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Operating Notes for the iMechanica Journal Club

Guided by a thread that proposed the Journal Club, we evolve these operating notes. These notes are a work in progress, and will evolve as the iMechanica community and the Web technology evolve. Every moderator and architect can edit these notes. Every user can see the editing history. As always, every registered user can make suggestions by leaving comments.

Mission. The mission of the Journal Club is to facilitate discussion at the frontier of mechanics and its applications.

Papers. To be eligible as an entry in the Journal Club, a paper should

  1. be obtainable by many mechanicians,

  2. have a trustworthy timestamp, and

  3. be of interest to mechanicians.

The first two requirements are fulfilled, for example, by any paper published in a journal or in a repository, such as arXiv hosted at Cornell University and iMechanica hosted at Harvard University.

Theme.  A Theme is posted on the 1st of each month, and stays as the top entry in the front page of iMechanica for the rest of the month.  The Theme consists of an introduction and 3-5 papers.

Discussion. The Theme and the papers are a means to an end: facilitating discussions at the forefront of mechanics among mechanicians. To add coemments, you need to become a registered user of iMechanica.   In commenting on a paper, a user may discuss the ideas in the paper and their relations to other papers, especially the papers that he knows the best: his own papers. He can also relate the paper to a broader context. Or he can simply say that he finds this paper is pointless, and the Theme a waste of time. Such negative comments, thoughtfully made, are just as valuable as positive ones. 

Discussion Leader. The Discussion Leader is a registered user that has the full responsibility in articulating a Theme, selecting papers, and motivating discussion.  Each Discussion Leader can serve no more than once in a year. The Discussion Leaders are selected by the Editors.

Editor. Each Editor serves a two-year term starting and end on January 1. A new Editor is selected every year, with two Editors serving at any given time. The Editors ensure smooth functioning of the jClub by selecting the Discussion Leaders. Once a new Discussion Leader is identified, an Editor will immediately update the Journal Club Archive. The Editors also remove the old Theme from the top of the front page, and place the new Theme.  The Editors are selected by the Council of the jClub.

Council. In steady state, the Council of the jClub will be composed of the two current Editors and the three immediate past Editors. The current senior Editor chairs the Council. The Council makes all final decisions regarding the jClub.

Archive. On the right side of iMechanica is a tab named Journal Club, which links to past Themes, as well as Themes under development. This archive will be maintained by the Editors.

Journal Club Forum. This forum contains matters concerning the Journal Club. Every registered user can propose a paper (including his own), or suggest a Theme, for future inclusion in the Journal Club.

Relevant threads of discussion

Zhigang Suo's picture

Dear Pradeep and everyone else:

The above notes just say that the Editor will serve a one-year term, and the new Editor will be elected among the Discussion Leaders of the past year. It is unclear when we should elect the new Editor, and how. Here are some suggestions.

When. The new Editor should be responsible to line up a list of new Themes of the Month and new Discussion Leaders for the new year. At least several months of lead time are needed. Should we hold the election, say, in the month of July?

How. Many mechanisms are possible. For example, we can have the Discussion Leaders vote among themselves through e-mails. As another example, we can open the election to all registered users. We can use a poll like this one, listing the names of Discussion Leaders who are willing to serve. The poll will be open for a month to all registered users. Well, if things get really interesting, candidates may even want to campaign by posting their visions for the jClub.

Please let us know your opinions on these and other aspects of jClub by leaving comments below.

Pradeep Sharma's picture

Zhigang, good thinking...for an effective theme/guest editor selection, the new editor indeed will need a lot of lead time. July time frame seems quite appropriate. In the spirit of the Gordon confernece that I attended last year, I am partial to your suggestion regarding polling by ALL registered members rather than just among the guest editors.

Xiaodong Li's picture

Thanks, Zhigang. I think that July is a good time slot for such an election. We may use both mechanisms. I very much like polling by all registered members such that the Journal Club can attract much attention and get more members involved. At that time slot, we may also call for themes for the upcoming year.

Teng Li's picture

I also prefer a poll open to all register users for voting the new editor of jClub next year.  An election in July will allow the newly elected editor to get involved and familiar with jClub before her inauguration. This is especially important if the elected editor has not got a chance to serve as a discussion leader.

Zhigang Suo's picture

Teng: According to the Operating Notes, the Editor should be elected from Discussion Leaders. Do you think we should change this rule? Or perhaps we can expand this rule to include all past Discussion Leaders, not just those serving in the past year. This expansion obviously will make no difference this year, but might be a good idea for future years.

