Guess who just turned 7?

Prionus heroicus | Harding Co., New Mexico

Prionus heroicus | Harding Co., New Mexico

No, not this very alarmed male Prionus heroicus (among North America’s largest longhorned beetles) seen this past June at Mills Rim Campground in northeastern New Mexico—although he could very well have spent several years underground as a ever-fatter grub feeding on tree roots (probably oaks) before emerging as an adult.

No, today is the 7th birthday of this blog, and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’d almost completely forgotten about it. To a human, seven years of age is still immaturity, but in blog years that’s getting close to old age—perhaps like it’s author! I guess old age (on both counts) qualifies me to reminisce a little bit. I’ve seen the blogging thing come—there was a time when it seemed everybody was blogging, and I’ve seen it mature into something a little different. People still blog, but not as many and not for the same reasons. In the early days, blogs were how people with common interests connected and interacted. Nowadays other social media (e.g., Twitter and Facebook) have usurped that role. I don’t think that has made blogs irrelevant, but rather they now seem to serve more for outreach and as searchable repositories for information (at least among natural history blogs). In the past I’ve vacillated greatly in my feelings about this (and I still do sort of miss the “good ol’ days” of lively conversations in the comments). But actually I’m okay with it. When I want my social fix I jump onto Facebook (or Twitter in certain circumstances). When I want to write a little more substantively—to recount memorable field trips, document interesting things I’ve learned, reflect on my experiences as an entomologist, etc.—I blog. I used to watch hit counts; now I hardly ever give them a thought. I care less about who is reading and how many of them there are than I do about the content of the writing and quality of the images I share with those who do choose to read. I am enjoying the fruits of having blogged consistently for seven years—able to write well (and fast), vastly more versed in natural history, and connected broadly to the larger entomological community—and that alone makes it worth continuing. I’ve learned to blog for me and not for what I think others want to see. How liberating! After 7 years, I am more comfortable with and motivated to write than ever.

To all those people who have followed me, either now or in the past, thank you for your part in helping me in this journey. To those who are still to come, I look forward to meeting you!

© Ted C. MacRae 2014

Relaxed comment moderation policy

During the first few years of writing this blog, I maintained an open comment policy with few restrictions on who could comment. In November 2011, however, I began experiencing a flood of spam comments, and as a result I had to implement a new comment policy that included comment moderation for new commenters and the requirement for all commenters to include their name (shown publicly) and e-mail address (not shown publicly). My hope was that the change would end the hundreds of spam comments I was getting each day while minimizing the inconvenience to those leaving valid comments.

Fortunately, the spate of spam has abated, and I think now I can relax the comment requirements. I think such measures do much to inhibit comments, as many people simply find it easier to leave comments at links on outreach sites (e.g. Facebook) rather than the post itself if they have to enter extra information in addition to the comment itself. Remote comments such as this are, of course, appreciated, but my greatest pleasure is in seeing and partaking in the conversations that develop on-site in the direct comments. I also realize that many people simply are not comfortable divulging their name and providing their e-mail address, no matter how secure the site is proclaimed to be. As a result, beginning today I have removed all comment moderation and the requirement to include name and e-mail address when leaving a comment. This means that anonymous comments are once again welcome. By eliminating as many barriers as possible to free, open communication, it is my hope that readers will not only find leaving comments here easy, but also feel comfortable doing so.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

“Dear Author”

On April 1st of this year, I celebrated one year as Managing Editor of The Pan-Pacific Entomologist. For many years, I thought an editorship might be something I’d like to do; however, I must confess that when this opportunity did arise, it was with some trepidation that I accepted. Could I learn the role quickly enough? What was the process for dealing with the printer (a process I knew nothing about)? Could I effectively organize the manuscript process from submission to publication, influence the Editorial Board on policy matters and maintain high journal standards? Most importantly, could I return the journal to on-schedule publishing? Despite these doubts, I couldn’t have asked for a better first opportunity than The Pan-Pacific Entomologist—rich in history, biosystematic in focus and fairly well-known without being too terribly large. I’ve gained some comfort in the role now and am, to this point, pleased with the quality of the papers published and the progress made towards returning to on-schedule publishing.

