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Issue 34 – December 2011

As 2011 draws to a close, we take a look at some of the innovations introduced and consider what the year ahead might hold for Elsevier and our editors.



Editor in the Spotlight: Richard Primack

Richard Primack, Professor of Biology at Boston University, has been an Editor of Biological Conservation since 2004, and was appointed Editor-in-Chief in 2008. Since its launch in 1968, Biological Conservation has become one of the leading journals in conservation. It publishes research in the discipline of conservation, spanning a diverse range of fields contributing to the biological, sociological, […]

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Richard Primack, Professor of Biology at Boston University, has been an Editor of Biological Conservation since 2004, and was appointed Editor-in-Chief in 2008.

Biological ConservationSince its launch in 1968, Biological Conservation has become one of the leading journals in conservation. It publishes research in the discipline of conservation, spanning a diverse range of fields contributing to the biological, sociological, and economic dimensions of conservation and natural resource management. Biological Conservation publishes 12 issues per year and is covered by the Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports for 2010 with an Impact Factor of 3.498. Last year, the journal received almost 1,300 submissions of which around 25% has eventually been published.

Richard Primack’s research group is investigating the impact of a warming climate on the flowering and leafing out times of plants and the spring arrival of birds in Massachusetts, Japan, and South Korea.

Q. What does being a journal editor mean to you and what do you find most rewarding about this role?
A. Being a journal editor for Biological Conservation means being able to maintain the quality of research in my field, and being aware of the latest developments before they are published. I get my greatest satisfaction from helping new researchers to publish their first article. Also, I have enjoyed the friendly and cooperative interactions among the editors of our journal, all of whom work together to improve the journal.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as editor of Biological Conservation? How do you overcome these challenges and what extra support can Elsevier provide?
A. The greatest challenge is the increasing complexity of the job, including managing editorial workloads, dealing with authors, ethical issues, and the diversity of articles. A further challenge is that the current online submission system (EES) is nearing the end of its lifetime, and is showing its age. At present, the Elsevier representatives provide excellent and rapid advice and assistance. However, an early release of the new online system will be of great benefit.

Q. In many areas of research, the growth of paper submissions is outpacing the growth of qualified reviewers and resulting in pressure on the peer-review system. What do you think the solution to this problem is and how do you see the peer-review process changing in the future?
A. At Biological Conservation, we are experiencing a steady growth in the number of high-quality submissions. In order to reduce the workload on editors, we are appointing another handling editor. We have been able to find enough reviewers as long as we send out multiple invitations so I don’t see a serious problem with the present system. We are also increasing the percentage of submissions that we immediately reject without peer review. A recurring problem is what to do when handling editors do not want to accept new papers for a while, such as when they are sick, having a baby, travelling, on vacation, involved in intensive work projects, etc... At those times, I must give the other editors more work.

Q. We have observed a recent trend that researchers are increasingly accessing journal content online at an article level, i.e. the researcher digests content more frequently on an article basis rather than on a journal basis. How do you think this affects the visibility of your journal among authors?
A. The whole process of online access is changing the way that people think about scientific literature, especially journals. In the short term, it means that people all over the world can have access to a wider range of journals, at the cost of a more narrow focus. The long-term consequences are less certain. One specific response we have made to the issue of online access to single articles is to make sure that articles state on the first page that they are part of a Special Issue or Special Section when that is appropriate.

Q. The move from print to electronic publishing has stimulated a broad discussion around alternative publishing models. These models are often termed as ‘open access’ and include:

  • Author Pays Journal
  • Sponsored Articles
  • Free access to archives
  • Open-archiving

What is your opinion about the ‘open access movement’ and how does it affect your journal?
A. This is something that we have not yet addressed, but we may have to soon. At present, Biological Conservation and the other leading journals in our field are still peer-reviewed, regular journals.

Q. Researchers need to demonstrate their research impact, and they are increasingly under pressure to publish articles in journals with high Impact Factors. How important is a journal’s Impact Factor to you, and do you see any developments in your community regarding other research quality measurements?
A. Impact Factors have confirmed and quantified the ranking of journals that experienced researchers were already aware of. We did a study two years ago and discovered that large numbers of papers that we rejected were later published in journals with somewhat lower Impact Factors than our journals, but none were published in higher-ranked journals. So clearly Impact Factors are describing something that is affecting the publication process. Right now it is not clear which other quality measures would replace or compete with the increasingly important Impact Factor.

Q. As online publishing techniques develop, the traditional format of the online scientific article will change. At Elsevier we are experimenting with new online content features and functionality, we call this project the Article of the Future. How do you think changes like these will affect your work as an editor?
A. I will have to see what this means. However, features that make an article easier to use, such as PowerPoint slides and colorful graphics that can be incorporated into presentations and lectures, would add value to the article.

Q. Do you use social media or online professional networking within your role as an editor or researcher? Has it helped you and, if so, how?
A. I don’t use any social media or online networking at present. If it appears necessary or useful I will learn it, but so far it has not come up in any interactions. Currently, email, electronic bulletin boards, and electronic mailing lists work fine. I also still see great value in visiting other universities and scientific organizations and attending local, national and international meetings to meet new people in person and develop collaborations.

Q. How do you see your journal developing over the next 10 years? Do you see major shifts in the use of journals in the future?
A. One of the most obvious developments is the ever increasing number of papers from China, India and other developing countries. At present, the quality of these papers is uneven, and the rejection rate is high. However, the quality will almost certainly improve over time. In response we will need to appoint new members of our editorial team from those countries.