Using the rule as stated in the Operating Notes, the presiding Editor can contact all hosts of the year, say in June, and determine who are willing to serve as the Editor of the next year. Then iMechnaica lists these willing hosts in a poll, open to all registered users to vote.

Pradeep Sharma's picture

Here are my thoughts on this: in hindsight, I think the operating rules should reflect that the Editor can be chosen from any registered member not just the past discussion leaders. This is more democratic and thus (hopefully) will have wider acceptance. Practically, I suspect, most of the time the new editor will the a past discussion leader anyway. Although not necessarily true always, chances are that someone who has already volunteered once for this service is more likely to put his/her name in the fray for editor's job. In the long run, either way we do, it won't make too much difference since our community is small and almost everyone (I hope!) sooner or later will host a monthly issue!


Patrick Onck's picture

I think polling would be fun, although people from the Netherlands would have a big disadvantage: we always have a coalition ;-) 

Zhigang Suo's picture

I have enjoyed the jClub. Pradeep has done a great job to line up a team of young, dynamic Discussion Leaders. The Discussion Leaders have taken their tasks with great care, producing wonderful Themes. The follow-up discussions have been most helpful, even when the Themes are out of my area.

I'd like to raise one issue for discussion: The time period of the jClub. Right now the period is one Theme per month. Is this period optimal? It seems to be too long for several reasons:

  1. iMechanica now has nearly 1400 registered users, and perhaps more anonymous ones. It is impossible to select a theme at the research frontier and yet of interest to most users. As a user, if a Theme is too remote to your interest, you will have to hope for better luck for next month.
  2. The Discussion Leaders should have complete freedom to frame the Theme to her own satisfaction, and should not aim to please everybody. A Theme will be a success if it engages several users in an in depth discussion, and the resulting thread is of interest to a fraction of users.
  3. Mechanics is a diverse field. Many themes are worth discussing, in depth and frequently. We will never run out of themes. Even if we do, we can always repeat the old Themes.

How about having a new Theme every two weeks? We don't need to make the change immediately. For example, we can start biweekly in the summer. Do we have enough willing and able people to serve as Discussion Leaders? Your thoughts are greatly appreciated.

Pradeep Sharma's picture

Zhigang, in principle a frequency higher than monthly would be quite appropriate given the diverse interests and (as you pointed out) growing iMechanica membership. We should do it but perhaps once the broad readership have warmed up to the existing format. The latter may indeed happen by summer....

One of the reasons I suggest the "wait and see" appproach is as follows: while we have many readers, in my experience, it is a bit harder to get mechanicians to "write". I expect this to change gradually with more and more mechanicians willing to volunteer their time to the j-club.

Xi Chen's picture

Every month the MRS bulletin selects a broad topic, and then a couple of people in that area (theoretical, experimental, etc.) contribute a couple of articles. I wonder if the jClub can be organized in this way. For example, the jClub can still run monthly but every month, an experimentalist and an theroetian would contribute from different angles, on the same topic.

Zhigang Suo's picture

I like MRS bulletin, too. Some basic facts, however, will require us to think more. Each issue of MRS Bulletin requires a large amount of effort on the part of the guest editors, and of the authors. Each issue is planned over a long time. While this mode of operation is essential for the success of MRS bulletin, it might be too constraining for iMechanica. MRS Bulletin is a print magazine, iMechanica is an online platform. Spontaneous participation by everyone is our strength.

This said, your idea of having 2 people with different backgrounds writing the same Theme is workable within the present set up. Each Discussion Leader can invite other people to co-write the Theme. All authors photos can be inserted into the post.

Should we require each Discussion Leader to invite other people to co-write a Theme? This question is open to discussion.

I believe that we should not. To do so would add much more work in coordination for the Editor (i.e., Pradeep) and Discussion Leaders. For each Theme, he would have to talk to at least two people. As we all know, 3-Way long distance communication is many-orders-of-magnitude more difficult than 2-Way communication. Coordination takes effort, and may not always yield better results.

I would further argue that a Theme written by a single person, with less entanglement but better focus, might be more natural for readers to digest new ideas. If a topic has several significant aspects, they will show up in the follow-up discussions.

I still believe that individual Discussion Leader should have complete freedom in writing his Theme, including making the decision if he wishes to invite someone to co-write the Theme, or simply invite people to discuss.

I would suggest we look to pick up the frequency when Pradeep begins to receive a lot of requests for future issues.  At the moment, there are no comments in the calls for future themes in the forum.  Perhaps this is because Pradeep has been receiving most of the suggestions via email.

