Editor in the Spotlight: George Tsokos of Clinical Immunology
Clinical Immunology publishes original research on the molecular and cellular bases of immunological disease. It is the official journal of FOCIS (the Federation of Clinical Immunology Societies), the preeminent association for clinical immunologists. George C. Tsokos, MD, a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Chief of Rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA, has been Editor-in-Chief of the journal since January 2011. Clinical Immunology has an Impact Factor of 3.771 and receives 690 submissions per year – around 20 percent of which are accepted.
Q. What does being a journal editor mean to you and what do you find most rewarding about this role?
A. Clinical Immunology publishes high impact papers in the field of clinical immunology and, in that respect, I feel responsible for choosing and presenting to the community what is important, novel and significant in the field. Working with a top notch cadre of associate editors with whom I orchestrate the reviewing process is highly rewarding. We work with the FOCIS leaders and the FOCIS Publications Committee to make Clinical Immunology the sole home for all important advances in the field.
Q. What are your biggest challenges as Editor-in-Chief of Clinical Immunology? How do you overcome these challenges and what extra support can Elsevier provide?
A. The greatest challenge is to secure qualified reviewers. For each paper we strive to recruit a senior reviewer, who can help to define the overall impact of the paper, as well as junior reviewers to comb the manuscript carefully. Although we do try to use the reviewers suggested by authors as much as we can, there are challenges. Many times the suggested reviewers are very senior people who are too busy to review papers and sometimes authors recommend reviewers from their own country – for a small country that is equivalent to an author recommending reviewers from their own institution. Other times authors recommend reviewers from other countries but their last names reveal the submitting author’s country. I and the associate editors try to go through each submission to determine whether the article fits the scope of the journal and whether the manuscript presents novel, well-documented experiments. In this way we keep the burden on reviewers to a minimum.
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. As already stated, identifying qualified reviewers is difficult. Submissions to Clinical Immunology increased by 10 percent in 2013 making the job of the editors even more difficult. I think the only solution is for editors to make the initial choices and only send for review submitted papers that fit the journal and will be read with interest and excitement by our colleagues. In this way, good reviewers are not inundated with requests to review papers that will not make the cut.
Q. We have observed 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 a journal basis. How do you think this affects the visibility of your journal among authors?
A. Indeed, scientists search the web (Google Scholar or PubMed) to find articles that can help them interpret their experiments or plan new ones; clinicians search for solutions to clinical problems or to improve their clinical practice; and teachers search the web to stay up to date. I think Clinical Immunology has benefited from this evolving practice. Numerical/statistical data and personal feedback assure us that we are strong.
Q. Academic publishing is increasingly embracing open access. How do you see these open access changes in your country? And how do you see them affecting authors who publish in your journal?
A. My country, USA, started the concept and practice of free access which I think is a great idea. And it is rational to expect tax payers to have access to what they have paid for. A small caveat in this effort is who will pay for this? I do not know if the free-access-journal-upfront-fee is less or more than the one charged by the classic journals. I am happy though that papers that are accepted for publication to Clinical Immunology are uploaded to the central library immediately if the work has been funded by NIH (National Institutes of Health).
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. This is true. Yet, many promotions committees in this country and study sections for NIH and other funding organizations pay attention to the body of work published by a scientist, rather than one or a few articles in high-impact, fashionable journals. With the advancement of open access and the availability of search engines it will eventually be left up to the readers to judge the ’impact‘ of a published article.
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. Which improvements/changes would you, as an editor, find most important?
A. Anything that increases access, functionality, cross-referencing, easy use from iPhone, iPad etc. will be welcome.
Q. Do you use social media or online professional networking in your role as an editor or researcher? Has it helped you and, if so, how?
A. I do not use social media at all but, from what I understand, those channels can help to spread information quickly.
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. Clinical Immunology will keep on publishing only cutting-edge information in the field. We will continue publishing review articles on state-of-the-art issues that can offer critical knowledge to colleagues. We will continue seeking articles that provide a solid body of work presenting novel mechanisms and insights from clinical studies. Members of FOCIS have been increasingly sending their best work to Clinical Immunology and this will gradually place the journal at the top of the list. I believe that 10 years from now, it will be the top journal in the field.
Q. Do you have any tips or tricks to share with your fellow editors about being a journal editor?
A. It is important to go through all submissions and choose articles that fulfil the goals of the journal to guarantee homogeneity in the quality of the published papers. It is important to engage young colleagues as reviewers and offer them slots on the editorial board.