Q&A: eNeuro - An Innovative, Open-Access Publishing Venue for Excellent Science
Christophe Bernard is serving as the first editor-in-chief of eNeuro, SfN’s new online, open-access journal. He was appointed in May by the Council of the Society for Neuroscience. Bernard is director of research for INSERM U751 in Marseilles, France, and he has worked as a reviewing editor for Science and The Journal of Neuroscience.
NQ: SfN’s new open-access, online scientific journal, eNeuro, is now accepting papers, and the first issue will appear this fall. As editor-in-chief, what are your goals for the publication?
As authors, we often suffer from the way our manuscripts are handled by some journals. Reviews should be constructive and helpful to authors, and not appear as a judgment of, or even a punishment for, one’s research. Reviews at eNeuro will seek to be fair and transparent, and, most importantly, decisions will be justified and based on facts. Thus, one of eNeuro’s goals is to ensure that authors have a satisfying and constructive experience with the evaluation of their research.
As authors, we also frequently receive unreasonable demands from reviewers for additional experiments that are suggested to be essential, but may be unnecessary and very expensive and time-consuming to perform. This delays publication, costs money, and all too often detracts from the main aims of the original study. Another goal of eNeuro is to ensure that requests for additional experiments are limited and thoroughly justified. Thus, eNeuro will require the reviewing editor and reviewers to come to a consensus on the question of additional experiments. The consensus approach also addresses the common and exasperating experience of authors having to deal with reviews that contradict one another.
An additional goal is for eNeuro to add unique value as a publishing venue for the international community of neuroscientists. Along with cutting-edge science, eNeuro will also publish other types of papers, including those with predominantly negative results and failures to reproduce results of previous — sometimes influential — studies. This is particularly important because studies that cannot be reproduced — and the standards applied to nonreplication must be very high — can lead a whole field astray and waste valuable and scarce research funds. A failure to replicate key findings in support of dominating hypotheses that arise from carefully conducted studies should surely be published.
eNeuro’s overarching goal is to be the best open-access, neuroscience-specific journal made for and by neuroscientists.
NQ: What will make eNeuro distinctive in the broad field of neuroscience publishing, and what unique strengths do you think SfN brings by launching this new journal?
The reviewing process will be eNeuro’s major strength. Once both reviews are received, the reviewers and the reviewing editor will engage in a dialogue. The role of the reviewing editor is to facilitate and articulate a consensus with the reviewers regarding the potential impact of the paper and whether it requires additional (i.e., essential control) experiments. If too many experiments are deemed necessary, the paper will be rejected, with the possibility of resubmitting if the paper is regarded as potentially important. This approach was chosen because authors may strive for many months to perform the requested experiments, with no guarantee of acceptance at the end of the process. At eNeuro, the intention is to not engage in an endless cycle of revisions. Authors will decide whether to perform the experiments and resubmit.
Additionally, eNeuro will experiment with a double-blind review process, with the intention of improving evaluation of papers by removing biases. Obviously, it is sometimes very difficult — or even impossible, in some cases — to achieve this. But it seems worth moving forward with this trial because I believe that the double-blind process will be beneficial to the majority of authors.
The eNeuro editorial board is another notable strength of the journal. eNeuro will launch with a board of more than 40 active neuroscientists, and the goal is that most of the field will be represented and that most authors will be comfortable that there is a reviewing editor who is appropriate for their work. Of course, in a field as broad as neuroscience, it is not possible to cover every corner of the field, and additions and adjustments will be made as needed. The composition of the editorial board is intentionally very international and may skew a bit younger than editorial boards of other journals. The field of neuroscience is very broad and diverse, and the board purposefully reflects that.
Finally, we know that most studies in neuroscience are statistically underpowered, if only because we don’t have human and financial resources to reach statistical power. So, let’s be honest about it. eNeuro articles will include a statistical table containing the power of the statistical analysis for each presented experiment. Low power is not a deterrent to publication (for example, primate research often uses very small numbers of animals), but at least readers will be able to judge for themselves how confident they can be about the data presented.
NQ: In addition to publishing new discoveries, eNeuro will publish a wide range of content, including null results and replication studies. How can this best serve the field and what challenges might you face?
It is estimated that 30 percent of the results published in the top scientific journals cannot be reproduced and that another 30 percent can only be partially reproduced. This information usually remains undisclosed. Yet, these papers can lead a field astray and build dogma. In addition, they may even prevent scientists from obtaining grants if their hypothesis goes against published results. It would therefore benefit the field to publish studies disclosing failures to reproduce results. eNeuro will evaluate these papers according to strict criteria to ensure that failures to replicate reflect rigorous and accurate research. Likewise, it is equally important to provide evidence that an influential study can be replicated. It will increase its weight, in effect improving its statistical power.
Another way to serve the field is to publish null results. How many of us received funding to test a hypothesis but ended up with negative results? If these results are not published, it is possible that another group will spend money and energy testing the same hypothesis, also generating null results, which similarly never see the light of day through publication. This is particularly important for preclinical studies. One mission of eNeuro is to provide this type of information in order to optimize research spending and resources. However, this is not without challenge. As mentioned above, eNeuro’s goal is not to publish every replication or null result study. Authors will have to provide arguments regarding why such a study is important.
Two types of articles will also be introduced in eNeuro: commentaries discussing published papers and opinion pieces presenting new ideas and discussing the state of a field. These articles are intended to convey an educational perspective, discussing concepts useful to the community.
eNeuro will have many other types of studies, a list of which can be found on the website, eNeuro.org.
NQ: What would you say to colleagues about why they should submit to eNeuro?
Do you want a fair and transparent assessment of your research? eNeuro is the place to send it. Let’s be honest; scientific publishing is a world still dominated by impact factors (IF). I believe more in publication reputation than IF (for example, the IF of The Journal of Neuroscience, the most frequently cited journal in the field, does not reflect its impact in the field). While eNeuro is committed to publishing excellent science, it will not be focused on maximizing impact factor. I believe that impact factor does not measure anything relevant about the scientific quality of a journal. I want eNeuro to become the flagship of open-access neuroscience journals and to build a reputation for scientific excellence consistent with everything the Society for Neuroscience does in the field.
NQ: What made you want to accept the role of editor-in-chief of eNeuro?
The answer is simple: the possibility of influencing for the better the rules of scientific evaluation and publication. 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.
NQ: Looking back five years from now, how do you hope eNeuro will have advanced the field of neuroscience?
eNeuro is designed to publish studies that will move forward the many areas of neuroscience. If eNeuro has acquired this reputation in five years, the endeavor will have succeeded. If authors and readers feel that they have a positive experience and trust an open-access neuroscience journal that is experimenting with emerging publishing, peer review, and content concepts, that would be gratifying. At the appropriate time, eNeuro will evaluate its publishing experiments and adjust processes if needed. If other journals adopt the way that eNeuro handles and publishes papers, it will also prove we have been successful. Perhaps the least visible but most important development may be to improve how we perform and present statistical analyses in the future. This would be important for the whole field.