Q. Do you have any tips or tricks to share with your fellow editors about being a journal editor?
A. My most important strategy is to keep working steadily, so that the amount of work does not overwhelm me. I set aside a regular time to work on the journal at least once each week, because if I don’t send manuscripts to handling editors and authors in a timely manner, then they can’t do their jobs. For manuscripts that are hard to find reviewers for, I keep a small reserve of close colleagues, often in my own department, whom I can call on to provide reliable reviews on short notice. And finally, I always remember that authors are people, and I try to treat them the way I would want to be treated: fairly, clearly, and in a timely manner.

Previous Editors in the Spotlight


Article of the Future Project Enters New Phase

“We get feedback…that new content elements like these are very useful and do help in better and more quickly digesting the research being presented.” IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg, Vice President Content Innovation As we reach the end of 2011, Elsevier’s innovative Article of the Future project is embarking on an important new chapter in its development. […]

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"We get feedback...that new content elements like these are very useful and do help in better and more quickly digesting the research being presented." IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg, Vice President Content Innovation

As we reach the end of 2011, Elsevier’s innovative Article of the Future project is embarking on an important new chapter in its development.

The project aims to revolutionize the traditional format of academic papers with regard to three key elements: presentation, content and context.

To achieve this, a three-pane article view has been proposed, which separates navigation (left pane) and value-added enhancements (right pane) from the core article (middle pane).

What is Article of the Future?

Article of the Future is an innovation project geared towards enhancing the online article to support researchers in communicating their work in the electronic era. The aims of this ongoing project are:

  • to provide authors with the best possible place to digitally disseminate scientific research, and
  • to increase value to readers by providing an environment that offers an optimal reading experience, making it possible to build deep insights quickly.

Three core elements of the article – presentation, content and context - will be rolling out this year and throughout 2012.


This next phase in the project’s journey will see the left and middle panes released on SciVerse ScienceDirect, with a focus on the presentation element.

In Issue 32 of Editors’ Update in June, we profiled the Article of the Future website where 13 prototypes are available to view. Visitors to the site are also encouraged to share their thoughts on the new design in a survey.

So far, more than 700 researchers have taken part in this survey. Their suggestions have been combined with the feedback of the 150 researchers who were consulted throughout the development stages. A clear theme emerging is that while researchers like all the domain-specific advances that technology can add to a paper, they also want to be free to focus on the core message in that paper. This has led the Article of the Future team to further refine the middle reading pane to offer readers a spacious and uncluttered view, improving on the current online HTML article available on SciVerse ScienceDirect.

The HTML article currently hosted on SciVerse ScienceDirect.

Figure 1: The HTML article currently hosted on SciVerse ScienceDirect.

The new, easier-to-read Article of the Future layout.

Figure 2: The new, easier-to-read Article of the Future layout. The left and center panes will be rolled out shortly.

Hylke Koers, Content Innovation Manager, explains: “The main objective of this presentation-focused release is to introduce the best possible online reading experience in regards to typography and layout, using lessons learned from the PDF to bring the readability advantages that such a style offers to the web.”

According to IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg, Vice President Content Innovation for Science & Technology Journals, the improvements to the presentation aspect of the Article of the Future also pave the way for future developments. He says: “A cleaner presentation is needed in order to take advantage of the content and context enhancements that have yet to be rolled out.”


Though the upcoming SciVerse ScienceDirect release will focus mainly on presentation, enhancing article content is the key theme of the Article of the Future project. The aim is to increasingly enrich the value of research articles by including new and interactive content elements, mostly discipline-specific and key to the scientist’s research and workflow. In the last few months we have already introduced a number of such content enrichments, with many more to come.

The most recent examples are Genome Viewer, Protein Interaction Viewer and Google Maps Viewer (see figure 3). “We get feedback from our community that new content elements like these are very useful and do help in better and more quickly digesting the research being presented,” says Aalbersberg.

The Google Maps Viewer as currently available on SciVerse ScienceDirect.

Figure 3: The Google Maps Viewer as currently available on SciVerse ScienceDirect.

What you can expect

These and upcoming content enhancements provide a number of benefits to authors, which in turn will improve the ‘user experience’ for journals and their readers. Those benefits include:The ability to share new forms of research output – multimedia, interactive data, computer code, enriched visualizations, etc…Inline support of rich files, such as MOL files for chemical structures or KML files for geographically organized data.

Optimal opportunities to expose research, putting it in front of readers in a way that allows them to develop deep insights more efficiently, for example using Google Maps.We are always keen to hear what new content elements editors would find useful in journal articles.  If you have an idea you would like to share, please let us know. You can email IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg at


The third core element of the Article of the Future project is context and we are improving that in multiple ways. The trend of storing research data sets at external data repositories is gaining ground and we support this by linking entities and articles to those repositories. As the article is not a one-way street, rather a roundabout that serves to connect with other sources of scientific information on the web, it’s important that information from trusted sources can be displayed alongside the online article.

“We are particularly keen to work together with data set repositories to establish connections between articles (the scholarly record) and underlying (or otherwise relevant) research data as there are numerous advantages to both author and reader,” Aalbersberg adds.

Researchers sometimes prefer independent data repositories over publisher websites as they benefit from domain-specific coordination and organization. Connecting data and articles helps to increase visibility, discoverability and usage both ways, while providing context to the data and avoiding misinterpretation and incorrect usage. Elsevier believes that raw research data should be freely accessible to researchers, and demonstrates this via entity and article linking, and the use of SciVerse applications for linking.

  • Entity Linking: making links between entities mentioned in the article (e.g., proteins or standards – there is a range of possibilities) to relevant information about that entity (example:  Protein Data Bank for proteins and a standard database for standards).
  • Article Linking: making links between an article as a whole and entries in a data repository – like an experimental data set underlying the research presented in the article or curated data from the research article (e.g. CCDC, EarthChem).
  • Applications: pulling data from a data repository into the article and bringing that to the reader to explore in the context of the article – often with some form of interactivity (e.g. information on genes is pulled from the NCBI GenBank, and is shown alongside the article).

