Annual Meeting Reports

The East–West Divide: Challenges Facing Eastern Authors and How a Global Perspective Can Bridge the Gap

In this session, the speakers focused on bridging the perspectives of authors with those of journal editors.

Philippa J Benson, president and owner of PJB Consulting, began the session with a talk titled “Challenges Facing Chinese Authors”. Benson lived in China for 2 years in the middle 1980s and has been traveling to China regularly since then. She began her talk with a description of the training of Chinese scientists at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Benson said that at the undergraduate level, students often are assigned to both a specific school and a specific major within a field. China’s national educational curriculum provides students with strong training in reading English, less rigorous training in listening comprehension, limited training in basic expository writing, and little or no training in technical and scientific writing.

At the graduate level, students are often assigned to specific programs. At that level, again, students develop strong skills in reading comprehension for scientific English, and there is less training in listening comprehension and almost none in technical and scientific writing or in topics related to STM publishing standards and practices. However, most doctoral candidates in China are required to publish at least one article in a journal indexed by Science Citation Index (SCI) to receive a degree, and many face the requirement of publishing more than one article or publishing in a journal highly ranked by SCI.

Benson discussed the findings of the report Knowledge, Networks, and Nations: Global Scientific Collaboration in the 21st Century1 from The Royal Society of London, which identified China as the second-highest producer of research and showed that the number of submissions to scholarly journals from China will be increasing dramatically over the next decade. She also discussed the increased spending on scientific research and development in Brazil, Russia, and India (these countries and China are identified as the BRIC countries), which will probably result in increased submissions and citations from these countries.

Donald Samulack, president of US operations for Cactus Communications, described a “publication tsunami” coming from Asia. He presented data on two surveys that were conducted by Cactus Communications. The first was sent to authors in East Asia and the second to editors of English-language journals. The author survey was translated into Japanese, Mandarin, and Korean for dissemination in each country and distributed through social media, workshops, academic societies, research universities, science newspapers, and the Editage Web site. The editor survey was distributed via discussion groups of the European Association of Science Editors and the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) listservs and the ALPSP blog.

Completed responses were received from 326 authors and 54 journal editors. Most respondents were in the biomedical sciences, fewer in the physical sciences.

On the basis of the survey findings, Samulack offered a few suggestions to journal editors, including these:

  • Provide information on the journal’s time to first decision, time to publication, and rejection rates and reasons.
  • Encourage presubmission inquiries.
  • Translate the journal’s aims and scope into other languages.
  • Provide clear author guidelines with FAQs and simplified processes.
  • Develop standardized journal guidelines and offer easy access to sample articles.
  • Provide a clear description of the journal’s ethics check processes with case studies.

Boyana Konforti, editor of Cell Reports, was the final speaker in the session and reminded attendees of the importance of communication and of keeping communication simple and clear. She said that a journal is a collaboration—among authors, editors, reviewers, and editorial board—all with the same overall goals: to identify, recruit, improve, and publish the highest-quality work.

Konforti talked about Cell Reports, the 13th Cell Press journal, which was launched in 2012. Cell Reports has a number of unique features. It contains short, single-point papers, as well as a longer-article format. It also publishes a Resources section, which highlights important technical advances and major informational data sets. The journal is broad and covers the entire life-sciences spectrum. Cell Reports is open access and publishes papers online weekly. The journal has an active and engaged editorial board made up of scientists around the world.

With the launch of Cell Reports, Konforti was given an opportunity to design a unique and dynamic Web site—one that makes information easy for authors, for reviewers, and for advisory and editorial board members to find. The Web site also includes FAQs, which are updated often.

Konforti suggested that editors

  • Go to meetings and visit laboratories— get to know the scientific community.
  • Give talks on how to get work published.
  • Interact with their editorial boards about standards in their fields of expertise.
  • Take telephone calls from authors, reviewers, and editorial board members.

Konforti said that Cell Reports helps authors to prepare their manuscripts by providing accurate and updated author guidelines and videos of the editorial process.2 She suggested that authors

  • Talk to colleagues about their work (to test ideas and get opinions).
  • Look for opportunities to present their work.
  • Give their papers to colleagues outside their fields.
  • Contact a journal editor (presubmission inquiry).
  • Use the cover letter to sell their story.

Finally, she highlighted some of the things that she seeks when considering a paper: Does it include logically designed experiments? Does it provide definitive support for the conclusions? Is the work conceptually important? Does it change how we think? Does it open new avenues of research?