Chapter X: Reaching Many Audiences: Publications and Education
"Authoritative Source(s) for Everything Neuro": SfN Publications
The Society had published The Journal of Neuroscience through Oxford University Press since 1986, but by the early 1990s, the editors and Council were finding this relationship increasingly problematic and expensive. Each year involved “all those tiresome negotiations” over the format, the number of pages and the availability of color printing, each of which involved additional charges from Oxford.1 Color printing “was critical to compete for the best papers in neuroscience” and became a major issue with advances in electron microphotography that allowed the visualization of fine cellular detail.2 Council had discussed the possibility of self-publishing The Journal from 1991, under President Joseph Coyle, through Carla Shatz’s tenure in 1995-96. “We didn’t know whether we could really handle it or not, whether it’d be a disaster financially, or whether we couldn’t make a success out of it,” remembered Larry Squire (President 1992-93).3 After “lots of debates, lots of worry, about whether or not this would work,” SfN brought The Journal in-house in 1996, and, as Carla Shatz explained, “it turned out to be a fairly profitable deal,” as well as ensuring that “we, the scientists, had control over the material and the quality control and the process, and also the revenues."4
In-house publication also facilitated many other benefits under the dynamic leadership of Editors-in-Chief David Van Essen (1994-1998), Gordon Shepherd (1999-2003), and Gary Westbrook (2003-2007). As Publications Committee Chair Sol Snyder wrote in 1996, “the lag from acceptance to appearance in print is now shorter than for any other competitive journal;"5 and from 1997, all SfN members enjoyed free access to the online Journal, with links to the full text of referenced journal articles and emailed table of contents.6 The first issue of 1999 introduced “rapid communications” to fast track online-only publication of short articles.7 Article submission went online in 2001, with immediate online publication of all articles; the following year, SfN authors were able to publish color photographs free with editorial approval (previously the charge had been $300). However, The Journal instituted an overall manuscript submission fee of $50, in part to offset the cost of eliminating color charges, in 2004. As in the past, the first and last authors on any submitted articles were required to be members of the Society. Premium charges for print subscriptions were also required to support the binding and mailing costs of hard-copy issues.8
By 2003, the volume of papers submitted was high enough that The Journal was appearing weekly. The major question of the new century was the move to open-access, allowing public access to all articles after six months; would members support it? To support the costs involved, mostly editorial and peer-review, the submission fee rose to $75 in 2006 and the publication charge to a flat fee of $750 (previously calculated per page).9 The membership survey in June of that year, with 8,676 respondents, 42% of them Journal authors, provided strong approval. A huge majority, 92%, reported using the online Journal predominantly to access articles and 67% were willing to discontinue the print format altogether. On the question of open-access, more than half the respondents were in favor, with unfair author charges the main reason for disapproval.10 The balance of access versus viability has remained a crucial issue. As new Editor-in-Chief (2008-2015) John Maunsell commented in 2008, “Making The Journal open access so that its entire contents are immediately accessible to all interested readers is a worthy goal, but The Journal has to operate with sound finances.."11 Under Maunsell, The Journal instituted several new policies to benefit authors, allowing them to submit articles as a single, author-formatted .pdf document, including figures, and joining the Neuroscience Review Consortium, which facilitates the forwarding of reviews from the journal of initial submission to other publications.12 And, as of January 2010, a new License to Publish policy returned copyright to the original authors, retaining only the limited rights The Journal required to maintain its professional standards.13
The Journal editors worked hard to maintain those standards. Complaints of various ethical violations – errors, previously published data, plagiarism – rose from less than one every two weeks in 2008 to nearly 1.5 every two weeks in 2012, prompting Council to create a new Ethics Committee to relieve the burden on the editors and the Publication Committee. As the first chair, Peggy Mason, commented, “Misconduct by a single scientist…diminishes the public’s faith in all scientists… [I]t behooves us to earn the public’s respect and confidence."14 Her committee declined to try to judge a scientist’s intent, assuring members that “vanishingly few scientists wake up in the morning with the intent of acting irresponsibly or unethically."15 But “[t]he accuracy of the scientific record must be protected. Serious errors…must be either corrected or removed through article retraction or manuscript rejection."16 The Ethics Committee further sought to “prevent future misconduct by making sure that people are clear on the rules and also that they are not negligent, careless, or reckless in their work."17
By 2014, the online Journal registered more than 33 million page views from readers in more than 140 countries. Authors could expect a decision of manuscripts in an average of 31 days of submission and publication in an average of 46 days from acceptance.18
Under Editors-in Chief Dora Angelaki (2015-16) and Marina Picciotto (2016-20), the Society’s flagship publication continued to try to offer maximum value to both author-members and subscriber-members. As Picciotto commented,
