What is interesting and impactful?

One of the worst things about being an Academic Editor for journals is trying to decide if something is sufficiently interesting to send it to review. It’s so subjective. One reason I dislike it so much is my experience on the receiving end of these calls, not least the following. They concern our 2015 paper, Imperfect vaccination can enhance the transmission of highly virulent pathogens.

Science: “The overall view is that while your paper will be of great interest to the field it is not one of the most competitive in terms of general interest.”

Nature: “[W]e do not believe that it represents a development of sufficient scientific impact to warrant publication in Nature.”

PLoS Biology:

Rev 1: “The findings are important, not only for the field of MDV research, but also for the field of vaccine research in general.”

Rev 2: “This is an important topic and should be of broad interest.”

Rev 3: “[T]his work has broad significance to all of disease evolution, and the results are unassailable.”

Rev 4: “It’s an important paper that should be published.”

It’s a great thing to be ignorant and lazy..

I was asked to give the Commencement Speech at the Graduate School ceremony. That’s about 2,000 students getting advanced degrees plus their families. It’s an odd thing to be asked to do. The invitation letter read: “I am confident our graduates and guests would have significant interest in your own life story and the experiences, factors, or personal characteristics that have most contributed to your considerable achievements.”

I was less confident, not least about the ‘considerable achievements’, but I was reminded recently that I am not doing enough to push myself out of my comfort zone, so I said yes. It turned out to be more challenging than writing a scientific paper and less challenging than a TED talk.

Below, the text of what emerged from my ruminations. You can watch it here (start at 34 min 21s).

“Thank you President Barron for your introduction. Congratulations to the graduating graduates for your achievements. Now you are really stepping out on life’s journey.

I on the other hand realized rather suddenly that I am no longer setting out. Continue reading