Elsevier is applying this contextual data linking by working with many different repositories, including PANGAEA, CCDC, NCBI, PDB, and (recently added) EarthChem.

As an editor of an Elsevier journal, what database would you like to see connected to your journal article content?  If you know of one that is widely used and recognized, and well-organized and maintained, we would be interested in adding it to the program. Help us to increase the extent and impact of this initiative and benefit your journal and its readers by contacting IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg at

As we prepare to introduce both readers and authors to the next phase of the Article of the Future journey, our sights are already set on 2012, when ongoing content enhancements will follow the upcoming release of the new presentation style. Expect to hear more from us during the upcoming year!

Author Biography

IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg

IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg

IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg
From 1999-2002, IJsbrand Jan served as the Vice President of Technology at Elsevier Engineering Information (Hoboken, USA). As Technology Director for Science & Technology from 2002-2005, he was one of the initiators of Scopus, responsible for its publishing-technology connection. In 2006, he switched his focus as Technology Director to Elsevier’s Corporate Markets. Since taking on the role of Vice President Content Innovation in 2009, he has strived to help scientists communicate research in ways they weren’t able to do before. IJsbrand Jan holds a PhD in Theoretical Computer Science.

Related Links

Building a Blueprint for a New Publishing Future

Building a Blueprint for a New Publishing Future

“…it is fair to say that the format of scholarly communications is, at this mid-point in the digital revolution, in an ill-defined transitional state — a ‘horseless carriage’…” Anita de Waard, Disruptive Technologies Director, Elsevier Labs This summer, together with a group of well-known academics, Elsevier Labs co-organized a Perspectives workshop at Dagstuhl Castle in […]

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" is fair to say that the format of scholarly communications is, at this mid-point in the digital revolution, in an ill-defined transitional state — a ‘horseless carriage’..." Anita de Waard, Disruptive Technologies Director, Elsevier Labs

This summer, together with a group of well-known academics, Elsevier Labs co-organized a Perspectives workshop at Dagstuhl Castle in Germany.

Entitled Force11: Future Research Communications and e-Scholarship 2011, it was a meeting of scholars, librarians, archivists, publishers and research funders who, individually and collectively, aim to bring about a change in scholarly communication through the effective use of information technology. As a key outcome, the group has just published the Force11 Manifesto, a description of issues identified as impeding change and a vision and plan on how to overcome them.

What is Force11?

Force11 is a virtual community working to transform scholarly communications through advanced use of computers and the Web.

The challenges and proposals cover two separate aspects of scholarly publishing: the format of publications and technologies to enable query of, and access to, them; and the business of scholarly publishing, which includes models for assessing and validating science and scientists, and who pays precisely for what.

Bridging the technology gap

Concerning the first set of issues, it is fair to say that the format of scholarly communications is, at this mid-point in the digital revolution, in an ill-defined transitional state — a ‘horseless carriage’ — that lies somewhere between the world of print and paper and the world of the Web and computers, with the former still exercising significantly more influence than the latter. Then, most types of scholarship involve claims, and all sciences and many other fields require that these claims be independently testable.

Good results are often re-used, sometimes thousands of times. But actually obtaining the necessary materials, data or software for such re-use is far harder than it should be. Even in the rare cases where the data are part of the research communication, they are typically relegated to the status of ‘supplementary material’, whose format and preservation are currently inadequate.

The last issue pertaining to the form of scholarly communications deals with online access. Here, the knowledge discovery tools are much better but they struggle with the fragmentation of research communication caused by the rapid proliferation of increasingly specialized and overlapping journals.

Force11 group photo

The Force11 attendees on the steps of the chapel at Schloss Dagstuhl. Photo by Leibniz Centre for Informatics.

Exploring all avenues

Ideas for solutions included experimenting with new, enriched forms of scholarly publications consisting of rich and interconnected relationships between knowledge, claims and data. This would require the creation of a platform to create and share computationally executable components, such as workflows, computer code and statistical calculations as scientifically valid pieces of content, and the development of an infrastructure that would allow these components to be made accessible, reviewed, referenced and attributed. To do this, we would have to develop best practices for depositing research datasets in repositories, that enable linking to relevant documents and have high compliance levels driven by appropriate incentives, resources and policies.

For the scientific domain, new forms of publication must facilitate the reproducibility of results: the ability to preserve and re-perform executable workflows or services. This will require us to reconstruct the context within which these objects were created and track them as data objects that evolve through time. In this way, the content of communications about research will follow the same evolutionary path that we have seen for general Web content: a move from the static to the increasingly dynamic, and from top-down articles to grass-roots blogs.

It also means revisiting the narrative structure of scholarly papers, and identifying portions where this narrative may be better structured for improved computational access, without losing the strong cognitive impact that a good story can have.

The impact on editors

For editors, in particular, these futures offer exciting new opportunities. Next to publishing papers, there are new formats that enable the integration of researcher’s workflows, such as myExperiment, Taverna, Vis Trails and Wings. These allow authors to share, and readers to experience, not only a textual description of the methods followed in the publication, but to actually run these workflows on their own laptops, and thereby experience what steps were taken to arrive at experimental results.

Scientific data and software could also be much more tightly integrated with the journal article. In repositories such as Dryad or Dataverse, data, whether it be in the physical, life or social sciences, can be deposited and kept available. If the journal then decides to allow the addition of, e.g. statistical program components (such as R, SPSS or MatLab code), the data in the data repository can be rendered and replayed within the article context, allowing a richer representation of the science. Elsevier’s Executable Paper Grand Challenge offered a platform to display many of these new components, and several are being implemented today. 