In my previous role as Subject Editor, I dealt with authors primarily from the standpoint of getting their manuscripts reviewed, communicating reviewers’ feedback back to them and ensuring that their revised manuscripts appropriately addressed that feedback. In my current role I still deal with authors, but now it is on the front end—in receiving their submissions—and the back end after the manuscript has been accepted by the Subject Editor. In theory, the latter should be the more involved process—providing guidance on final formatting (or doing it myself if necessary) to ensure that text and figure files meet requirements for printing and managing corrections/alterations to galley proofs before final publication. In practice, however, receiving submissions has proven to be the more time-intensive process. The reason for this is that manuscripts are often submitted before they are truly “ready for review.” i.e., properly prepared and relatively free of mechanical, language or formatting problems. Our reviewers willingly and freely give of their time and expertise to ensure that the papers published in our journal meet the highest scientific standards. Ideally, their efforts should be focused on the manuscript’s scientific content; however, the extent to which a manuscript contains structural and mechanical problems needlessly detracts from that focus. Even if such problems are set aside until final formatting, they still require resolution before the manuscript can truly be considered ready to publish. In my experience authors who neglect to address these areas before submission usually have trouble dealing with them after acceptance as well, increasing delays in publication.

Of the 97 manuscripts I inherited or have received since taking on the role of Managing Editor, 57 have been published or are currently in press, while 19 were rejected or withdrawn (the remaining 21 are currently in queue awaiting decision). In looking back over these submissions, I am amazed at how many I received for which it was evident that the author paid little, if any, attention to the guidelines for preparing and submitting manuscripts given in our Author Instructions. It goes without saying that compulsive review of author instructions (printed inside the back cover of each issue and posted at our website) prior to beginning and during preparation of a manuscript and then again before submission is the best way to ensure that a manuscript satisfies journal requirements, minimize the introduction and propagation of errors and avoid omitting critical manuscript components. That said, and despite guidance to the contrary, there seem to be certain areas that are consistent pitfalls for authors. If I could write a “Dear Author” letter, the following items are what I would include:

1.       Don’t try to format your manuscript to resemble the printed journal
While a few smaller journals employ a “camera-ready” process—i.e., the journal is printed off of hard copy manuscripts that are formatted for the journal’s particular style, most, including The Pan-Pacific Entomologist, prepare and format manuscripts for publication via electronic file conversion. Formatting commands in most word processing programs can interfere with commands in the conversion software used by the printer, creating layout errors that must be manually corrected. A basic text file that uses as little formatting as possible may not be the prettiest thing to look at, but it will convert with the least chance of introducing errors that need to be corrected or, worse, make it past galley reviews and into the final publication. The most common formattings applied by authors are those that also appear in the printed journal, including bolded and center justified titles and headings, italics for subheadings, tabbed or indented paragraphs, insertion of hard returns within titles to force line breaks and “even out” the width of multiple lines, and use of hanging indents to format literature citations.

2.       Create “real” tables, but don’t worry about making them “look nice”
Along with manuscript formatting, table formatting also is applied automatically by the printer during file conversion to achieve the desired layout. I’m not sure why some authors create “pseudo-tables” using tabs and spaces rather than using the table function in their word processor, but such manually created tables will not convert properly. Even authors who use the  table function are often tempted to format their tables with various lines, re-size cells or text (including manual hyphenation of long words) so that the table fits the page nicely, and even use spaces or hard returns within cells to manually align the text contained within them. Again, all this accomplishes is to introduce errors that must be corrected or that will compromise the printed article.

