Cichlid Literature

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Updated: November 28, 2004

Ultimately this page will allow you to search the scientific literature to discover the latest word in cichlid research. For now, it provides links to several websites that contain recent and interesting cichlid research as well as some explanations of what "the literature" is.

Scientific Literature


Aquarium Literature

How papers come to be

You may have heard the phase "publish or perish". What exactly does it mean to "publish a paper" and how does this differ from say a magazine article?

In the popular press, an author writes an article which they submit to the editor of a magazine. The editor (or one of the editorial assitants) decides whether the article (a) suites the subject matter of the magazine, (b) is well written (c) fits in with the editor's plans for upcoming issues. If the editor likes it, he or she then notifies the author of the good news usually accompanied by some statement of payment for the article. The editor may also suggest some changes to the text or the editor may just go ahead and make changes before publishing the article.

A scientific paper starts out when a researcher finishes a piece of research. The author(s) sends the manuscript to a journal selected by the authors because the material fits the journals area of interest. The editor sends the manuscript to two or three referees or reviewers.

These are typically people who work in the same field as the work at hand and their job is to evaluate the research and the writing. Referees look for errors in methodology, errors in logic, bad writing, missing information, etc. Referees can be quite critical because they are in essence the "gatekeepers" to ensure that the published "literature" is as good as possible.

The referees send their comments back to the editor who then evaluates the seriousness of the criticisms and decides whether the manuscript is suitable for publication, requires revisions or has to be rejected. A typical journal might reject 50% of the manuscripts it recieves. Very good journals, like Science or Nature reject upwards of 85% of submissions.

If the paper requires revisions (usually the case), the comments of the referees and editor are sent back to the authors who revise the work, then resubmit it for further consideration. If the revised manuscript sufficiently addresses the referees' criticisms the paper is said to be accepted for publication.

Papers accepted for publication may still go through a final round of stylistic editing which may involve yet more revisions by the authors. Eventually, the paper is actually published in a journal, typically six months to a year after final acceptance. Finally, when the manuscript is published, it is called a paper and becomes part of the scientific literature.

As you can imagine all of this processing takes time. It is not uncommon for a few or many years to pass between the time the research is done and the time the material appears in print.

It may also interest you to know that referees usually do not receive payment for their work, and authors do not get paid for their papers, in fact, authors usually have to pay "page charges" (often $60 to $100 per page) to have their work published, provided it is accepted by the journal. Reviewing papers for free is an important part of what scientists do "for the good of science", and it is a service without which science could not function as effectively as it does.

Scientists hold "the literature" in great esteem. Scientific books usually contain digested versions of the literature and are generally only written after material has been published in journals. This means that the contents of a book (with many important exceptions) is often several years behind the times. The real cutting edge is in "the literature".

Understanding the literature and its role to scientists is difficult for nonscientists who may wonder why university libraries seem to spend so much money on "magazines" (journals) when they could be buying books. A good research library has subscriptions to thousands of journals and these range in cost from journals costing hundreds of dollars per year to journals costing thousands of dollars per year.

Where can you get these papers?

If you want to locate a paper in the literature, your best bet is the library at a local university. Larger public libraries will carry the journal Science but usually few other scientific journals because of the highly specialized nature of most journals and hence their limited appeal to the general public.

However, many people don't realize that the libraries of many universities are open to the public. You may not be able to check out materials, but in many cases you can use the materials on-site and photocopy articles you want.

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