Publishing Sins — Lust and Envy

I am adding two more sins to publishing:  Lust and Envy.  These join Greed and Sloth and Gluttony and Wrath in the pantheon of Publishing Sins.

Lust.  “An intense desire.”

Lust often appears as a wanton commitment to a tool or a finding.  When reading a manuscript lust leaps out of the pages when an author exclaims that the latest complex estimation/modeling/textual technique is the only solution for this (and all other) problem.  If only the prose matched the passionate embrace of the technique.  It rarely does and all too often the chosen method ends up a one-night stand.

The danger with lust, whether it is a method or a finding, is that an author loses perspective and fails to be self critical.  Who knows the research project best?  Obviously it is the researcher carrying out the work.  But being blinded by technique, it is easy to ignore problems with the research.  Reviewers and editors will quickly find those blind spots and reject the manuscript.  It is good science not to be too enamored with your tools, bright and shiny though they may be.

Authors also lust after a finding. Before fully embracing a finding, as attractive and fresh as it may seem, step back and add some perspective.  Is the finding spurious?  How robust is it to alternative specifications?  Will the finding persist?  These are all questions that should be posed before committing the finding to paper.  Yet lust can easily overcome sensibility.  If you don’t raise these questions, others not blinded by lust surely will.

To avoid lust an author needs to be self-critical.  Don’t get mislead by a novel technique or finding.  Make certain what you have to say is robust.  After all, if you get published, you will have to live with your article for the rest of your career.  You should prefer something that will hold up under scrutiny, rather than be shown to be flawed.

Envy.  “An insatiable desire to possess what another has.”

Envy manifests itself in the publication by others.  Scholars want to get their work into the journals to further the science.  Envy arises when furthering the science takes a backseat to careerism and merely counting publications.  Journals have limited capacity, so publication often looks like a zero-sum game.

A common source of envy is the view that “an inferior paper was published and my manuscript will provide a much needed correction.”  This is rarely a concern with replication, which is a valuable part of the scientific enterprise.  Instead it typically involves a minor extension of a well-known result.  Adding yet another control variable may be useful for the subfield, but it does not make for a path breaking manuscript.  Worse, with a cluttered set of independent variables, it may not be clear what inference to draw.  While an author may be envious of another’s publication, it does not mean that the new, improved, minor contribution should automatically be published in a general journal.  It may mean that the manuscript is a good contribution to the subfield and with plenty of subfield journals that should be the first place an author should head.

Another source of envy is the view that journals are clubs where those who get in do so on the basis of knowing the editor or have special connections with the Editorial Board.  Naturally this leads to envy of purported club members.  I wish that was true that I was a gatekeeper to a secret club because I would have loved to figure out a way to collect rents off of authors submitting to AJPS.  Alas, I am not the richer for being editor.  AJPS, like almost all journals, takes conflicts of interest very seriously.  I never handle a manuscript from my colleagues or graduate students.  An Associate Editor handles anything that might look like a conflict of interest.  Likewise, in selecting reviewers we avoid conflicts of interest, which includes people at the same institution, co-authors and people who directed the author’s dissertation.  We occasionally make mistakes, but they are very rare.

Rather than being envious, authors should worry about their contribution and how it furthers knowledge.

3 comments

  1. […] previous posts I have looked at Greed and Sloth, Gluttony and Wrath and Lust and Envy.  My final installment of the Seven Deadly Sins of Publishing ends with Pride.  Perhaps my own […]

  2. […] my comments around the “seven deadly sins.”  These include:, greed, sloth, gluttony, wrath, lust, envy, and pride.  Each represents a common failing for authors. I discovered that I wrote far more than […]

  3. Ian Noronha · · Reply

    Re: Envy: That’s a flippant response to a real concern by authors. The issue isn’t such direct conflicts of interest but rather that created by a circle of authors who share assumptions and values about what constitutes good work (i.e., each other’s) and are shameless in their self-promotion. The same is true for editors. Intellectual bias is the concern raised; you didn’t address or acknowledge it.

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