Life beyond the Impact Factor

The Force11 group also agreed that if we are to explore and implement new forms of scholarly communication, we will need to implement radical changes to the complex socio-technical and commercial ecosystem of scholarly publishing. In particular, to obtain the benefits that networked knowledge promises, we have to explore new academic reward systems that encourage scholars and researchers to participate and contribute to these efforts. This means acknowledging that a journal Impact Factor is only one component to measure the true impact of scholarship and that it needs to be combined with other impact measures.

We need to develop new mechanisms that allow us to measure the true contribution a particular record of scholarship makes to the world’s store of knowledge. It also requires all those involved in the scholarly information life cycle to acknowledge that current business models are no longer adequate support for the rich, variegated, integrated and disparate knowledge offerings which new technologies enable, new scholarship requires, and new players in the scholarly field (including non-Western countries and the general public) deserve.

In a collaboration involving scholars, publishers, libraries, funding agencies, academic institutions, and software developers, we need to develop models that can enable this exciting future to develop, while offering sustainable forms of existence to all parties.

The impact of these developments for journal editors would be better integration of journal articles with the rest of the knowledge ecosystem that scientists exist in today. Efforts such as Altmetrics, MESUR (both of which Elsevier is actively collaborating with) and others, aim to expand our concept of impact measures and ensure a high-quality representation of downloads, views, blog links and other elements. In many forums (e.g. see list of workshops below), we are actively engaging in a constructive dialogue with the Open Science/Data/Access movement, to develop ways of integrating existing and new business models.

Mapping out the path ahead 

The overall conclusion of the Force11 group is that the changing formats, tools, roles and business models of scholarly publishing form an immense challenge for libraries, publishers and software developers. The only fruitful way forward, we firmly believe, will be for all parties collaborating to build new tools that optimally support scholarship in a distributed open environment. Only by creating a demonstrably better research environment will we convince the entire system of scholarly communication and merit assessment to adopt new forms and models.

A great outcome of the Force11 meeting was that several library groups are interested in joining Force11, and working together to redefine ‘the research library of the future’. There appears to be a great amount of ideas, tools, and enthusiasm to do this work, and a willingness and interest to do this collaboratively. We are very much looking forward to strengthening the connections made this year, and developing plans to help build these fundamentally new platforms in 2012.

A (non-exhaustive) list of workshops about transforming scholarly communication held in 2011:

Do you share the views of Force11? Where do you see scholarly communications heading in the years to come? Let us know by posting a comment below.

Author Biography

Anita de Waard
Anita de Waard

Anita de Waard
Anita has a background in experimental physics. She joined Elsevier as a publisher in physics and neurology in 1988, before taking on her current role in 1997. Elsevier Labs stimulates the usage, awareness and integration of new information technologies within Elsevier. Anita’s interests include the application of Semantic Web technologies for scientific communication; her research focuses on discourse analysis of biological text, with an emphasis on finding key rhetorical components, offering applications in the fields of hypothesis detection and automated copy editing.


Watching Retraction Watch

What a new breed of journalist means for transparency and public trust in science “…a powerful metaphor for understanding their work as science critics is to see them as cartographers and guides…” Author Declan Fahy in Columbia Journalism Review In Elsevier’s newsroom, we are responsible for working with the media on press coverage of research […]

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What a new breed of journalist means for transparency and public trust in science

"...a powerful metaphor for understanding their work as science critics is to see them as cartographers and guides..." Author Declan Fahy in Columbia Journalism Review

In Elsevier’s newsroom, we are responsible for working with the media on press coverage of research and responding to various inquires pertaining to scientific or research misconduct. From this vantage point, we are observing a notable trend, and unfortunately that trend is that the growth in coverage of scientific misconduct is outpacing that of the research itself.

Traditional scientific coverage is slowing due to a fall in the number of professional science media working today. In 2009, Nature1 chronicled the situation by noting that the number of dedicated science sections in American newspapers fell from a peak of about 95 to 34 between 1989 and 2005. Accordingly, in the same survey, 26% of global journalists reported job losses, and of the remaining journalists, 59% had less time per article available.

The Nature article appeared in the same year that more than 1.5 million articles were published, a figure that is growing by 3-4% each year2. Meanwhile, research is becoming more technical, inter-disciplinary and global in nature. Consider that 25% of Elsevier’s journals fall into more than one subject collection area, and 35% of our papers include authors from different countries3.

In other words, when we need experienced traditional science media professionals most, we have fewer of them. However, the number of freelance science journalists and bloggers is increasing. In fact, as of 2009, of the 2,000 US-based National Association of Science Writers members, only 79 were full-time staff science writers for newspapers4. Further, remaining science reporters cited getting more story leads from science bloggers1, which suggests science is still being covered, but by a new breed of reporter.

This shift from traditional reporters to freelancers and bloggers coincides with a greater ability to detect and report on academic misconduct. And there has been a lot of misbehavior to expose. A 2002 NIH-funded survey of several thousand scientists in the USA found that around one third admitted they had engaged in at least one sanctionable misbehavior in the prior three years5. We can also presume that with competition for research dollars, tenure, prestige, and patents increasing in line with our ability to detect misconduct, there will be even more.

Impact of the New Media Landscape

In a recent Columbia Journalism Review article, Skeptical of Science6, author Declan Fahy states, “among other new roles, journalists are becoming more critical of research.” He describes how journalists are being “undercut by the emergence of a new science media ecosystem in which scientific journals, institutions and individuals are producing original science content directly for non-specialist audiences.” The author notes that, “consequently, they need additional ways to attract readers and maintain their professional identity.”

Take Ivan Oransky, Executive Editor at Reuters Health, for example. Ivan is a seasoned health reporter who graduated from Harvard, obtained an MD from New York University, has written for The Lancet, and is a professor at NYU. Still, Ivan lived in relative obscurity until he launched his side job as a blogger at Retraction Watch, a new form of science blog with 150,000 page views per month and a mission to increase the transparency of the retraction process.

