Q-n-A: Journal Editor

Welcome to The Fisheries Blog‘s second Q-n-A!   This segment is designed to showcase the knowledge and specialty of someone in the fisheries world who flat out knows their stuff.  For this Q-n-A, we are featuring Derek Aday, the new Editor of Transactions of the American Fisheries Society.  I recently asked Derek what it’s like to be an Editor of a major fisheries journal…

1. You are a new editor of Transactions of the American Fisheries Society (TAFS), the flagship journal of the largest group of fisheries professionals in the world.  What are the main duties of the editor and what is the hardest part of the job?

The primary responsibility of the editor is to make the final decisions on submitted manuscripts.  Manuscripts submitted to TAFS are routed to an Associate Editor (AE), who is also a subject matter expert.  The AE assigns two or three expert reviewers, collates their responses, and often writes a separate review as well.  Those reviews and summary AE comments are sent to me along with a recommendation from the AE regarding acceptance.  I read the manuscript, all of the reviews, and the summary comments from the AE before making a final decision.  Options include reject, accept with major revisions, and accept with minor revisions.  If a paper is returned to the author(s) for revision, I handle the revised manuscript and determine whether the revisions were adequate and appropriate.  That can be done independently, or the paper can be returned to the AE, who can make the determinate or can reassign it to one or more of the original reviewers.

In addition to the manuscript responsibilities, editors help develop journal policy, solicit articles for special issues or to address specific interests (e.g., review articles), recruit folks for the editorial board (e.g., TAFS currently has > 20 AEs), and handle correspondence with authors.  Editors are the only non-anonymous members of the review process, so all questions and correspondence goes through us.

What is the hardest part of the job?  Primarily, so far, it’s finding the time.  I’m expected to handle somewhere between 80–100 papers per year, each of which takes several hours (or more) to complete.  Although the AEs and reviewers do a fantastic job of providing critical review and guidance, I think that it’s the editor’s responsibility to thoroughly read and understand each paper and all of the review comments before making a final decision; as the journal’s ‘gate keepers’, we owe it to the authors to take the time to make sure an appropriate and reasoned decision has been reached.  In addition, the decisions themselves can be tricky.  It’s often the case that reviewers disagree and it’s sometimes necessary to take a position counter to that of a particular reviewer or even the AE.  Deciding when to do that and how to handle it can be difficult.

1904 Edition of Transactions from the society’s annual meeting.

2. Are there any new directions or changes the journal is looking to take over the next few years?

One thing that we’re really focused on is reducing time to publication.  This is an issue that most journals struggle with, but we’re determined to substantially reduce time to publication as a service to our authors and to our readers.  This issue relates to your next question about impact factors, so I’ll follow up there.

On another front, all AFS journals are now handled by Taylor and Francis, a global publishing firm.  TAFS has always had a large international audience, but this move was designed to increase exposure to scientists outside of North America, and early indications are that we’ll be successful in that regard.  Though this won’t substantially change the breadth of material that we publish, the character of the journal may change as more international research is submitted and published.  This may also influence impact factor.

Finally, we’re always considering new ways to fast-track novel, high impact research, and we’re exploring options for soliciting the best research that we can publish.

3. As authors, we talk a lot about impact factors (IF), but how much does IF matter to editors and those who manage the journals?

That depends on who you ask.  TAFS is the flagship AFS journal and is a top-tier fisheries journal each year according to a variety of metrics.  Should we make an effort to increase IF?  We’ve had this discussion frequently and recently.  Some are of the opinion that chasing a number is pointless.  They argue that we’ve consistently published good science and that we do a service to our members by publishing some papers that non-society journals might not consider.  Others argue that the best way to serve our members is to strive to continuously improve our impact factor.

Although we continue to discuss our options, I think we all agree that we’re not interested in ‘gaming’ the system through artificial increases or decreases in components of the calculation.  Instead, we think that internationalization of the journal along with reducing the time to publication will increase submissions.  More and better submissions from a broad audience combined with careful and critical review should result in a journal that publishes the best and most useful science, and impact factor should follow.

Latest digital version of Transactions cover.

4. Open-Access (OA) seems to be growing in popularity, if not being more in the publication conversation. How does OA, or Marine and Coastal Fisheries for example (an AFS open-access journal), impact TAFS?

I’m not sure it does at the moment, at least not directly.  I agree that OA is becoming more popular, but there are lots of kinks that still need to be worked out with that model – not the least of which is the number of predatory OA journals that will publish anything if the authors are willing to pay the associated fee.  Our Marine and Coastal journal is the first foray into OA for AFS, and I know that our Publications Overview Committee (POC) is watching closely to see how things will turn out.  I’ve heard no discussion, however, about shifting the other AFS journals to that model.

5. Obviously in the past decade or so the world has seen a major shift from print-media (e.g., newspapers) to online sources of news and information.  Journals, too, have historically been dependent on the printed, physical issues, but have seemingly made a smooth transactions to digital copies, such as PDFs.  Was this transition the main hurdle for journals, or are journal editors anticipating other serious challenges as we continue into the digital age?

I’m not sure I have a good answer for this question.  Actually, I’m sure that I don’t.  I’ve been along for the ride as the transition you’ve described has taken place, and have personally gone from eight print subscriptions down to just one – virtually everything I read now is html or pdf.  From a journal standpoint, that’s handled by Taylor and Francis as part of the contract.  I really don’t know whether this was a hurdle from a society standpoint.  I do know that publications (both journals and books) are an important component of our AFS finances, but I don’t know whether that’s changed (and if it has, in which direction) as a result of the digital revolution.

My current sense for serious challenges include some of the things we’ve discussed – how to decrease time to publication, how to increase (or if to increase) impact factor, and how to continue to publish the best science available.  My hunch is that, generally speaking, editors are constantly grappling with rapid changes in content delivery in an effort to keep up with evolving technology and desires of readers and authors.  Check with me in a couple of years and I’ll probably have a much longer list.

Derek Aday, Editor of Transactions.

Interviewed by Steve Midway

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