For our latest Interview with an Academic Editor we were able to talk to Dee Carter, of the University of Sydney. Dr Carter’s lab concentrates on the use of genetic markers and molecular techniques to uncover the natural life histories of lower eukaryotic organisms. Dr Carter acted as the Academic Editor for “Loss of CclA, required for histone 3 lysine 4 methylation, decreases growth but increases secondary metabolite production in Aspergillus fumigatus” which we published back in February.
PJ: What do you see as wrong with the current system of publication?
DC: Trying to explain this system to a new student or someone outside of science rapidly reveals what’s wrong with it! The following paraphrases the response of many of my students publishing papers for the first time: “So, first, we write the paper for nothing. Then we pay the journal hundreds of even thousands of dollars for a publisher to print it. If we want it to be available to everyone, and not just those allied with big university libraries, we pay even more more in open access fee. Meanwhile we get asked to review papers for the same publisher or to sit on their editorial board for free. Then, if we want reprints of our own article we pay for these. And then at the end the journal owns all the copyright for our images, words and tables, and we can’t even post a pdf of our own paper on our website… Why do we agree to this? Are we crazy?”
In addition, I think the subjective criteria used by many journals in trying to limit publications to what they consider to be a “significant advance” is a flawed way of approaching research. Papers that really do contribute something highly significant and novel will be recognised by their field and will rise above the rest, with more citations, inclusion in reviews, spin-off works, etc, but this should be a judgement that is made post-publication by the audience and not by the journal or by a small number of reviewers who may have their own biases. A good, visible, well-conducted study with a negative result could prevent hours of needless work by others going down the same dead end. Likewise an independent study that confirms a prior finding can be very valuable. Open access, removal of the need to save on space that was imposed by print-based journals, and the ability to effectively “crowd-source” responses to published works mean we now need to rethink our old limitations on what can and can’t be published.
PJ: Given your experience, what would an ideal publishing venue look like?
DC: It would be one where the fundamental driver is the publication of sound scientific research, and getting this out as rapidly as possible in a freely available, user-friendly format so that anyone, regardless of their profession or location can find and use it. It would be engaged with all participants - the authors, readers, reviewers and editors - in a manner that encourages fairness and collegiality. It would adhere to the Creative Commons act and allow authors to retain ownership of their material and publish their works on their own websites. It would make creative use of technology including digital images and movies, and links to data and to databases. It would have a strong emphasis on clarity in communication so that published works are as accessible as possible to a wide audience.
PJ: What are your thoughts about the value of Open Access publishing?
I think OA is the only publishing method that makes sense today in publicly funded science. The work is paid for by a public that says we want this research to be done and we want answers to these questions. So the information should be available to all members of the public - beyond some type of internet connection there should be no barriers to accessing it.
Having said that it is a shame that many OA journals have made a new barrier to scientists which is the cost of making their work open access. Given the state of funding many of us can’t afford to pay the extra $2-3000 that some journals demand for immediate open access. I still think this is better than putting the cost at the end to access the paper, but it remains a problem.
PJ: What excited you about PeerJ that persuaded you to become an AE?
DC: Well, first is the funding model, which combined with open access makes this the journal for everyone. I also think the journal is driven by people with a real passion for communicating science and for making a difference to how we access and read about scientific progress, which aligns with my own passions for research and written communication. With PeerJ I feel like I’m part of a team aimed at pushing forward open access research.
PJ: Which aspects of the PeerJ functionality do you find the most useful or interesting?
DC: The web interface is really great. So far I’ve only used this as an editor and not as an author but it was so intuitive and easy to use - the immediate reaction is “why can’t all journals design their interfaces like this?” I really like how the papers look on the web and the way PeerJ shows figures to capture interest in the articles. It’s a welcome break from the traditional print-imposed interface that most journals still use, even those that are on-line only.
PJ: In your opinion, why should researchers submit to PeerJ?
DC: PeerJ will appraise your work in an honest, no-nonsense way and will accept work that has been rigorously performed, critically analysed and appropriately written. They will accept it based on its own merits and not based on subjective judgements about its “novelty” or whether it is a “significant advance”. The process will be rapid and fair. And it will leave you with more money to do further research than you might otherwise have when publishing open access.
PJ: Anything else you might want to talk about?
DC: OK, so I don’t sound like I’ve been paid off I’ll put in a couple of things I’m less keen on!
First, I remain a devotee of anonymous review. I can’t see that I could ever reject a paper written by a colleague, no matter how poor I thought it was, if my name were made public. I also would hate to think my paper had not been sufficiently challenged because the reviewer was worried this might be damaging to our professional relationship or because they wanted to ensure that I’d return the favour and not be critical of their work in future. So while I do like the idea of publishing reviews and rebuttals I don’t like the idea that we should publish our names (I realise this is not a requirement in PeerJ and I’m grateful for that!).
Second I think it’s a problem that many journals today choose not to employ professional copy-editors. I hate badly written papers so as an academic editor (for other journals) I often spend hours editing manuscripts before I’ll accept them. But this is not really my job - I’m not qualified as a copy-editor and I should be there for the science, not the English. I accept this might add more cost but maybe there could be a cost-recovery model, so that if substantial copy-editing is required a fee is imposed. I’d like clarity and style to remain important in scientific publication, regardless of mode of access.
PJ: Many thanks for your time!