Now Ivan is himself the news. He speaks at conferences, appears on National Public Radio and Retraction Watch is routinely sourced by top-tier media. By looking into the stories behind retractions, Ivan, and his blog partner, Adam Marcus, have staked a new claim as the journalism community’s academic misconduct experts. They believe in keeping science honest and that if the research community reveals more of its own flaws, the level of trust in it will rise.

Retraction Watch website

Figure 1: A blog entry on Retraction Watch.


Ivan and Adam represent the new breed of science watchdog that is able to promote the results of their own investigations quickly via the internet. Beyond them, there are scientists, both aggrieved and benevolent, who spend time identifying cracks in scientific literature and making them public. Either through Retraction Watch or their own blogs, skeptical scientists aided by the internet have helped shed new and bright lights on scientific misconduct in ways never before seen.

And Retraction Watch has no shortage of material to work with. A recent Nature article7 captured how an increase in withdrawn papers is highlighting weaknesses in the system for handling them; and it’s the handling of them that gets watchdogs’ attention. For example, ‘opaque retraction notices that don't explain why a paper has been withdrawn.’

As publishers, we are mindful that the dramatic increase in access to scientific research in recent years has led to an increase in the level of critical review of these articles. The good news here is that these watchdogs are able to help editors keep scientists highly accountable for their work. The bad news is that they often print inaccurate and incomplete stories, which as a result can appear one-sided against those who don’t provide them with all the information they request. And they can take up an inordinate amount of editors’ time.

Are they entitled to your time?

For editors, the new breed of journalist is completely different and can be far more frustrating to work with than the traditional science reporter. The key is to spend time thinking about what the new media world means for your journal, and then develop your own approach to responding. Your publisher and Elsevier’s corporate media staff can work through this process with you. We can also help you manage the inquiries in a professional manner, i.e., making sure only credible inquiries are addressed, taking up a minimal amount of your time, and providing only appropriate, accurate information.

Increased skepticism and critical review in science can be complicated, combative, time consuming, and political. Many allegations and requests to investigate are legitimate, many not, but it’s become very clear that everything is more transparent in this new era. We have to acknowledge that every article and decision can be questioned. Promoting science and engendering trust require a new mindset that editors should become familiar with if they want their journal viewed favorably in the press – both traditional and new media.

The key is to remember that with the internet, the politicalization of science, and the rise of ethics journalism, the conduct of science has more visibility than ever. In his Columbia Journalism Review article6, Fahy suggests that ”a powerful metaphor for understanding their work as science critics is to see them as cartographers and guides, mapping scientific knowledge for readers, showing them paths through vast amounts of information, evaluating and pointing out the most important stops along the way.”

The inquiries and coverage from science skeptics is not always comfortable, but in this new era of science media, it can be a positive development for retaining public trust.

Finding the silver lining - why the rise in blogging could prove good news for researchers

  • There are still highly qualified experts who can decipher highly technical research articles for an audience, only now instead of working for a newspaper, they form or contribute to a blog or other form of online community. And while they may reduce an article down to a tweet, more people than ever before see those tweets, and the links to their articles within them.
  • With the decline of full-time reporters, there's a vast rise in the number of freelance journalists and bloggers. Instead of sitting at a desk and accepting assignments from editors, this new breed of reporters is empowered to scout for their own stories and build new networks providing earlier insights into research projects. For scientists, freelance reporters are a lot easier to get to know than traditional reporters.
  • There are a number of organizations gaining prominence as intermediaries, including Sense About Science and the Science Media Centre, both based in the UK but expanding internationally. These organizations play critical and credible roles in helping the general public make sense of science research, and how it is covered in the press. Perhaps most importantly, they also help make sense of peer review, which is often the key element to discerning what is real science, and what isn't.

What do you think about the changing make-up of the media ? You can share your thoughts by posting a comment below.

1 Science journalism: Supplanting the old media?, Geoff Brumfiel, 2009, Nature, Vol 458
2 The STM Report: An overview of scientific and scholarly journal publishing, Mark Ware and Michael Mabe, September 2009, International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers
3 Elsevier SciVerse Scopus
4 Science Journalism in Crisis? – from the World Conference of Science Journalists 2009, Sallie Robins, 2009, The Euroscientist
5 Scientists behaving badly, B C Martinson and others, 2005, Nature, Vol 43
6 Skeptical of Science, Declan Fahy, September 2011, Columbia Journalism Review
7 Science publishing: The trouble with retractions, Richard Van Noorden, 2011, Nature, Vol 478

Author Biography

Tom Reller

Tom Reller

Tom Reller
Tom is the primary media spokesman for Elsevier – responsible for the company’s relationships with media, analysts and other online/social media communities. He manages public relations programs and actively works with external organizations to help build Elsevier’s reputation and promote the many contributions Elsevier makes to Health and Science communities. These include partnerships developed through the Elsevier Foundation, where he is responsible for running programs benefitting the global nurse faculty profession.

Related Links

New Measures Aim to Ease Editor Workload

New Measures Aim to Ease Editor Workload

“The automatic reminders are prompting reviewers to respond as well as get overdue reviews done.” Editor, Journal of Molecular Graphics and Modelling We know that journal editors have witnessed a substantial increase in their workloads over the past few years, largely due to the rise in submissions. However, with authors now actively seeking journals promising […]

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"The automatic reminders are prompting reviewers to respond as well as get overdue reviews done." Editor, Journal of Molecular Graphics and Modelling

We know that journal editors have witnessed a substantial increase in their workloads over the past few years, largely due to the rise in submissions.

However, with authors now actively seeking journals promising a quick turnaround of papers, offering a fast publication process has never been more vital.

With help from journal managers, publishers within Elsevier have launched a program of initiatives providing our editors with the tools and best practices to help them achieve that goal.

