An Editor's Perspective

On Using Academic Peers as Editors for Scientific Journals

For most of scientific publishing history, editors of scientific journals have been the authors’ peers, fellow practicing scientists who volunteer their expertise (and their time) to carry out one of the most important tasks of science: filtering the literature, deciding which reports are worth readers’ time. Of course there have been journals, such as Nature, founded in 1869, that employed full-time, professional editors, but for most of the 20th century (and before that) science, technology, and mathematics (STM) journals were largely not-for-profit operations that employed practicing scientists as editors, almost all of them working in academia. As the scientific enterprise expanded after the Second World War, however, more journals with dedicated, full-time editors came onto the scene. And this has only accelerated: the Nature Publishing Group alone has launched 20 such journals since the turn of the century, seven in just the last three years. Nevertheless, journals that enlist academic peer editors have remained a mainstay of STM publishing and are particularly prevalent in society-sponsored journals. And for good reason: practicing scientists make good editors. The editors of the journal I lead have always been practicing scientists, peers of the authors. As Editor-in-Chief of GENETICS for the past eight years, I have witnessed the advantages peer editing offers and seen some of the challenges it presents. I will describe some of those advantages and challenges here. GENETICS, which last year celebrated its centennial, is published monthly, featuring about 300 articles per year. The journal represents the breadth of its field, […]

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