Interview with PeerJ Editor Pedro J. Silva

This week we interviewed PeerJ Academic Editor Pedro J. Silva. He is an Associate Professor in Health Sciences at Universidade Fernando Pessoa. We caught up with him via email and asked him about his background, his experience as a PeerJ editor, and his thoughts on Open Access publishing.

PJ: Could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what brought you into your research?

PS: I finished my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry (Univ. Porto, Portugal) in 1996, and began my PhD research shortly thereafter, under Baltazar de Castro (Univ. Porto) and Fred Hagen (Agr. Univ. Wageningen, Netherlands), in whose lab I had interned as part of the requirements of my undergraduate program. My PhD research was pure “wet-lab” enzymology and protein characterization. Upon graduating, I took a job as an Assistant professor at a small, welcoming, and teaching-focused University in my hometown (Univ. Fernando Pessoa). The heavy lecture loads of this job prevented me from pursuing “wet-lab” biochemistry (since proteins denature over time, and lab work is quite unforgiving of other time commitments), but I still wanted to do research. I then approached Maria João Ramos (Univ. Porto), who heads a strong research group devoted to computational biochemistry (molecular dynaimcs, docking, quantum-chemical exploration of reaction mechanisms, etc.). She welcomed me despite my lack of any research funding or previous practical experience in that area, and under her guidance I quickly developed a taste for all the wonderful questions we can explore using computational methods and which remain unaddressable by experimental methods. Since my research funding is quite limited I try to stay away from topics where I know that highly-funded researchers are active or that are obviously inaccessible to my computational resources, but that still leaves me plenty of interesting research questions to tackle.

PJ: What do you see as wrong with the current system of publication?

PS: Before starting to publish with PeerJ, I had become frustrated with the increasing practice of editorial rejection of otherwise sound manuscripts due to “lack of interest to a broad readership”, or  “lack of strong immediate impact”. This practice strongly discriminates against all those researchers who, despite lacking the resources needed for cutting-edge research, produce good science and fill all the “little gaps” needed to build the edifice of science. “Likely-impact-based” rejection also undermines ethical practices by encouraging authors to hype their results and to not look too deeply into their results (for fear of finding out that their results turn out to be less sexy than needed to get into “prestigious” journals).

PJ: Given your experience, what would an ideal publishing venue look like?

PS: An ideal publishing venue should be a most ethical organization devoted to publishing sound research after a transparent, thorough, and helpful review. It should reward its reviewers and make them feel appreciated, take a firm stand against authors who attempt to “game the system” and have a clear mechanism to support editors when they must mediate disputes between authors and unreasonable reviewers.

PJ: What are your thoughts about the value of Open Access publishing?

PS: Access to current literature is vital for a vibrant research culture. In the mid-to-late 1990’s, when I was in the Netherlands for my PhD, I had far more access to journals than any of my former classmates who had stayed in Portugal for their PhD, and I would often act as their only source for the most recent papers. Nowadays, a country-wide consortium (B-On) gives Portuguese scientists access to a large portion of the literature, but many researchers worldwide still lack access to most of it due to the high-prices of journal subscriptions. Free access to reliable manuscripts is a very effective form of increasing researcher productivity and science quality, even in the absence of capital-intensive facilities.

PJ: You have published three times with us already, why was it important to you to publish it at PeerJ, and how was your experience?

PS: I wanted my papers to be evaluated for their science, not for their likely impact. I have had very good experiences with PeerJ: every review has been polite and to the point. Even in those cases where the reviewer seemed not to be a computational biochemist, their comments prompted me to improve the paper to make it significantly more interesting and convincing to those outside my field.

PJ: Which aspects of the PeerJ functionality do you find the most useful or interesting?

PS: My favourite functionality is the option of making the full review history public. That immediately makes me trust the journal, the paper and the authors more than anything else.

PJ: What excited you about PeerJ that persuaded you to become an Academic Editor (AE)?

PS: I decided to become an AE because I found that most Associate Editors specialized in my areas (Biochemistry and Biophysics) came from the fields of Molecular Biology, Virology, etc., and not many practitioners of “traditional” or computational enzymology were present. I believed I could help fill that niche.

PJ: How do you go about evaluating a paper at PeerJ

PS: I usually read it completely (or at least skim the results/conclusions) before starting to look for reviewers. Then I pick 4-5 reviewers who have worked on the same (or similar) subject matter, preferably with some expertise in the specific experimental approach used. I then spend some time in Web of Science checking that my candidates have not published with the authors and send them invitations to review. If none of them accepts in 3-4 days, I check the literature again for an additional 4-5 candidates. It is sometimes difficult to get responses as everybody is always busy, and maybe many of the candidates do not yet know about PeerJ. When I get the reviews I read them thoroughly, evaluate the reviewer’s requests, add some manuscript comments of my own and send my decision to the authors.  After the authors respond, I will usually send the revised manuscript to the original reviewers, to ensure that they are informed of the influence of their review and that their concerns have been adequately addressed.

PJ: How many hours a week would you say that you devote to PeerJ, and how does it fit into your schedule?

PS: Maybe three hours a week. I have no trouble fitting it in my schedule.

PJ: In your opinion, why should researchers submit to PeerJ?

PS: PeerJ offers a very fast response: even if your paper is rejected the decision will be quick and you will not be burdened by delays. From my experience, reviewers (even when negative) will be courteous and offer constructive feedback. And when your paper is accepted, it will be published in only a few weeks.

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