Media wave

Dear Blog,
once again I was absent for a long time. I must admit I have been working on my work-life balance a bit, which was at least as overdue as most of my manuscripts are. And this meant more life and more balance, and less work. But still, travels have to be made and papers have to be written, and that is not even the end of the process. I have already compared writing and submitting a paper to pregnancy and birth, (with all due respect to mothers everywhere as a father of four children : ). The paper grows inside until it is ready, getting it out into the world is always labour, and after submitting one feels exhilarated but also tired and empty. Oh yes, and that usually happens in the middle of the night, but you never quite know when until the last moment. Nursing the paper through the first contacts with other people (the reviewers) is scary. But also, a paper lives on after it goes out into the world, and its parents will anxiously watch over how it is doing. I must admit sometimes I become particularly absorbed in this. A new citation notification from Google Scholar totally makes my day, and one that results in a rise in my H index is a (rare) reason to celebrate big. Some journals allow authors to track the number of downloads a paper has – my feeling is that as long as a paper has at least one download a day it is (still) alive. Many of my papers have zero citations and disappointing five downloads in a montht.
Now one of the most recent additions to this field is Altmetric, which is a system of finding links on the internet to a paper, and tells you how many tweets, blogs, news releases and Mendeley downloads relate to your paper. I became familiar with this after the press release we made on our sleeping tree paper back in 2017, which resulted in a staggering altmetric score of 648 (don’t ask me the dimension of this number), more than twice the figure an excelllent position paper in Nature Ecology and Evolution reached that I was also privileged to co-author.

We tried all we could to make an attractive press release, I even sent around a nice cover image. I specifically asked a fried (Leander Höfler, to make one for me. No news site used it.

So our pumping tree paper was finally accepted and published (see the story of it here). It took us a while to figure out whether we could pay the open access costs (>2000 EUR!). Since this was a side project and did not match the topic of my current post-doc project I decided I can’t pay it from my own project funds. Our institution has some money from the Hungarian Academy to pay open access costs, but I was informed that they do not wish to support this paper since it is in a low-impact journal and under a different first affiliation. I clearly see their point. I asked the journal financial office whether I can have the paper published with restricted access first, and then open it later if I find the funding, but they declined this. OK.
So the paper is published, I wrote a shy tweet about it but otherwise nothing happened for a long time and I did not even check the number of downloads because it was less than five after two weeks. A few weeks later, my colleague in charge of the open access fund told me that they had some money left and would be willing to support one of my papers if I had one due soon. Of course, this could not save our pumping tree paper, which remains restricted to subscribers of the journal. E-mail me if you want a reprint. Then one day I managed to find a little slot of time to write a joint press release on the two recent tree movement papers we did, and send it over to my co-author in Aarhus. I wanted to be fair to both of my affiliations, so I had to coordinate the release and make sure it is opened at the same time in Hungary and Denmark. Or maybe I was just overthinking. My co-author checked the draft, and forwarded it to the University press office. I wrote a Hungarian draft and sent it to our own press coordinator. Then nothing happened for two weeks, until my next visit to Aarhus was due, which I am supposed to spend working on nationwide processing of LIDAR for biodiversity mapping.

This is what I am actually supposed to work with at the moment, instead of trying to make my trees go viral (again).

Sleep trees remain a side project. I followed up with both offices and we agreed the final text and graphics and the release date (Friday last week). When this was all set, on Wednesday I contacted a journalist I knew before from the sleeping tree paper, who worked for a very prestigious science communication magazine. I offered them the material pre-release, if they could keep it under embargo until Friday. They were excited and asked a lot of questions, and agreed to publish but I did not hear back from them on Thursday or Friday morning. So on Friday the article went online on the website of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. I checked the website of the prestigious science communication magazine every half hour, but did not find our feature online until four in the afternoon. I was a bit frustrated by then, and more so when I found out it was listed as “premium content” and only accessible via a paywall. Even I couldn’t read it.
Anyway, I had other work to do and the weekend came, but I spent a lot of time checking various Hungarian and international science news sites to see whether I was featured. Slowly, gradually, I found some posts. On Monday, I received the full text of the online feature of the prestigious science magazine. It incorrectly wrote that Aarhus was in the Netherlands. The first interview requests phone calls came in from various Hungarian radio stations. I found an article on a Hungarian agriculture news site who state that this study won a Nobel prize (in fact, our release mentioned that circadian plant studies were awarded a Nobel prize in 2017). And slowly, gradually, the Altmetric scores started to climb. Now both papers have surpassed the Natura 2000 mapping paper we published in Remote Sensing in 2015 in terms of altmetric scores. This is bad news for the Remote Sensing paper since we did a lot of media work with that paper as well and I think it is a major breakthrough in a lot more important field. I got some e-mails from normal people who suggested new methods to me, and a couple of full-text requests from interested fellow scientists. And now here I sit, anxiously checking how the download numbers slowly climb up and my papers take their first steps in the big scary world. I should not get too carried away by this. After all, it is just a small and unimportant part of my job.

The press release was published on 20. April, and pretty much all of the views on the graph for April are after this date

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