The thing that I love about The Journal of Neuroscience that is not the case in terms of other journals for which I've handled manuscripts or where I've been involved is that people really feel ownership of this journal. The Journal is a Society journal; we hold the same values as the Society and the goal is to represent that Society... So what that means is that the editors really are very engaged not only with the editorial process, but with making sure that we reach out to the community.19
New Journal features included (in 2016), TechSights, an overview of technical developments in neuroscience; Viewpoints, topical reviews covering a current topic in neuroscience; Dual Perspectives, pairs of short, expert mini-reviews that provide opposite and/or complementary hypotheses related to an important neuroscientific question; and (in 2017) Progressions, a “where are they now” review of highly cited research published in JNeurosci, showing how the science has progressed. Also in 2017, The Journal of Neuroscience moved to a modern digital publishing platform and to online early-release publication, at the same time waiving submission fees for SfN members.20
Working Memory: Delay Activity, Yes! Persistent Activity? Maybe Not
Mikael Lundqvist, Pawel Herman and Earl K. Miller
Journal of Neuroscience 8 August 2018, 38 (32) 7013-7019; DOI:
Persistent Spiking Activity Underlies Working Memory
Christos Constantinidis, Shintaro Funahashi, Daeyeol Lee, John D. Murray, Xue-Lian Qi, Min Wang and Amy F.T. Arnsten
Journal of Neuroscience 8 August 2018, 38 (32) 7020-7028; DOI:
Member support for a high-quality open-access journal to complement The Journal continued to be strong. Council appointed a working group to develop a model for the new publication in fall 2012. SfN’s Open-Access Journal, eNeuro, began accepting submissions in August 2014, under Editor-in-Chief Christophe Bernard, supported by an editorial board of more than 40 active neuroscientists, and went online that fall.21 As Bernard explained, eNeuro would employ a “fair and transparent” reviewing process, in which the authors and reviewing editor reached consensus on the importance of the reported findings and need for additional experimental evidence. The new online publication would also serve the field through the publication of replication studies, null results, commentaries and opinion pieces. “I want to be a part of building a journal that would satisfy me as an author, and I want authors to be happy and proud to publish in eNeuro," Bernard said.22 He explained the different roles of the two SfN publications: "So The Journal of Neuroscience is more focused on the mechanism's full stories; we are not. What we want is first to serve the community; we are here to serve the community. And we publish papers…which are important for the field, which bring an important piece of information or piece of the puzzle, and the reviewing editors, who are all active scientists, are the best evaluators of whether a study really brings something."23
eNeuro had a highly successful first year, publishing more than 100 papers, 30 more than its closest competitor, and joining the PubMed Central database. Each published paper included a significance statement and, at the authors’ option, an abstract in graphic or other visual format.24 The first set of commentaries of the issue of scientific rigor appeared on the eNeuro site in the summer of 2016.25 In early 2018, the open-access journal invited authors to submit Registered Reports of planned study protocols; eNeuro editors reviewed the protocols for any methodological issues; once the protocol is accepted, the authors committed to adhere to it and eNeuro to publish the results, positive or negative. Authors thus no longer needed to invest time and effort in studies without knowing whether findings would be publishable.26
The Journal meanwhile addressed another critical problem in peer review by introducing a Reviewer Mentoring Program (RMP). Scientific journal editors often struggle to maintain quality review standards when faced with inexperienced, biased, or too few reviewers. The RMP paired an early-career researcher with a highly respected senior reviewer to work together on an unpublished manuscript from the preprint server bioRxiv and posted their review as a comment.27 "The hope,” Picciotto explained, “is not only to train students to be good reviewers going forward, although that's very important, but also to connect them to The Journal and to let them know that this is their place."28 The Journal also created a video on the peer review process, while eNeuro offered a series of webinars, allowing members to write practice reviews on published papers.29
As SfN celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019, JNeurosci and eNeuro, publications run by scientists for scientists, were both thriving and together accounted for nearly 25 percent of the Society’s total revenues.30
Sharing the Knowledge with the Community: Neuroinformatics
In 2003, the SfN Council, with President Huda Akil acting as “a sort of catalyst,” recognized that informatics had become “a key aspect of neuroscience,” and created a Brain Information Group, chaired by Floyd Bloom and initially funded by the Wadsworth Foundation. The Group’s charge was to survey existing neuroinformatics databases, such as the Human Brain Mapping Project, identify potential challenges to interfacing among these, as well as missing components and ‘conceptualize a framework for a well-integrated overarching neuroscience superstructure that subsumes current databases and can readily incorporate future ones."31 The result in 2004 was the development of the Neuroscience Database Gateway (NDG), an online portal to some 75 neuroscience databases, that “var[ied] widely in their complexity and navigability."32 The NDG, initially housed in SenseLab at Yale University, had transitioned by 2006 out of SfN to the NIH-supported Neuroscience Information Framework.
