Chapter VIII: 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.305 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.306 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).307 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.”308
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;”309 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.310 The first issue of 1999 introduced “rapid communications” to fast track online-only publication of short articles.311 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). As in the past, the first and last authors on any submitted articles were required to be members of the Society to qualify for reduced fees. Premium charges for print subscriptions were also required to support the binding and mailing costs of hard-copy issues.312
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 in the direction of more open-access, allowing public access to all articles after six months. To support the costs involved, mostly editorial and peer-review, the publication charge rose to a flat fee of $750 (previously calculated per page) in 2006.313 The membership survey in June of that year, with 8,676 respondents, 42% of them Journal authors, provided strong overall 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 higher author charges the main reason for disapproval.314 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.”315 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 Peer Review Consortium (NPRC), which facilitates the forwarding of reviews from the journal of initial submission to other publications.316 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.317
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 Executive and Publication Committees. 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.”318 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.”319 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.”320 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.”321 The Committee continued in operation through the Annual Meeting in 2017, by which time The Journal of Neuroscience had established multiple pathways to deal with ethical issues. Council in spring 2017 “reinforce[d] ethics as being embedded in all of its committees, programs, and activities,” and determined that questions outside the purview of specific committees or programs could be referred to the Executive Director for further handling.322
By 2014, The Journal of Neuroscience, also known as JNeurosci, registered more than 33 million page views from readers in more than 140 countries. Authors could expect a decision on manuscripts in an average of 31 days from submission and publication in an average of 46 days from acceptance.323
Under Editors-in Chief Dora Angelaki (2015) and Marina Picciotto (2015–2022), 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."324
New JNeurosci 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.325
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 a 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.326 As Bernard explained its guiding principles, eNeuro employed 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 editors also planned to 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.327 He clarified 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.”328
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.329 The first set of commentaries, on the issue of scientific rigor, appeared on the eNeuro site in the summer of 2016.330 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.331
The Journal of Neuroscience meanwhile addressed another critical problem in peer review by introducing a Reviewer Mentoring Program (RMP). Scientific journal editors had often struggled 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.332
“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.”333 JNeurosci 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.334
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% of the Society’s total revenues.335
In Their Own Words: The History of Neuroscience in Autobiography
The History of Neuroscience in Autobiography series was initiated by Larry Squire during his term as President (1993–94) to record personal narratives from leading scientists about their background, education, and scientific work in a format that would incorporate opinion, anecdote, and personal reflection. The first Volume, with 17 chapters including narratives from Julius Axelrod (1912–2004), David Hubel (1926–2013), and Sir Bernard Katz (1911–2003), was published in 1994, with Squire as Editor. To date, 145 chapters have been curated and 10 volumes produced. The series was published by Academic Press (volumes 1 through 5) and then by Oxford Press (volumes 6 and 7). Beginning with volume 8, the series became an in-house publication of SfN; the Publications Committee serves as the oversight board. Thomas Albright joined the project as co-editor, beginning with volume 9. All the chapters are freely available on the Society’s website.
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.”336 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.”337 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 with the Public: BrainFacts.org
SfN President Huda Akil in 2003 had envisioned SfN creating a public education website; as she explained, “I see neuroscience as more than just highly intellectualized knowledge, but something that we as scientists can share with others.”338 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.339 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 U.S., U.K., Norway, and Australia.340
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.” (see table 10) 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.”341
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.342 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.”343 The site has attracted additional funding, raising $3.8 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.” As of 2018, BrainFacts.org had recorded some “nine million users and eighteen million page views;”344 page views rocketed to more than 25 million by 2020.
A redesign in 2017 included one of Morrison’s priorities for the site: a 3D interactive brain, funded by the Wellcome Trust.345 BrainFacts.org also incorporated a section providing accurate information to dispel common “neuromyths” about the brain and another, funded 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.”346
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.”347 As John Morrison noted in 2018, “BrainFacts.org is dynamic. I don’t see it as ever being ‘finished.’”348
Public Education: "Neuroscience Concepts Into the Classroom"
BrainFacts.org addressed a critical need as public interest in neuroscience grew in the U.S. 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 disease (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, Eric Kandel’s (SfN President 1980–81) 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 (Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein) and in advertising for nutritional, “memory-boosting” supplements.
The Nobel Prize-winning work of John O’Keefe and Edvard and May-Britt Moser in 2014 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.
Even before the launch of BrainFacts.org, SfN and its members were at the forefront of harnessing the power of the Internet to promote neuroscience literacy, finding engaging interactive ways to spark student interest in the brain. Beginning in 1996, SfN member Eric Chudler maintained a “Neuroscience for Kids” website that provided reliable information for teachers and students and which SfN helped to promote. 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.”349
Norbert Myslinski meanwhile organized the first Brain Bee at the University of Maryland to coincide with Brain Awareness Week 1998; the first competition outside the U.S. took place in Montreal in 2008 and the event spread rapidly to other nations in the following decade to become the International Brain Bee.350 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.351
SfN continued to be a strong partner in many public education initiatives in the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s, reaching out to students, teachers, the media, 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.”353 By collaborating the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives to Brain Awareness Week (BAW), SfN provided members and chapters with many opportunities to educate schoolchildren and adults about neuroscience.
SfN chapters celebrated BAW annually across North America; chapters in South America held their first BAW events in 2001.354 After fifteen years of successful events in the U.S. and over 30 countries worldwide, the Dana Alliance expanded Brain Awareness Week to a year-round Brain Awareness Program in 2011. Each summer, the Brain Awareness Video Contest invited 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.355 As SfN’s second halfcentury began, BAW remained a popular central component of the Society’s Global Public Outreach and Education Strategy, celebrating its 25th Annual Meeting event in 2019.
SfN also established a presence at meetings of science teachers and offered sessions on engaging K–12 students at the Annual Meeting 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.”357
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, and past-president Huda Akil 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.358 “We had…so many people…that we were actually worried that the fire marshal was going to shut down the convention center.”359
The second Dialogues in 2006, featuring the architect Frank Gehry, touched on the relevance of neuroscience to creativity and human perception of space and the “built environment.” 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.”360 Some of the most memorable Dialogues speakers 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 2018.361 Dialogues, Thomas Carew commented, “evolved into just a wonderful way to connect to the public.”362
- 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.
- Minutes, Spring 2017 Council Meeting, p. 16.
- “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 330 “ eNeuro Promotes Scientific Rigor with Commentary Series”NQ Summer 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. 347 “ Q&A with BrainFacts.org Incoming Editor-In-Chief Richard Wingate”NQ Winter 2019.
- “ 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.
- https://thebrainbee.org/about/#history; See also interview with Norbert Myslinski, November 2013.
- “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
- 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.
- Interview with Eric Chudler, November 4, 2018.
- “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.
- “SfN Education Summit Advances Collaboration Between Educators and Scientists,” Neuroscience Quarterly, Fall 2009, page 8.
- Interview with Thomas Carew, November 3, 2018.
- “Record Attendance at Neuroscience 2005 in Washington, D.C.” 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.