Special topics, special journal

Maggie Koerth-Baker writes (in BoingBoing) about The Journal of Physics Special Topics (which we have admired now and again):

What’s the point of all this? That’s the really interesting part.

You’re right in thinking that the plausibility of fictional scenarios isn’t exactly a great problem of our time. But nobody ever said it was. That wasn’t the point of this paper, or any of the other eight papers Watkinson, Staab, Walach, and Rogerson published last year.

Instead, this was about teaching them how to be better scientists.

The Journal of Physics Special Topics is, itself, a pretty special journal. It’s written, edited, peer reviewed, and published by students of physics professor Mervyn Roy. Throughout the course of a semester, teams of students come up with problems they can use physics to solve. They get a week to research and write each two-page paper. Then they hand those papers off to their peers, who put them through a rigorous peer review process — critiquing the physics, demanding edits in grammar and style, and sending the students back over and over until they’ve polished up something that is worthy of publication.

It’s a microcosm of the way academic publishing is done in the real world and it gives the students a chance to learn through trial and error both how to write a paper AND how to peer review one….