Sharing the Knowledge: BrainFacts.org
SfN President Huda Akil in 2003 envisioned SfN creating a public educational website, explaining, “I see neuroscience as more than just highly intellectualized knowledge, but something that we as scientists can share with others."33 Her vision was finally realized in 2011, when the Kavli Foundation and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation awarded SfN $1.53 million over six years to create and maintain BrainFacts.org, a unique online resource to provide educators, policymakers and the general public with authoritative, reliable information about the brain and about new advances in brain research. The Foundations noted SfN’s “extraordinary resources and expertise” and “strong international presence” as key to their decision to invest in the new website, which built on the success of the Brain Facts book, by then in its 5th edition.34 Nick Spitzer, who had worked on the print edition, accepted the job of inaugural editor and recruited an editorial board of eight outstanding scientists from the US, UK, Norway and Australia.35
Spitzer had already recognized that “we really needed to have something that people could get to online, and so…we started developing the core concepts…the eight things that my mother or even my grandmother should know about the nervous system and that was a fascinating time, very energized, the group of us working on that."
|Eight Core Concepts:|
|Your Complex Brain|
|How Neurons Communicate|
|How Your Brain Processes Information|
|How Experience Shapes Your Brain|
|Reasoning, Planning & Solving Problems|
|The Power of Language|
|The Source of Curiosity|
|How Research Benefits Human Health|
At the same time, the new website “has to be the authoritative source of everything neuro. That has to be our mantra, that has to be our mission, and we have to always make sure that everything on that website is vetted by neuroscientists."36
At its launch, the site drew on content from multiple sources, including NINDS, NIMH, IBRO, the Dana Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, the Foundation for Biomedical Research and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.37 As BrainFacts.org took shape under Spitzer and John Morrison (editor from 2014-18), the site evolved “from a kind of static image-based, text-based presentation to a video-based, dynamic presentation with the opportunity to engage in puzzles and games, the value of which is that people learn things without even being aware that they're learning things,” in a way that is “painless and fun."38 The site has attracted additional funding, raising X million in external support since inception. Morrison was pleased with the way “[i]t expanded rapidly, it went way beyond any of our hopes in terms of what it would become,” and by 2018, had recorded some “nine million users and eighteen million page views."39
A redesign in 2017 included one of Morrison's priorities for the site, a 3D interactive brain, funded by the Wellcome Trust.40 BrainFacts.org also incorporated a section providing accurate information to dispel common “neuromyths” about the brain and another, sponsored by the Klingenstein Fund, that “raises public awareness and understanding of why animal research is essential to furthering the scientific endeavor…through descriptions of the roles that fruit flies, zebra fish, worms, mice, and a variety of other animals play in advancing understanding of brain mechanisms, processes, and disease."41
Both BrainFacts.org and the BrainFacts book (in its 8th edition in 2018) have retained their emphasis on the eight Core Concepts and on scientific accuracy, while continuing to develop new content to excite and appeal to viewers of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds. As the first BrainFacts.org Editor-in-Chief based outside of the United States, Richard Wingate endorsed these principles in 2019, with plans to expand the international audience for the site and to use “the content on the site in imaginative ways so that it can be accessed on different platforms."42 As John Morrison insisted in 2018, "BrainFacts.org is dynamic. I don't see it as ever being ‘finished.'"43
Public Education: "Neuroscience Concepts into the Classroom"
BrainFacts.org addressed a critical need as public interest in neuroscience grew in the US and around the world. The high visibility of celebrities afflicted with neurological disorders such as spinal cord injury (Christopher Reeve), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Stephen Hawking), Parkinson’s (Michael J. Fox), Alzheimer’s (Ronald Reagan), as well as the availability of new treatments that expanded the life span for many sufferers and partially eased the burden on their caregivers, increased public awareness and concern about the importance of research. PTSD and chronic pain disorders also spurred public interest as they affected many Gulf War veterans and disaster victims. Meanwhile, SfN President (1980-81) Eric Kandel’s work and writing for a popular audience interested many in the problem of long-term memory creation and potential for memory enhancement in students, “memory athletes,” and the growing population over 65, reflected both in books and articles (Moonwalking with Einstein) and in advertising for nutritional, “memory-boosting” supplements.
