STEM Hero: a statistics success story

Brought to you by @tandfSTEM

“The whole process was interesting and we very quickly got some traction,” says article author Gianluca Baio.

Gianluca and his co-author (and wife!) Marta Blangiardo knew they were on to a winner when they came up with the idea of a statistics paper on Eurovision, but they never realized just how much of a winner it would be.

With the help of the Journal of Applied Statistics – “they were responsive and timed the release really well” – and the Taylor & Francis press and social media teams, Gianluca and Marta’s paper quickly hit the headlines.

Over on @tandfSTEM we’re keen to promote the excellent research that comes out of our statistics, computer science, engineering, and math journals. If you feel inspired by this STEM Hero, be sure to follow us and watch out for discussions, stories, and tips (just like the ones below) all about the best of the best in STEM.

 

How to create a hero article: 7 lessons from our statistics story

1. Have a good idea

“The strongest papers usually have one point to make and they make that point powerfully, back it up with evidence, and locate it within the field.”

So goes the advice from our editors. If you’ve watched our video, then you’ll know that Gianluca and Marta were inspired by the simplest of questions: was Eurovision voting really biased against the UK? They saw how their research could contribute to popular debate and applied an existing model to a new question.

You might get inspiration from something in the public sphere, or a development in the academic. No matter where your idea comes from though, it needs to be clear, specific, and original from the start if you want a hero article at the end.

2. Write it right

Review the current literature. Look at your data again. Re-run your analysis. Are you happy with the software you are using?

Gianluca and Marta were writing their article in their spare time so it took a little longer than average to finish, but they still went through all the steps you would expect for a well-executed paper. They brainstormed, took into account new developments in the field, and they conducted re-analysis.

3. Choose a suitable journal to publish in

There’s plenty of advice on how to choose which journal to publish in. At the very least, you need to read the Aims and Scope and some previous issues of your shortlisted journal to see if your research fits its tone and focus.

Marta and Gianluca initially submitted to a broad statistics journal. While the peer reviewers had a few technical points in their feedback, the main message was about the presentation of the social science aspect of the article. But Marta and Gianluca are not social scientists and they didn’t want to write a social science paper.

They soon realized they didn’t want to write the article the journal was asking for. So instead, they re-drafted to focus more closely on the modelling and submitted to a journal more suited to the technical scope of their article. As the Journal of Applied Statistics says in its Aims and Scope:

Journal of Applied Statistics is a world-leading journal which provides a forum for communication among statisticians and practitioners for judicious application of statistical principles and innovations of statistical methodology motivated by current and important real-world examples across a wide range of disciplines.”

4. Have a blog and chart your progress

If you want people to engage with your research and care about your results, then you need to involve them in your story. An academic blog is a great way to do this.

Gianluca regularly wrote updates on the progress of the paper, how it related to the work he and Marta were doing in their day jobs, and how he saw it relating to coverage in the news. He built a community around his work and an audience keen to read it when it published.

5. Work with editors and institutions to make a splash

Consider if there is a timely news or industry hook to sync the publication of your article with. If not, look for other ways to make a splash with your article. Look out for calls for papers for special issues dedicated to your article’s niche; or consider upcoming conferences or symposiums in your field that you can time publication for.

Gianluca and Marta were lucky in that Eurovision rolls around almost as predictably as Christmas, and as Gianluca said, “the Journal of Applied Statistics were really responsive and timed it really well.”

Coming out a few weeks before 2014’s Eurovision, accompanied by a press release from both UCL and Taylor & Francis, Gianluca and Marta’s article was all set to soar.

6. Be receptive to the media

“All work that has an impact addresses the ‘so what?’ question.” – Dr John Harrison, Associate Editor of Regional Studies.

While you’ll have put a lot of work into the research, methodology, and analysis in your paper, it’s important to understand that the media tend to only be interested in the conclusion. Don’t feel put out if the media approaches you to ask non-technical questions. Be excited that the impact of your research is reaching a wider audience and do your best to answer the questions “what does it mean?” and “why should we care?”

All sorts of media outlets, from across Europe, approached Gianluca and Marta. Only one asked about the methodology. But the press is there to communicate with the public. If you want to dig into the details, engage with your academic peers and present your paper at a conference (as Gianluca did at the Royal Statistical Society conference).

7. Get social

Some academics are reluctant to engage with social media, but it’s a great hub of academic discussion and collaboration. While there are researcher-specific communities, public social media platforms, like Twitter, are better for promoting a hero article because they have a much greater audience and reach.

Gianluca and Marta’s article was shared by all sorts of people, including a political scientist who tweets in Dutch and English and a climate scientist who’s also a prominent blogger. And of course, Taylor & Francis promoted their article too. We actively monitor our followers and look for opportunities to share, like, and engage with journals and authors and help disseminate research as widely as possible.

Our new hub for statistics, technology, engineering, and math is @tandfSTEM. Follow us for the latest articles, academic career advice, and useful researcher tips (just like what you’re reading right now).