These initiatives are based on the wealth of knowledge and experience of our extensive network of editors. We believe that they can be of use to you and your colleagues, as well as to authors and reviewers.

If you would like to explore any of the initiatives in more detail, please do not hesitate to give your publisher a call.

1. Moving traffic

It is clear from the feedback we have received that many of you spend a large proportion of your time on administrative activities, such as checking the status of papers. In response, we have developed a regular 'traffic light' email and best practice that focus on five key steps in the Elsevier Editorial System (EES) editorial process. According to our data, these steps cause the largest variation in publishing times between journals. They are:

  • Initiate review (invite reviewer and agree to review)
  • Under review
  • First decision
  • Author revision
  • Revision to decision

The traffic light email

Traffic light email

Figure 1: The email codes manuscripts green, amber or red, with red indicating that the manuscript requires urgent attention. The email is a powerful means to help editors prioritize their work.

A best practice document is available to help editors get the most out of the traffic light email. It outlines the tips and tricks of editors of Elsevier journals that EES has identified as having the fastest turnaround times for these steps.

We expect this document could be of particular interest to new editors, but its contents may also inspire more experienced editors to revisit their procedures.

Results so far

While it is still early days, the first positive results have been reported. For example, the editors of the Journal of Molecular Structure have managed to reduce the editorial time for the ‘revision to decision’ step by 47%. Comments from editors using the traffic light email make it clear that it helps them to swiftly identify which actions are needed first.

2. Article-Based Publishing

Traditionally, academic articles have been published in journals, issue by issue. With the onset of digital publishing, articles have become available sooner as articles-in-press, however, there is still an average wait of 15 weeks before they are assigned an issue and receive a full and final citation (still preferred by authors in place of the DOI number, according to our observations).

To address this, we have introduced Article-Based Publishing, a contemporary publication model assigning final citation data on an article by article basis.

“Article-Based Publishing is a key part of Elsevier’s efforts to find new ways to speed up and enhance the publication process,” explains Martin Tanke, Managing Director of Science & Technology Journals for Elsevier.

Article-Based Publishing, what does it mean?

  • Articles immediately receive a page number and are published one by one in an Issue in Progress.
  • If multiple volumes are available for a journal, multiple Issues in Progress can be opened and filled with articles simultaneously. Final articles will appear online sooner which allows for faster citations (see figure 2).
  • Article-Based Publishing has already resulted in reductions in publication times of up to seven weeks for final articles.
  • This change in process reflects the industry shift from print to electronic publishing.
SciVerse ScienceDirect view

Figure 2: Article-Based Publishing - what you see in SciVerse ScienceDirect

Since its introduction, more than 280 journals have implemented Article-Based Publishing, and another two sets of 50 journals were due to join the program in November and December this year. Professor René Janssen, Editor of Organic Electronics, comments: “Article-Based Publishing is a major step forward which I really like. Now the article is in its final form just a few weeks after acceptance and this will give the journal an important advantage compared to others. I am sure that our authors will like it too. As far as I am aware, Organic Electronics is now one of the very few journals with rapid publication of full papers.”

3. No need to remind yourself to remind reviewers

As an editor, you can probably identify with the time-consuming task of reminding reviewers of deadlines, and chasing late reviews. Did you know that EES can do this for you? In an effort to reduce your workload, EES provides an Automated Reviewer Reminders tool.

Editors who have already implemented the reminders report that the tool has helped them to reduce reviewing times, which our studies indicate is an important factor for authors when deciding which journal to submit to. An editor on Journal of Molecular Graphics and Modelling says: “Aside from the traffic light and best practice, what has helped me are the constant reminders to individuals who have not responded to the review invitation request as well as past due reviews. The automatic reminders are prompting reviewers to respond as well as get overdue reviews done.”

4. Making the best use of your reviewers: rejecting without peer review

While it is important to give all authors a fair chance, we do recognise that not all submitted papers are suitable for peer review. Such papers should be rejected upfront by the editor.

There are four main benefits to these so-called ‘desk rejects’:

  • For Editors: There is no time and effort wasted on finding reviewers for, and reminding them about, papers that are highly likely to be rejected anyway.
  • For Reviewers: They receive only those papers that are worth spending their limited time on.
  • For Authors: They are informed of the reject decision at the earliest possible stage, allowing them to submit elsewhere.
  • For the journal: It is likely that the Impact Factor, the most visible label of the journal’s reputation, will improve with only the best quality papers making it through the process.

We have gathered together best practice tips and tricks from editors whose journals have a well-established process in place for this initial screening of papers. Your publisher will be able to provide you with a copy of this document.

5. Language editing

Because more and more papers are submitted by authors whose native language is not English, editors spend an increasing amount of their time on language editing. This leaves them less time for the actual management of the review process.

However, it is Elsevier’s policy that the author is responsible for language editing and that this should happen prior to submission. Our advice to editors is that they should refer authors to a language-editing agency, or to a colleague who is a native English speaker. Elsevier also offers language editing services directly to the author via the Author Webshop. Other services available include SPI and Asia Science Editing. In exceptional cases, the journal may pay for the language editing. Your publisher can give you more information.

Author Biographies

Angelique Janssen

Angelique Janssen

Angelique Janssen
Angelique works in the Strategy and Journal Services department in Amsterdam. She is responsible for projects that deliver tools and services to both internal and external Elsevier audiences. Since joining Elsevier in 2002, Angelique has worked in various positions, such as Associate Publishing Editor. She has a Master’s degree in Language Didactics from Utrecht University and is certified as a PRINCE2 Practitioner.

