I had been obsessively checking email in the past week, waiting to hear from Science about our terminal investment paper. Since it was a cool set of findings, I held out some hope that they would accept it.
When I felt my phone vibrate, I had just found the Langley pair with their chick. Watching them was bittersweet. On the one hand, they had hatched a chick in a tough breeding year and both male and female were feeding it rapidly. But what they were feeding it were tiny minnows, and it takes hundreds of them to satisfy a voracious chick. No sooner did a parent feed a minnow to the chick than the chick vigorously nibbled at the adult’s chest and neck, soliciting another feeding. I admire the perseverance of the parents but wonder whether they can find enough food on this small lake to keep their chick alive to fledging age.
The e-mail was bad news; Science had rejected the paper without review, simply meaning that the panel of people had not found it exciting enough to warrant detailed review. So it usually goes at Science.
Don’t cry for me! My chief battle with this paper is over, because I have now gotten it written up in a form that can easily be reconfigured for another high-impact journal like Proceedings of the Royal Society B, where it will be read widely. A paper in Science would have been a feather in my cap, without a doubt, but it would not have had much of an impact professionally. It is hard for me to wring my hands much over this minor setback when, day after day, I see the life and death struggles of my study animals, like the hard-working Langley pair!