3.       Know your “dashes”
It is a shame that modern keyboards contain a key for only one of the three types of dashes that authors will find useful: 1) hyphens, 2) ‘en’ dashes and 3) ’em’ dashes. The result of this is a tendency by most authors to simply use a hyphen whenever any one of these three types of dashes are called for. In fact, I suspect that many authors aren’t even aware of the existence of the latter two! Hyphens, however, are properly restricted to joining words or terms (e.g., Pan-Pacific, species-group, wood-boring, 10-m diameter plot, etc.) but should not be used for connecting value ranges. These, which include page ranges in literature citations, are more properly connected with an ‘en’ dash (–). Note that an ‘en’ dash is slightly longer than a hyphen (basically the width of the letter “n” in fixed-font type) and is achieved in MS Word by holding down the ‘Alt’ key while typing “0150” on the numeric keypad (on my own keyboard I have made this much easier by using the AutoCorrect function to insert an ‘en’ dash whenever I type two consecutive hyphens). Examples of proper ‘en’ dash usage include “pages 76–99”, “1–3 June 2012” and “Figs. 3–5”. The third type of dash, or ’em’ dash (—), is not used by most authors (although I tend to use it quite commonly!); however, it is very useful for connecting unrelated clauses within a sentence (see examples earlier in this article). This is the longest of the three dashes (equal to the width of the letter “m” in fixed type font) and is achieved in MS Word by typing “Alt+0151” (or, on my keyboard by typing three consecutive hyphens). Authors who become proficient in the use of all three dashes will do much to enhance the professionalism of their manuscripts and minimize the need for manual corrections or the chance of errors in print.

4.       Literature Cited
I give this area its own paragraph, because it seems to be one of the most problematic for authors. The Pan-Pacific Entomologist, like most journals, uses a precise format for literature citations. Many authors seem to have their own personal formatting preference for literature citations, but to the extent that personal style varies from the requested journal format in the final file, reviewers, editors or typesetter will need to make manual corrections. I’ve already mentioned the most common one; use of hyphens rather than ‘en’ dashes to connect page ranges, and it is also common not to adhere precisely to specifications for spaces or punctuation (or their lack) in author name(s) and journal volume/issue/page range formatting. Another error that I take special interest in is citing “Pan-Pacific Entomologist” rather than “The Pan-Pacific Entomologist. Without doubt, however, the most frustrating habit by some authors is the practice of inserting hard returns and tabs within the citation in an effort to simulate hanging indents. While hanging indents can more properly be created using paragraph commands, all use of tabs and indenting should be avoided to begin with (see #1 above). Simulated hanging indents with manually inserted hard returns and tabs require manual correction—again by reviewers, editors or typesetter if the author does not do it.

5.       Line spacing and numbering
I sometimes receive manuscripts in which the text is double-spaced, oftentimes with line numbering also turned on. This seems to be a holdover practice among authors accustomed to the days of hard copy manuscript review. In that process, reviewers and editors needed room between lines to mark their annotations or line numbers to easily summarize their location. Nowadays, most journals use fully electronic processes for reviewing manuscripts and communicating reviewer feedback to authors. Use of “Track Changes” for marking changes and inserting comments has obviated the need for reviewers to print out a copy of the manuscript and annotate it manually (this also makes unnecessary the use of headers/footers to indicate page number), and in fact with electronic submission procedures now commonly used (by both the journal for receiving submissions and by the printer for receiving ready-to-publish files), most manuscripts need never appear in hard copy until final printing in the journal!

6.       Don’t create “pseudosymbols”
Many authors are familiar enough with the use of symbols, e.g., male and female (♂ and ♀), degrees (°), etc. Most of these symbols are not found on normal keyboards and, thus, must be inserted using the word processor’s Insert Symbol tool. There are, however, a few symbols for which reasonable facsimiles do exist on the keyboard, usually the letter “x” rather than a multiplication (×) symbol and “+/-” rather than a plus-minus (±) symbol. Once again, the use of “pseudosymbols” requires manual correction and should be avoided.