Andrea Hoogenkamp-O'Brien

Andrea Hoogenkamp-O'Brien

Andrea Hoogenkamp-O'Brien
Andrea joined Elsevier in 2009 and works in the Strategy and Journal Services department in Amsterdam, where she is part of a team responsible for developing new initiatives to improve services for authors, editors and reviewers. She joined Elsevier from FEMS in Delft where she had worked as the Editorial Coordinator, responsible for managing the publications unit, which publishes five FEMS Microbiology journals. Prior to that, Andrea held the position of Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Amsterdam.

Map of United Kingdom

Putting UK Research Under the Microscope

“… the UK’s success on an increasingly competitive global scene depends on our very openness.” David Willetts, UK Minister of State for Universities and Science Most countries have fairly lofty goals regarding their strategic investment in research, but they are often based on aspiration rather than an assessment of current strengths. The UK, however, has […]

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“... the UK's success on an increasingly competitive global scene depends on our very openness." David Willetts, UK Minister of State for Universities and Science

Most countries have fairly lofty goals regarding their strategic investment in research, but they are often based on aspiration rather than an assessment of current strengths. The UK, however, has commissioned a report card on its competitive performance.

Commissioned biannually since 2001, the report has historically tracked changes in publications, citations and patents in the UK. However, the recent International Comparative Performance of the UK Research Base - 2011 included new analysis: researcher mobility, collaborative behavior and a series of case studies highlighting some of the areas in which the UK has unique strengths.

Researcher mobility and productivity: what goes around comes around

One of the more surprising findings of the study, undertaken by the custom analytics team at Elsevier, was the mobility of the UK research base. “It’s traditionally been called brain drain,” says Dr Andrew Plume, Associate Director of Scientometrics & Market Analysis and an author of the study. “However, we have now come to view international researcher mobility as part of a productive cycle that’s really win-win.”

While the number of researchers in the UK has been broadly stable for the last 15 years, the actual make-up of researchers in that pool is fluid. Only 37% of UK researchers never published with a non-UK affiliation over the period 1996-2010; the 63% that did comprise various subsets of internationally mobile researchers. “These individuals represent new talent that is coming to the UK, and researchers that are taking skills gained in the UK and seeding excellence in research elsewhere,” adds Plume.

International mobility of UK researchers, 1996-2010

Figure 1: International mobility of UK researchers, 1996-2010. This analysis is based on author affiliation addresses in the published literature and is restricted to a set of 210,923 researchers with a UK affiliation during this period that are ‘active’; i.e. those with ≥1 article in the latest five-year period 2006-2010 and ≥10 articles in the entire 15-year period 1996-2010, or those with >3 articles in the period 2006-2010 but <10 articles in the period 1996-2010. Relative Productivity represents articles per year since the first appearance of each researcher as an author in the database during the period 1996-2010, relative to all UK researchers in the same period. Relative Seniority represents years since the first appearance of each researcher as an author in the database during the period 1996-2010, relative to all UK researchers in the same period. Both Relative Productivity and Relative Seniority are calculated for each author’s entire output in the period (i.e. not just those articles listing a UK address). Source: Scopus.

Researchers returning to the UK after an extended time abroad are significantly more productive in terms of articles published than those who never left the UK. In contrast, the group which did not publish under an affiliation outside the UK was 40% less productive in terms of articles published than the average for the UK.

While the UK is not likely to be able to increase its research funding significantly in the short term, facilitating mobility, international recruitment and recruiting back excellent expatriate researchers may be a way to ensure that the brain circulation engine keeps running.

Almost 63% of researchers who were affiliated with UK institutions between 1996-2010, have also published articles while working at institutions outside the UK in the same period. Source: SciVerse Scopus.

“The UK university sector is a desirable place to work,” says Xavier Lambin, Professor of Zoology at the University of Aberdeen. He left Belgium 25 years ago and worked in Norway and Canada before settling in the UK. “What strikes me about Aberdeen is that it is extremely international — about a third of our staff do not come from the UK. In general, the UK is known to be international, and so people are attracted here without fear of discrimination, or worries about needing to be part of some particular research group, which is more of a concern in mainland Europe. That perception of openness is important.”

“... the UK's success on an increasingly competitive global scene depends on our very openness. Of the population of academics who were research-active and associated with the UK at some stage between 1996 and 2010, almost two thirds were also affiliated to a non-UK institution. We are remarkably well-connected. Nearly half of all publications from UK research between 2006 and 2010 had a non-UK co-author. The same data throw up another positive trend – that, judging by changing institutional affiliations in publications, the UK attracts and retains talent from other countries.” David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science during his Gareth Roberts Lecture, 19 October 2011.

Collaboration: many hands make light (and better) work

Collaboration also featured strongly in the report. “It’s a very healthy sign,” says Plume. “Studies have shown that multinationally-authored articles are more highly cited than those that are not, and this is over and above a multi-authorship effect (that leads to additional self-citations). It’s also a way for smaller, specialized research groups in the UK to team up with other groups worldwide and have a bigger international impact.” Like facilitating mobility for researchers, fostering international collaboration and mobility could be a way to maximize the impact of the UK’s already highly productive research base.

The proportion of UK articles co-authored with non-UK researchers is high and rising, and reached 46% in 2010. This proportion is far higher than in most other research-intensive nations and also contributes to the UK’s high number of citations per researcher, because articles that have co-authors residing in more than one country tend to be more highly cited than those that do not. The ability of UK-based researchers to move internationally and to collaborate with non-UK researchers is therefore a key driver of the UK’s leading global position in terms of research efficiency.

While the UK collaborates with a variety of countries, these collaborations tend to result in research that is better-cited even than the UK’s own (already high) average, regardless of collaborating country and accounting for differences in field-specific citation rates. Source: SciVerse Scopus.