The 2014 Nobel Prize-winning work of John O’Keefe and Edvard and May-Britt Moser gave rise to a similar spurt of popular interest in “Navigating your Inner GPS.” As the public grew familiar with MRI images showing evidence of depression and neurological disorders in the brain, ideas began to circulate about the imaging of genius and criminality as well. In each of these instances, high public interest was coupled with credulous acceptance of myths and distortions, demonstrating the need for effective and reliable public education about the brain.
SfN has been a strong partner in a number of public education initiatives over the past 25 years, reaching out to students, teachers and the public. As Eric Chudler, Chair of the Neuroscience Literacy Committee 2001-04, explained, “[E]veryone, from all walks of life, are going to be affected by neurological disease…So I think it’s important that people have the ability to analyze and read just magazines and newspapers so that they understand it."44
By collaborating with organizations such as the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, SfN provided members and chapters with many opportunities to educate schoolchildren and adults about neuroscience. SfN is a presence at meetings of science teachers and offers sessions on engaging K-12 students at the Neuroscience meetings every year.
Thomas Carew, SfN President 2008-09, commented on his interactions with teachers during one such event, “I learned more from teachers than they learned from me in that meeting in terms of the challenges faced and the kinds of constraints on their creativity, and they’re the heroes and heroines in my mind."46 The Society has also been a staunch supporter of the International Brain Bee and has helped to promote the Neuroscience for Kids website, two popular neuroscience literacy programs started by SfN members.
SfN President Carla Shatz opened the Dana Alliance’s “Brain Fitness for Life” Forum at the Salk Institute during the 25th Annual Meeting in 1995, a successful public event that laid the foundation for Brain Awareness Week (BAW), first celebrated in May 1996. SfN members participated in over 200 events during the first BAW “national media blitz” and the Society quickly became part of the “core” of the Dana Alliance’s BAW partnership that had the potential to reach over 25 million people each year.47 Bruce McEwen, who served as President in 1996-97, saw BAW as a way to “enliven” SfN chapters and focus the Society’s educational programming; he chaired the Brain Awareness Steering Committee for several years.48
SfN staff and leadership invest significant time in BAW planning, hosting a large introductory gathering at every Annual Meeting after 1996 and providing a Brain Awareness Toolkit to interested members.
Each year, SfN chapters celebrate BAW across North America; chapters in South America held their first BAW events in 2001.49 In addition, members of the Executive Committee participate in programs for elementary and high school students in the Washington, DC area that culminate in a visit to SfN headquarters. After fifteen years of successful events in nearly every American state and over 30 countries worldwide, the Dana Alliance and the Society expanded the Week to a year-round Brain Awareness program in 2011. Every summer the Brain Awareness Video Contest invites students and researchers from around the world, from Romania to Israel to Brazil, to compete for prizes that include cash and a free trip to the Annual Meeting.50 BAW remains a popular central component of SfN’s Global Outreach – Public Outreach and Education Strategy.