We might also put the call on the front page as a sticky post and see if we don't receive more requests.  Perhaps people don't appreciate that this is an option at the moment.  

Konstantin Volokh's picture

Agreed completely

MichelleLOyen's picture

Another idea is to run the main jClub as is and continuing in the vein with broad and purposefully varying subjects within the broad scope of iMech, and then have a couple (to start) of jClublets on specific topics/fields (biomechanics, computational, etc.). Each sub-topic jClublet could have a sub-coordinator who could arrange the topics in a smaller field and it could be up to them to choose the frequency of the sub-theme postings.

Monthly for each might be too much, and there might be some good arguments for coordinating it with or in opposition to the academic term calendar (with if you include iMech activities as part of a course, like what Zhigang has been doing, or against if the term is too busy for student participation). But the details would be the domain of the Clublet coordinator, and it would be up to them to also flag topics of potentially broad interest to Pradeep for "promotion" to the main club. This would certainly be consistent with the high level of technical discussion taking place in some of the forums.


Zhigang Suo's picture

This sounds like a great idea.  For example, Computational Mechanics Forum is already gaining active participation.   Will someone in Computational Mechanics initiate the organization, for example, by drafting Operating Notes for the jClublet of Computational Mechanics?  Or should we simply talk more about this notion in this thread of discussion?

We certainly could do this, but the comp mech forum seems to be a place where topics are already being actively discussed.  So jClublets based on comp mech would be focusing on an area for which there is already good activity and discussion.  

I think at least one point of jClub is to branch iMechanica out into new areas that are somewhat under-represented at present.   I'm not sure this would be the best way to effect that?



MichelleLOyen's picture

Certainly biomechanics is one potential jClublet as well, and seems to be of interest but not yet well-represented on iMech.

Interesting point regarding the active existing discussion on the forums, especially the computational one which seems to be leading the way. In this regard, a jClublet presents an opportunity to steer the discussion on the forum and supplement it.

Pradeep Sharma's picture

On a side note (thanks Zhigang for reminding me), I have updated the operating rules to reflect the new procedure to select next year's editor.

Zhigang Suo's picture

Pradeep: Now we seem to converge on how we elect the new Editor of the jClub, once we have several candidates. It is still not clear to me how the candidates will emerge. Will you, as the presiding Editor, send out a call for nomination? Or do you have some other procedures in mind?

My experience with Gordon Conferences suggest the following process.

  • Everyone can nominate a candidate. But before you nominate someone, you talk to the person and see if he or she is interested in running for election.
  • Each candidate is given an opportunity to explain to us why we should elect him or her. At a Gordon Conference, this is in the form of a 10 minute presentation. For iMechanica, this can be a post, I suppose.

Anyone has an opinion on this? If we want to hold a July-August election, we need to start to get candidates soon.

Pradeep Sharma's picture

Zhigang, I agree with this proposal. I quite liked the Gordon conference scheme and in general lean towards procedures that are as democratic as possible. To avoid any "hereditary" influence, I don't believe that the outgoing editor should play any major role in the election process---other than make a post inviting nominations. I also think self-nomination should be allowed. If I recall correctly, we decided to have the election in July. I was thinking of starting this process in May.

To avoid cluttering up the main iMechanica page, we can organize the election on a separate page that is linked to the main one.

Henry Tan's picture

I would like to nominate myself to be the next Editor of the jClub.

Xi Chen's picture

I just realized that I created a new post when I was writing the April issue of jClub (instead of create a new forum topic), and thus it is not properly associated with the forum. For example, it does not show in "active forum topics" on the right. Is there a way to correct this? Thanks.

Zhigang Suo's picture

Dear Xi:  I have not found a way to relocate this issue from your blog to the Journal Club Forum.  Through the link in the archive of the jClub, on the right side of iMechanica, a user can always locate this issue in the future.

Zhigang Suo's picture

Guided by the recent discussions on the selection procedure of new Editors, I have just updated the Operating Notes of the jClub.  The main modifications concern the jClub Council and Editors.

I have not modified the frequency of the Themes.  The consensus in the discussion seems to be that it is up to Pradeep and Michelle, the Editors, to ascertain if they can recruit Discussion Leaders to sustain biweekly Themes.  I suggest that we give them the flexibility to decide when or whether they would like to make this change.  Although Michelle's "official" starting date is 1 January 2008, I see no harm for her to act immediately if she so chooses.

I have also added the new Editor and the Council to the archive of the Journal Club.

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