Posted by: cjlortie | November 23, 2013

Chasing the white rabbit: novelty as a filter for editors

A recent spotlight paper in Trends in Ecology & Evolution by Goran Arnqvist challenged the notion that editors should use novelty as means to review submissions. This is a very useful contribution to the dialog associated with evolving peer review. It is particularly important for Oikos. A significant aspect of Oikos publications is novel synthesis as described in the mission statement. Consequently, the ability to assess novelty is a necessary skill for editors. In a commentary on this topic, I propose that a solution to this apparent dilemma is to shift the focus from seeking novelty to seeking creativity. This may seem like a subtle semantic shift, but creativity research is a well articulated discipline and is best defined as the combination of novel + useful. I suspect most Oikos editors use some working definition similar to this conceptual framework already.

Chasing creativity may be like chasing the white rabbit in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but we are already down the rabbit hole of peer review and formalizing and discussing how we evaluate the work of others is a positive step forward.



  1. Thanks for this note. A few additional, complementary thoughts of mine are here:
    Some readers of this blog may find this interesting.

    • Great post. I totally agree. Science can be advanced by many channels of knowledge development. There is a tendency to think it has to be novel to be useful, i.e. they cannot be decoupled. Not true of course. I guess the trick might be a labeling/tagging/channel exercise. For instance, papers that develop theory by creative exploration, tell us that, papers that are advancing science by confirmation, tell us that too but do not overinterpret and package as novel, and of course papers that perfectly replicate previous experiments are needed too so as to confirm scaleability of the concepts. I remember reading a paper on this recently about how too few ecologists replicate previously published experiments due to inability to publish that re-test.

      I agree with your comment on usefulness too. There has been extensive discussion of this in the creativity lit. Immediate use is more easily detected than long-term but long-term implications could be even more important for sustainability. Different sets of use can be simultaneously applied. I think we as ecologists and as sustainability researchers in particular too should do the work that the creativity lit has done in developing a set of potential values for our work and offer it up to the journals, editors, and referees. This would be really useful. We can also encourage journals to consider at least a few papers that are non-novel but contribute to the advancement of science via these other channels. Do any sustainability journals do this already?

  2. […] found little to disagree with in the post by Lortie – all very worthy points. I am also very much for placing much emphasis on […]

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