Wednesday 20 June 2012

Even your critics can be a blessing

I spent a large part of yesterday and today working on revisions to a research journal article I am writing with two colleagues. This activity was in response to comments made by the three anonymous reviewers. You see, before you can get an article published in a respectable journal it has to go through a fairly involved process of scrutiny called peer review, and this usually involves making some alterations to the text.

Cartoon by Nick D Kim, Used by permission

Of course it's always nice when people comment favourably on your work and, indeed, two of the reviewers were very supportive and were just requesting minor changes that would make the article clearer. However, the third reviewer didn't see the article in the same way as the others. In layman's terms he (or she) just "didn't get it", they did not seem to get the hang of what we were trying to say. That was, in part, understandable as the article is concerned with the application to a computing problem of a branch of conceptual mathematics that is not widely known in community that reads the journal in question. Consequently, the reviewer was raising questions that made us question the quality of our work. In short, we were quite despondent about our work's reception. Despite two very positive sets of feedback it was the third negative one that spoke the loudest to us.

We sat down yesterday to plan our strategy for responding to the reviews and, after quite a bit of discussion, we realised that even the negative verdict turned out to be a blessing. For in thinking about why the reviewer said what they did we began to see what their misconceptions were about our work and how we had still failed to make our point clearly enough. We were subsequently able to drop a portion of the text that did not contribute significantly to the main narrative thus freeing up room to provide a fuller explanation of our main points. Today I wrote up the new sections and emailed the revised article to my colleagues for their feedback. Overall, I think the new version is much better, punchier, and stronger than the original. So, whilst our first submission met with a, frankly, very disappointing reception, we were able to take the negative feedback and use it to make the article even better than it might otherwise have been. Here's hoping the journal editor agrees with us and accepts the article for publication.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Community and Celebration

These last few weeks have witnessed Mickley, Stocksfield, and Riding Mill coming together for some great events. There was the memorable Big Lunch picnic at Bywell Hall which, despite the chill weather, saw a great turn out of residents who all wanted to celebrate the Queen's diamond jubilee together. I was really impressed at both the turnout and the fact that it was a true community party. Nobody was fleeced by stalls charging over-the-odds prices for rubbish food (indeed, the catering was top notch and the prices were very reasonable), and the children got to wear themselves out on coconut shies, penalty shoot-outs, throwing wet sponges at victims in the stocks, and a fabulous climbing wall all free of charge. All in all a tremendous day.

Then at the weekend Stocksfield and Riding Mill got to line the streets and cheer as the olympic torch relay went by. Again, a great atmosphere (again despite the weather) and there was a real sense of community spirit.

However, a couple of good parties do not a vibrant and strong community make (though they are evidence of it). As Phil Butler (the Conservative candidate for the Police and Crime Commissioner) notes, every community needs people to do their part and for the legal justice system to do its part by supporting citizens to take a stand.

Whilst Mickley, Stocksfield, and Riding Mill are by many standards safe places to live, we still face our share of challenges. Some (such as the current debate over parking charges or littering) seem minor in the grand macro-economic scheme of things but contribute to affect our everyday experience (sometimes in the way that a slow drip of water will eventually erode away a large rock) whilst others sit right at the heart of how our community will grow or decay in the coming years (local jobs, affordable housing, etc.)

Some of these issues require the input of government, both national and local, but others can be addressed by people in the community taking action. We don't need a council to pick up that piece of litter we spy on the pavement. Anybody can call the council to report an overflowing bin.

What else would you like to see the community doing for itself?