SfN and its members were at the forefront of harnessing the power of the Internet to promote neuroscience literacy long before the launch of BrainFacts.org, finding engaging interactive ways to spark student interest in the brain. Since 1996, SfN member Eric Chudler has maintained a "Neuroscience for Kids" website that provides reliable information for teachers and students. A few years later, as Chair of the Committee for Neuroscience Literacy [2001-04], Chudler initiated a teacher-scientist partnership program and provided resources for local chapters to bring high school students to visit the Annual Meeting; “and for neuroscientists who didn’t know how to take a neuroscientific concept into the classroom, these would be workshops from neuroscientists who had done this and so they can incorporate that when they went back to their own cities."51
Norbert Myslinski meanwhile organized the first Brain Bee at the University of Maryland to coincide with Brain Awareness Week 1998.52 The winners of the now-International Brain Bee receive a trip to the SfN Annual Meeting, as well as a summer research internship with an SfN member.
The close relationship between SfN and the Brain Bee was formalized in 2018 when SfN was one of five major organizations dedicated to brain research that formally established the International Brain Bee as an independent non-profit educational organization.54
By 2005, SfN President Carol Barnes had for several years “watched the diminishing numbers at the Public Lecture. People wanted to go out with their friends…in the evening and it just seemed like it needed a boost.” She remembered the impact of the Christopher Reeve talk in 2000. She and Eve Marder, the Program Committee Chair, began “bouncing back and forth the idea of what could we call a series that would be relevant, that would be engaging to the neuroscience community and so forth, and so we thought of the Dialogues between Neuroscience and Society….this will be a kickoff to the meeting, and it will reinvigorate people’s ideas.” The first Dialogues speaker, the Dalai Lama, helped the scientists “to think about how we could contribute to people becoming more compassionate and kind." 14,000 attended the Dalai Lama’s talk.55 "We had…so many people…that we were actually worried that the fire marshal was going to shut down the convention center."56
The second Dialogues in 2006, featuring the architect Frank Gehry, touched on the relevance of neuroscience to creativity and perception of space. The Dialogues Series quickly became one of the highlights of the Annual Meeting. As Barnes explained, “[I]t actually makes people talk and think. There’s a buzz after these Dialogues series and it carries forward in the meeting. It’s a good way to start."57 Some of the most memorable Dialogues speakers have included the dancer and choreographer Mark Morris, leader of Dance for Parkinson’s, who has “started evolving a whole way of teaching dance for Parkinson’s” victims, in 2008; Glenn Close, the actress, who is “interested in removing the stigma from mental health,” in 2010; Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar, talking about how to “manage creativity and inspire creativity and innovation,” in 2013; and the jazz guitarist and composer Pat Metheny in 2018.58 Dialogues, Thomas Carew commented, have “evolved into just a wonderful way to connect to the public."59
- Interview with Joseph Coyle, November 5, 2018.
- Interview with Gordon Shepherd, November 3, 2018.
- Interview with Larry Squire, November 6, 2018.
- Interview with Carla Shatz, November 5, 2018.
- Solomon Snyder, "What Makes for Prestigious Publishing?" NN 27 (November/December 1996): 6, 11.
- "Trial Period of Online Journal Comes to an End Access Becomes Exclusive Privilege of SFN Members" NN 28 (January/February 1997): 3; "The Journal of Neuroscience Online Boasts New Features" NN 28 (September/October 1997):8
- "New Online Only Section of Journal Will Provide Fast-Track Venue for Short Articles" NN 29 (July/August 1998): 1, 6.
- "Free Color for Members" NN 33 (March/April 2002): 8; "Changes at The Journal of Neuroscience" NQ Winter 2004: 17.
- "The Journal Increases Access to Articles; Raises Fees for Submission, Publishing" NQ Winter 2006: 1.
- "Results of Member Survey Indicate Comfort With Open Access, Online Publishing; 92 Percent Read Electronically" NQ Fall 2006: 10.
- "Q&A: John Maunsell, Editor-In-Chief, The Journal of Neuroscience" NQ, Fall 2008: 1, 6.
- "Q&A: Maunsell," p. 6.
- "The Journal Implements License to Publish" NQ Winter 2010: 15.
- Peggy Mason, "New Committee Addresses Rise in Ethics Complaints" NQ Summer 2013: 5, 10.
- Peggy Mason, "SfN Ethics Committee: The Role of Intent" NQ Winter 2014: 1, 11, p. 11.
