29 May 2017

Ireland vs. the pet trade

My newest paper is part of my own Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. It’s the fifth in a series, “pet crayfish on the internet.” 

The first (Faulkes 2010) used surveys; the second, Google alerts (Faulkes 2013); the third, online auctions, and (Faulkes 2015a); the fourth (Faulkes 2015b), classified ads. The fourth one was short, but I pushed it out because I thought documenting the illegal sale of marbled crayfish in Ireland would be useful for policy makers.

But there was an obvious question: if I blundered across ads for illegal crayfish in Ireland without looking, how many illegal crayfish would I find if I went looking?

While doing this paper, I was reminded was how useful it is to start writing the paper as soon as possible. This paper has a year of data from the Republic of Ireland, but only about half a year of data from the UK. Thats because I started writing the manuscript halfway through the year. I thought, “Hey, I’ve got half the data, I know what this paper is going to look like in broad strokes, so I can start putting this together.”

As soon as I started writing, I started thinking, “Uh oh.” I realized that there were gaps in what I was collecting (sigh), but that I might still have time to address (whew!). Writing forced me to articulate what I was doing, and I started imagining what the reviewers might say if I didn’t have certain things.

An advantage of having a scientific franchise is that some things get easier. I learned that it was useful to have a project run one calendar year. It’s a time frame that people get, and is manageable. You have a clearly defined end date, so you know how far along you are at all times. Data collection finished 1 January, 2016. Because I had done quite a bit of the leg work up front, I was able to finish writing and submit the paper less than two weeks later.

Where to submit the paper was tricky. Some articles have obvious homes, but there wasn’t for this one. There is no Journal of Pet Trade Studies. I looked at a lot of journals before settling on Biology and Environment. I had never published there before, but I couldn’t get a better fit than a regional Irish journal with a broad editorial mandate.

There was a cost to that good fit, though. The journal had no open access options. I’ve been trying to publish my papers open access when possible, and this is one of the first papers in a while (besides book contributions) that isn’t. In this case, I thought the fit was so good, this journal was the best chance for my paper to find its target audience, and that was worth the sacrifice.

Once the paper was submitted, I waited. I sent an email after two months, asking if I could post a pre-print while waiting for a decision. I was politely asked not to, so I didn’t. I waited some more. And waited. After six months, I sent an email making sure nobody had forgotten my manuscript. (Because that’s happened to me before.) I was assured it hadn’t been. I waited some more.

I checked in again around the nine month mark to make sure the manuscript was still a live concern for the journal. The editors really wanted a particular person to review this paper, and was just waiting on the one review to come in. So, yes, this is one of those frustrating cases where the editorial decision making was slowed by reviewers not promptly returning reviews. I was a bit miffed, since the paper was neither long nor complex, and I didn’t think it needed the many months it took to review. But I was pleased that I had learned to be more persistent in checking with the journal.

That said, once the reviews were back, I was pleased with the rest of the journal’s service. The typesetting and copy editing process was thorough and responsive, and it felt like they genuinely wanted to get everything right.

It’s funny to think that when I started my academic career as an undergraduate, I didn’t have an email address. The Internet existed, but practically nobody knew about it. The web was about a decade away. And now, I can publish papers about Ireland from my desk in Texas just by watching what people do the Internet.

Like any good franchise, I am already working on the sequel.

Update, 1 June 2017: I received a hard copy of the journal in the post today (cover above). It’s been a while since that happened! And I must say, the production is top notch. The colour pictures look bright and beautiful. The paper feels good in your hands. And there is an editor’s introduction to each article. The one to mine reads, in part:

Ain’t no barricade high (or wide) enough

Enforcing any restriction on the movement of goods or organisms is beset by problems even when physical barriers are used. We have been lucky in Ireland that the movement of many unwanted organisms has been prevented because we are separated from both the UK and continental Europe by natural water barriers. Whilst natural barriers are important these can still be circumvented often through trade-related, human assisted transportation. ...

Perhaps there is a message here–that the implementation of any barrier to the movement of an unwanted species is always likely to be too later–and that such a move has to be combined with an appropriate follow-up management plan?

This relates to a point I made on Twitter last week. It’s not fair to compare the delay in posting a pre-print to the delay in publication in a journal, as Leslie Vosshall did.

I say that knowing that I myself have complained about editors have never helped papers become more readable. But I think that was a little unfair. For one, I’m a native English speaker, and though I say it myself, a pretty good writer. My writing probably doesn’t need dramatic revision to be readable.

Since I wrote that blog post, I’ve worked with more journals. Several of them actively made my paper better after acceptance. Like this one, the improvement came in the copy editing and proofing stages. Lots of little details got detected and corrected before the final version was produced that would appear in the journal, and be the version of public record. I greatly appreciated that intense, detailed, checking of the text. That care showed up in the production of figures and tables, too.

Sometimes, it seems that some scientists are so confident of their abilities that they think their uncorrected, unreviewed manuscript cannot possibly be improved. Reviewing and editing are just unnecessary delays in getting their brilliant science out to the world .

I think that such manuscripts are extraordinarily rare.

Related posts

Can civil servants defuse a bomb? An Irish crayfish problem
Academic publishers need better defenders
The editor’s influence


Faulkes Z. 2010. The spread of the parthenogenetic marbled crayfish, Marmorkrebs (Procambarus sp.), in the North American pet trade. Aquatic Invasions 5(4): 447-450. http://dx.doi.org/10.3391/ai.2010.5.4.16

Faulkes Z. 2013. How much is that crayfish in the window? Online monitoring of Marmorkrebs, Procambarus fallax f. virginalis (Hagen, 1870) in the North American pet trade. Freshwater Crayfish 19(1): 39-44. http://dx.doi.org/10.5869/fc.2013.v19.039

Faulkes Z. 2015a. Marmorkrebs (Procambarus fallax f. virginalis) are the most popular crayfish in the North American pet trade. Knowledge and Management of Aquatic Ecosystems 416: 20. http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/kmae/2015016

Faulkes Z. 2015b. A bomb set to drop: parthenogenetic Marmorkrebs for sale in Ireland, a European location without non-indigenous crayfish. Management of Biological Invasions 6(1): 111-114. http://dx.doi.org/10.3391/mbi.2015.6.1.09

Faulkes Z. 2017. Slipping past the barricades: the illegal trade of pet crayfish in Ireland. Biology and Environment: Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 117(1): 15-23. http://dx.doi.org/10.3318/BIOE.2017.02 

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