Back in October, I was approached by a journalist who was writing a piece for Science Careers on the changing roles of academic journal editors and what part social media was playing in that evolution. Although tardy with my response, as usual, I eventually answered her questions and provided my views on the intersection of private and public life online for someone working professionally in the world of science. As of two weeks ago, the piece still wasn't ready, but I was contacted again to clarify some points. Again I obliged. Well, the piece finally appeared yesterday on Science's website and it provides a brief glimpse into the social media world of five journal editors, three from Science magazine. The piece also does a nice job of explaining some of the changing roles and new challenges faced by journal editors.
Since my comments were unfortunately not used in the piece, presumably because I do not use social media in a strictly professional sense, I thought that I would go ahead and post them myself since I feel they do a decent job of representing how I see social media as it pertains to my job as an editor. So, in case it is of interest, below are the questions I was asked and my responses as I sent them via email on the posted day. In a few places, minor edits were made to correct grammar or for clarity. Please feel free to make me elaborate further in the comments.
[From October 7, 2013]
1. How long have you been working as a professional editor?
2. Do you have an online bio somewhere? If not, could you just give me a brief account of how you got to where you are today?
After completing my Ph.D., I did a three-year academic postdoc (both training opportunities in neuroscience labs). Upon publishing my research, I reached a crossroads where in the academic career track, I would need to begin exploring postings for new faculty positions and start formulating a long-term strategy for my future research program. However, I felt a bit burnt-out from working at the lab bench, so took the job at Nature Neuroscience to remain close to science, to keep thinking about it critically, but to do so not necessarily at the bench. I intended to return to academia after a year, but the position at Nature opened up and I jumped at the opportunity.
3. How has the role of journal editor changed in recent years?
Despite the changes in the publishing landscape, my role as an editor in this system has changed very little. Obviously there are changes in the logistical process, as more and more journals transition to a heavy-digital presence, but the task of assessing research, compiling a panel of the top experts to peer-review science, integrating and synthesizing the critiques of those experts and deciding what manuscripts have the potential to fit well in the journal and their particular scientific field are still the same
4. What changes have you seen in the peer review system during your time as a editor?
Nature still operates its peer review system similarly to when I began. In the past few years, there have been several newish journals exploring alternative peer review strategies, in places such as at Frontiers In, eLife, PeerJ, as well as testing a public pre-print review system at F1000 and bioRxiv. I think it is still too soon to draw any conclusions yet on these alternatives, but as always, we keep an eye on anything that is attempted and always engage our authors and reviewers for their opinions of these changes at other journals so that we can make the best assessments of our future peer review process. As we have in the past, if there are obvious strategies preferred by our authors and reviewers, we would take steps to review our options of implementation.
5. How does the change/increasing use of social media affect you?
I've been using Twitter since Feb, 2009 and not much has changed for me in terms of how I use it since then. I do try to learn from my mistakes, as well as the very public ones made by others.
6. How do you use social media?
On Twitter I get to explore my interests in science communication and public engagement with science. I am fortunate enough to have a critical mass of engaged individuals with whom to explore topics (both those I know well, as well as those I don't) and discuss the science of communication and publishing itself. It also provides an opportunity to criticize and point out lapses that occur in the general media's coverage of neuroscience discoveries.
7. Does the changing role of the editor make it more or less attractive to you as a job?
Until the editor's role actually changes at classic subscription-based journals like Nature, I can't answer that.
8. Do you see any downsides of being more connected to the neuroscience community, via twitter for example? Does it create any difficult situations or more regular conflicts?
I don't see a major downside because I am comfortable with transparency in science communication. I understand and respect peer-reviewer anonymity at journals, as well as the anonymous/pseudonymous commenting that is so often critical to the scientific debate emerging online. But otherwise, I enjoy exploring topics openly with the interested neuroscience public and hearing other voices. Being connected to the neuroscience community in this way has introduced me to thoughtful individuals I may not have otherwise met at conferences. Twitter sometimes encourages a "talk first, think later" mentality of emotional or visceral reaction, but the same rules apply online that apply in any public social setting. Of course, in other social settings, those visceral reactions aren't recorded into the historic record of the Library of Congress, but still, think first and everything will be okay.
[Follow-up questions from Feb. 3, 2014]
1. You mentioned in one of your responses (in 6) that Twitter allows you to monitor how the media portrays science. And I am wondering, do you mean that you are interested in how the media portrays the papers *you* handle, and if so why? Or do you mean how the media portrays neuroscience more generally, and if so, why? What I am trying to get at is why are you paying attention to the media's coverage (through Twitter), and how does this knowledge influence you as an editor. For example, does it mean that you edit/write summaries with more audiences in mind?
I am very interested in how the media portrays and discusses science, generally. I can obviously speak with more authority in those areas in which I am particularly well-read (neuroscience, psychology), but it is interesting to me to see which aspects of a study are covered more heavily or which angles the press takes when describing the science.
This has no bearing whatsoever on what I do as an editor since I am in the business of assessing academic science. Please re-read my answer to question #3 [above] as well as the following to make sure you understand what exactly an editor at a scholarly academic journal does. I neither edit the papers (we have professional copy-editors who excel at that) nor write summaries. My job is strictly to publish what I consider the most interesting and possibly influential papers in the field. I do this with additional input from peer reviewers in that specific field (who I hand-picked to provide advice based on the expertise that was required.) So basically, I am in the business of assessing novelty and comprehensiveness and possible cross-relevance to other academics who might not specialize in the main topic of the paper.
Many of the most academically important papers published in Nature are not even picked up by the media because I assume they don't have what a media science desk might consider to be a popular "hook."
2. Do you think that social media experience is evaluated during the vetting process to become an editor? Is it important to demonstrate an existing online presence? If not now, do you think that might change? What do you think your boss thinks of your tweeting?
For an editor in my position, the only experiences that are considered are those in the laboratory and those working as an academic editor. Social media has no bearing on hiring or is even discussed in the least. It is completely irrelevant to my day-to-day job. Since I tweet in a personal capacity, my boss has never discussed my tweeting with me once in 5 years.