- Mason, "Ethics Complaints" p.10
- Mason, "Intent" p. 11.
- "Q&A: Editor-in-Chief Shares Vision for The Journal of Neuroscience." NQ Spring 2015
- Interview with Marina Picciotto, November 4, 2018.
- "SfN Journals Grow to Advance the Field," NQ Winter 2017
- Christophe Bernard, "eNeuro, SfN's New Open-Access Journal: Excellence and Innovation" NQ Summer 2014: 10-11.
- Christophe Bernard "Q&A: eNeuro: An Innovative, Open-Access Publishing Venue for Excellent Science." NQ Fall 2014: 4-5.
- Interview with Christophe Bernard, November 6, 2018.
- "eNeuro Starts Strong" NQ Winter 2016
- "eNeuro Promotes Scientific Rigor with Commentary Series" NQ Summer 2016
- "SfN Journals Lift the Curtain on Peer Review" NQ Winter 2018.
- "SfN Journals Training the Next Generation of Reviewers" NQ Winter 2019.
- Interview with Marina Picciotto, November 4, 2018.
- "Journals Lift the Curtain"
- "SfN Journals: Scientist-Run, Society-Owned" NQ Summer 2019.
- Interview with Huda Akil, November 7, 2018; Huda Akil, "Message from the President: Neuroscience Databases: What We Have, What We Need, How We Might Get There." NQ Fall 2003: 1-4, 19.
- "New Neuroscience Database Gateway Underway" NQ Spring 2004: 7.
- "BrainFacts.org Launches as an Authoritative Source for Public Outreach" NQ Summer 2012: 1, 8-9.
- "SfN Awarded $1.3 Million to Create BrainFacts.org" NQ Spring 2011: 1, 12.
- "BrainFacts.org Editorial Board Members Named" NQ Winter 2012: 11.
- Interview with Nick Spitzer, November 5, 2018.
- "BrainFacts.org Launches" p. 9.
- Interview with Nick Spitzer, November 5, 2018.
- Interview with John Morrison, November 5, 2018.
- Interview with John Morrison, November 5, 2018.
- "Q&A: BrainFacts.org Editor Discusses Public Outreach Efforts" NQ Fall 2015.
- "Q&A with BrainFacts.org Incoming Editor-In-Chief Richard Wingate" NQ Winter 2019.
- "Q&A: BrainFacts.org Editor Highlights Revamped Website" NQ Winter 2018.
- Interview with Eric Chudler, November 4, 2018.
- "SfN Education Summit Advances Collaboration Between Educators and Scientists," Neuroscience Quarterly, Fall 2009, page 8.
- Interview with Thomas Carew, November 3, 2018.
- "SfN Members Reach out to Public during Brain Awareness Week" NN 27 (March/April 1996): 1-2; "Brain Awareness Week Meeting Draws Large Attendance" NN 28 (January/February 1997): 1, 13.
- Interview with Bruce McEwen, November 4, 2018, p. 6; "Celebrating the Success of Brain Awareness Week" NN 29 (November/December 1998): 4.
- "Brain Awareness Week Meeting"; "Brain Awareness Week" NN May/June 2002 p. 7
- "Educating and Engaging the Public," in Investing in Global Scientific Venues: FY 2015 Annual Report p. 12.
- Interview with Eric Chudler, November 4, 2018.
- https://thebrainbee.org/about/#history; See also interview with Norbert Myslinski, November 2013.
- First prize winner Piotr Oleksy, 18, from Poland; second prize winner Giovanni De Gannes, 14, Grenada; and third-prize winner Huai-Ying Huang, 17, Canada.
- "Educating and Engaging the Public," in Investing in Global Connections for Scientific Progress: FY 2018 Annual Report; and materials on the IBB website https://thebrainbee.org/about/#history https://thebrainbee.org/news/#launch-of-ibb-organization
- "Record Attendance at Neuroscience 2005 in Washington, DC." Neuroscience Quarterly Winter 2006: 5.
- Interview with Paula Kara, January 10, 2019.
- Interview with Carol Barnes, November 5, 2018.
- Interview with Eve Marder, November 3, 2018; Interview with Michael Goldberg, November 6, 2018; Interview with William Martin, November 5, 2018.
- Interview with Thomas Carew, November 3, 2018.