility and replicability in neuroimaging. Reproducibility is the ultimate goal, while replicability should be the bare minimum that we demand in the 21st century. To this end I am committed to releasing all the analysis code from my peer reviewed manuscripts. You can find it at my github page. Please do use whatever you find there, and let me know if you think it could be improved.

There is a strong distinction between replicability – which requires that others can recreate exactly what you did with exactly the same dataset – and reproducibility. Reproducibility is the ability to find the same general pattern of results in a different data set. Publishing my code is an important step towards this goal because it allows others to begin to reproduce my results in their own data sets. I strongly encourage collaborations with other MRI researchers who are seeking to answer similar questions about brain development. Findings that appear in both of our cohorts of young participants mean so much more than all the single analysis findings put together.