7.       If English is not your native language, have your ms reviewed by a native English-speaking colleague
If you are reading this, then you probably already know English well enough. However, I just need to say this: The Pan-Pacific Entomologist is an English language journal, and although we welcome manuscripts by all authors from around the world, they must be written in proper English. In an effort to satisfy this requirement, it has become common for authors whose native language is not English to submit their manuscript to commercial translation services. Unfortunately, while the translators may speak English, they do not know science—and certainly not the author’s research. As a result, oftentimes the manuscripts I receive that have gone through such services are written as poorly as a manuscript that has not been reviewed for English at all. I have returned a number of submitted manuscripts strictly because the English was unsatisfactory and, in some cases, even received a terse response from author stating that their manuscript had already been proofed for English by a commercial service (even attaching the “certificate” they received from the service). Nevertheless, my advice is this: the best way to ensure that your manuscript truly satisfies the English language requirement is to have it reviewed by a native English-speaking colleague who understands your research!

p.s. it might be fun for you, the reader, to “proof” this letter and let me know of any errors in English that you find. Imagine the satisfaction of getting to tell an editor about mistakes in writing that he has made (and I can take it… really!).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

New comment policy

In the nearly three years since moving ‘Beetles in the Bush’ to WordPress, I’ve enjoyed an almost spam-free existence.  Rarely did I ever get more than just a few spam comments per day, and whatever spam I did get was flagged with nearly 100% accuracy by WordPress’ Akismet spam filter.  So minor was the issue that I’ve been able to leave comment settings for the blog at their least restrictive—anonymous comments allowed with no comment moderation.  Spam comments were held for review, while legitimate comments were published immediately.  It was a simple matter to review the few spam comments that accumulated each day, confirm that they were indeed spam, then send them on to cyberoblivion.  Occasionally a legitimate comment or two would also get flagged as spam (primarily for including more than one hyperlink in the comment—a common feature of spam comments), but I would find these during review and approve accordingly.

Until now, that is.  Last month I had a post selected for WordPress’ ‘Freshly Pressed’ feature.  It’s kind of a big deal to be featured on Freshly Pressed, as exposure to the whole WordPress community typically results in a surge of traffic.  The surge is short-lived but commonly nets at least a few new readers, some of whom may become regulars.  It’s the fourth time I’ve had a post selected for Freshly Pressed; however, unlike the previous three times, this time saw also a concordant sudden surge in spam comments.  While the traffic has returned to more normal levels, unfortunately the spam comments have not—in the month since being Freshly Pressed I’ve been flooded with nearly 7,000 spam comments.  That’s about 230 per day compared to only a handful of legitimate comments.  I have neither the time nor the inclination to review several hundred spam comments every day just so I can rescue the occasional legitimate comment.

WordPress Support has no explanation for the surge in spam (I recall they made some reference to “the price of fame”).  So, and I really hate to do this, I’m implementing some moderate restrictions on who can leave comments.  I’m trying to do this, at least initially, in a way that legitimate commentors will notice hardly or not at all.  You’ll have the least inconvenience if you are logged into your WordPress, Twitter, or Facebook account and already have an approved comment somewhere on this blog.  For you nothing changes—you leave a comment and it is published immediately.  If you are logged into one of these accounts but have not yet left a comment here, your first comment will be held for moderation.  Once I approve it you get a free pass through approval from that point on and will see any future comments published immediately.  If you are not logged into one of these accounts, you can either login using the buttons on the comment form, or alternatively you can complete the fields for your name, email address, and website. Only the website field is optional; your name and email address will be required information (but please note that your email will not be shown publicly!).  Again, if you already have an approved comment on the site your comment will be published immediately, otherwise it will be held in moderation until I approve it (which then gives you a free pass for any future comments).  Sadly, anonymous comments are no longer allowed.

I hope these restrictions don’t cause undue inconvenience, and I would be most grateful for your feedback if you find that these restrictions have affected your willingness to leave comments.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011