Reading the drafts

As Steven mentioned in his post last Friday, we are hard at work on the first round of papers from Galaxy Zoo. Back when we started this blog, Chris listed the four papers that we expect to come out in the first round. To review them:

1) A paper summarizing the structure of Galaxy Zoo, with details of how we turn your clicks into a catalog of galaxies. Chris is the first author on this one, and Anze talked here on the blog about how we got our catalog of galaxies. Chris’s talk at the AAS meeting also gives a good introduction to what is likely to go in this paper.

2) A paper about the relationship between what a galaxy looks like and where it lives. Steven is the first author on this one, and he wrote about the results very clearly here.
3) A paper about the unusual “blue ellipticals” that you found. Kevin is the first author on that one, and he wrote about it here, with lots of really nice sample images.

4) A paper examining the structure of the universe by studying the rotation direction of galaxies. Kate is the first author on this one, and Anze is working closely with her. She wrote about the reasons for the study on the forum, and her paper will also include the results of the bias study. The bias study showed that the apparent excess of anti-clockwise galaxies seems to be a result of people’s perception of galaxies on the site, rather than any feature of the galaxies themselves or our position relative to them. We actually never expected to find any excess – and often in science, disproving a result is just as important as finding a new result.

Steven’s post Friday did a great job of describing what goes on in writing a scientific paper. Here, I’ll talk about what it’s like to read over a paper and provide comments to the first author.

The results so far have been really interesting, and it’s been a lot of fun to see them written down. I looked through Chris’s paper in detail, since I know a good deal about the process by which we created Galaxy Zoo, and the SDSS data on that Galaxy Zoo uses. I know less about the astronomy, so I’ve just skimmed through Steven and Kate’s paper. I haven’t seen Kevin’s yet.

We’ve been exchanging drafts of the papers as PDFs, then sending comments back to the first authors by E-mail. I’ve been reading along and making notes as I go. I’m trying to make sure that everything would make sense to an astronomer who hadn’t worked with Galaxy Zoo before.

One of the most important parts of any scientific paper is the figures. The old statement that “a picture is worth a thousand words” is definitely true in science, but in this case the pictures are usually plots of data. I’m checking over the figures to make sure the x and y axes are clearly labeled and the figure caption makes sense. A lot of readers read the figures first, then come back to the text, so the figure captions should make sense when read apart from the paper. The way that figures can depict scientific data is quite interesting, and creating figures for professional astronomers is frequently quite a different visual style from creating figures for the public.
The last section of any science paper is the References – the previous papers that this paper builds on. Any assertion that you make in a paper should either be a direct result of your study, blindingly obvious, or referenced in a standard style. So, when Chris talked about how images from Galaxy Zoo were generated, I sent him a reference on how we take individual black-and-white images in different wavelengths and combine them into a color image.

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