Interview With PeerJ Editor Jen Wagner

This week’s ‘Interview with an Editor’ is with Dr Jennifer K. Wagner. Jennifer conducts multidisciplinary research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Integration of Genetic Healthcare Technologies (Penn CIGHT).

She is also a licensed attorney practicing in Pennsylvania and was one of the first editors to join the PeerJ Editorial Board.

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

JW: I think there are a number of problems with the current mainstream system of publication. One problem is time involved. For example, I have had accepted manuscripts idling for 9+ months before they actually were published. I have had manuscripts trapped in peer-review for 12+ months after submission without receiving any feedback whatsoever. These delays are, in my opinion, both unprofessional and unacceptable in a digital age.

Another problem I see involves the publication system stifling academic perspectives and not letting productive, professional disagreements play out in the literature, in the public sphere. The peer-review process lacks transparency and has become hampered by “Pit-bull reviewing,” where reviewers use the process to further their own academic career agendas. All too often manuscripts with sound methodologies and reliable data end up published as only portions of what the authors submitted, with editors not particularly familiar with the specific research area thrusting changes that effectively replace the authors’ own interpretations, discussions of the significance of the research findings, conclusions, and recommendations with those more suitable to or aligned with cultural and scholarly hegemonic whims and fixations. Additionally, manuscripts well received by peer-reviewers are often disrupted later by seemingly draconian editorial decisions to cut relevant references cited down to an arbitrary limit, which exaggerates the scholarly importance of some works to the detriment of others.

Yet another problem is with the whole process of subscriptions and limited access to “publications.” Rather than broadly disseminating academic works, the works become largely unavailable to individuals outside academia and sometimes even within different disciplines of academia. Blogging, tweeting, and otherwise sharing information is the way of the digital, informational world, so it is disappointing to me when interested members of the public (regardless of occupation) are not able to engage in the discussions simply because they don’t have discretionary income to spend on pay-per-view articles (e.g. when I last checked Elsevier, for example, the pay-per-view pricing for article access ranged from $19.95 to $41.95, with most articles pricing in at $31.50).  Similarly disappointing, for those who conduct multidisciplinary research, the academic appointment itself may dictate access to publications. For example, I am currently a Research Associate at the University of Pennsylvania. The university has a fantastic library system that allows me to access the scientific literature (both biomedical and anthropological) without difficulty; however, because my appointment is situated in the Perelman School of Medicine and not in the School of Law, I am ineligible for university access to legal materials I need to do my multidisciplinary research. While law students and faculty have Westlaw subscriptions, I have to pay roughly $8,500 each year to access a subset of the legal materials (case law, statutes, and law reviews and journals) from Westlaw that otherwise would be available to me free of cost with law school affiliation. Even when researchers/authors want to be part of the solution and make their articles open access, the up-front costs charged by the journals often is cost-prohibitive for young scholars. When I was considering a possible venue for one of my own manuscripts, the author’s cost for publishing open access would have been 1,600 Euros (roughly $2,000 USD). To put this into perspective, obtaining access to necessary materials and then attempting to provide open access to broadly disseminate just one manuscript quickly eats up half of the annual maximum funding for research costs available under the prestigious K99/R00 NIH “Pathway to Independence” Award (which is generally up to $20,000).

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

JW: Honestly, what I would envision for an ideal publishing venue looks a whole lot like PeerJ. The interface would be intuitive and user-friendly not only for authors but also for reviewers and editors. The process from submission to publication would be quick but not sacrifice quality of peer-review for speed. The pricing would be reasonable for those interesting in publishing the articles and would be in line with the costs to register for a professional conference. An ideal publishing venue would allow (but not necessarily require) the peer-review process to be completely transparent and would use review/editorial criteria to gauge the quality of research rather than perceived significance or impact of the research. The venue would be visually appealing and a fun site to visit and hang out (rather than just a place to stop for a specific article sought and then quickly move along) but also would allow for readers to download pdfs of articles they want to save for personal archiving in a traditional way.

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

JW: It is invaluable. We cannot possibly expect to have a scientifically literate society if we do not provide access to the information broadly and economically.

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

JW: From the minute I heard that PeerJ was launching, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of. The concept aligned with my personal and professional perspectives. There wasn’t one thing in particular that got me excited. It was the entire concept of revolutionizing scientific publishing. Having a publishing venue respect everyone involved in the activity (readers, authors, reviewers, and editors alike) is a refreshing change.

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

What scientific researcher would choose a process other than PeerJ now that it is available? Peer-review of the highest quality, rapid editorial decisions, and open access at reasonable prices are just the most obvious reasons.

PJ: Many thanks for your time, is there anything else you want to add?

JW: I am just excited that the PeerJ founders recognized the importance of having areas of the journal devoted to all of the contextual issues that are so valuable not only in designing and conducting research but also in the subsequent interpretations, applications, and uses of research findings (e.g., legal implications, ethical issues, science policy matters, and education).

PJ: PeerJ is now open for your submissions – see for yourself why researchers like Jen Wagner are so excited to be a part of it.

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