An international collaboration map for the UK in the period 2006-2010

Figure 2A

An international collaboration map for the UK in the period 2006-2010

Figure 2B

Figure 2 is an international collaboration map for the UK in the period 2006-2010. (A) World (excl Europe); (B) Europe only. Mapped countries include only those with at least 1,000 publications in this period (i.e. 109 countries, representing 99.8% of the UK’s internationally co-authored articles). Bubble sizes (within each map only) represent the relative volume of collaboration between the two countries; Bubble colour represents the Field-Weighted Citation Impact (FWCI) of each country for all its papers: Green = FWCI greater than UK; Yellow = FWCI less than UK but greater than world average; Red = FWCI less than UK and less than world average. Line colour represents the Field-Weighted Citation Impact of collaborative papers relative to all papers where: Green = FWCI greater than UK average for all papers; Yellow = FWCI less than UK average but greater than world average; Red = FWCI less than UK and less than world. Source: Scopus (map generated using Gephi 0.8 alpha with Miller cylindrical projection layout and coordinates from the CIA World Factbook. The exported network was placed over a blank world map image).

Playing up unique strengths: everybody’s good at something

According to SciVal Spotlight (a performance and planning tool created by Elsevier), there are more than 400 niche areas of research in which the UK is distinctively strong. In order to discover some of the reasons why the UK developed these strengths, more than 30 interviews were conducted with leading researchers in selected areas of strength (cognitive neuroscience, ecology, computer science, languages and education). These revealed common themes around historical strengths, fostering academic freedom and interdisciplinary collaboration, and the strong advantage of being able to recruit the best and brightest from abroad.

In 2010, the UK was responsible for 4% of researchers; 6% of articles; 9% of usage; 11% of citations and 14% of the most highly-cited articles globally. With a global population share of less than 1% and 3% of R&D expenditure, the UK really does punch above its weight.

In some areas such as linguistics and language research, interdisciplinary research centres can bring together researchers with experts on the politics, history and culture of specific countries and regions, such as China and the Arabic-speaking world. This in turn gives the UK a deeper understanding of these regions, and contributes to the economic development and quality of life for everyone involved.

“The LBAS (Language-Based Area Studies) centres have been very successful,” says Marilyn Martin-Jones, Emeritus Professor at the University of Birmingham. “They have not only done research and language training but have also reached out to chambers of commerce, local industry, and other national bodies, as well as teaching diplomats about the countries in which they work.”

Interdisciplinary UK research strengths (Competencies) chosen for the interviews from the 2010 UK SciVal Spotlight map. Source: SciVal Spotlight.

Figure 3: Interdisciplinary UK research strengths (Competencies) chosen for the interviews from the 2010 UK SciVal Spotlight map. Source: SciVal Spotlight.

“Not every university doing quality work in cognitive neuroscience has the critical mass of researchers that can be found in places like Queen’s Square. As such, they have not had the luxury to explore the wide range of questions that are pursued at the ICN and Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging. Instead, they have developed excellence by specialising in specific niches within the field. And so our niche has been in perception and action, like motor control.” Glyn Humphreys, Professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Birmingham

The key to success

The UK clearly has a long history as a research-focused nation, an advantage that most nations can’t replicate. That said, its systematic approach to assessing research strengths may help the UK to retain that advantage. As mother would say, do your homework.

Now go play outside, it’s a beautiful day.

The UK Department of Business, Innovation and Skills commissioned the 2011 report from Elsevier. If you have queries about the report or similar projects please contact

Further reading

Author Biography

Noelle Gracy

Noelle Gracy
Noelle Gracy received her PhD in Neuroscience from Cornell University, Graduate School of Medical Sciences, New York, and completed her postdoctoral training at The Scripps Research Institute in California. An Executive Publisher until 2009, she now works with Elsevier’s many advisory boards and was part of the Elsevier team producing the UK Department of Business, Innovation and Skills report International Comparative Performance of the UK Research Base - 2011


Welcome to Issue 34 of Editors’ Update

It’s hard to believe that 2011 is already drawing to a close, but it’s been an exciting and busy year at Elsevier. Most of all, it’s been a year marked by innovation and those developments have been evident the length and breadth of the company. In this issue of Editors’ Update, we touch on some […]

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It’s hard to believe that 2011 is already drawing to a close, but it’s been an exciting and busy year at Elsevier. Most of all, it’s been a year marked by innovation and those developments have been evident the length and breadth of the company.

In this issue of Editors’ Update, we touch on some of them and explore what they could mean for you as editors, your journals, and the publishing landscape as a whole.

In Putting UK Research Under the Microscope, we focus on the recent release of the International Comparative Performance of the UK Research Base – 2011 report, a score card on the UK’s competitive performance. The study, which was undertaken by our custom analytics team, contains some surprising – and encouraging – findings.

New Measures Aim to Ease Editor Workloads outlines some of the internal projects Elsevier has been working on to support you in your bid to improve publication times; a number of which promise to streamline workflows too.

Freelancers and bloggers are taking over the role once held by traditional reporters, and in Watching Retraction Watch we discover what this new breed of journalist could mean for transparency and public trust in research.

The fascinating world of technology is discussed in Building a Blueprint for a New Publishing Future. Learn more about Elsevier’s involvement in the global transformation of scholarly communications.

Closer to home, Article of the Future Project Enters New Phase looks at the upcoming rollout on SciVerse ScienceDirect and what it means for you.

And don’t miss your opportunity to meet Richard Primark, Editor-in-Chief of Biological Conservation, in our regular Editor in the Spotlight feature.

We hope 2011 has proved just as packed with innovation for you and we wish you every success in 2012.

We always welcome your views and would be happy to receive your feedback at

Linda Willems

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Introducing EVISE® - Elsevier’s new submission system
September 2nd, 2015

Research Data
September 9th, 2015

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September 16th, 2015

Trends in Journal Publishing for Social Sciences & Economics
November 4th, 2015

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November 11th, 2015

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