We Came, We Saw, We Listened - ACS Publications - American

Jun 18, 2015 - We Came, We Saw, We Listened. In late May, I traveled to Beijing and Hong Kong with the. Managing Editor of ES&T (Matt Hotze) and the ...
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We Came, We Saw, We Listened Although many see ES&T’s publication standards and expectations for peer review as strengths, a discussion of the journal’s policies highlighted a common perception of Asian researchers who have difficulty publishing in top-ranked international journals: Among the slides that I showed during my lectures, none cause as much of a reaction as a plot of the rapid increase in submissions from China accompanied by a much smaller increase in accepted papers. After presenting the figure, I explained some of the most common reasons why we decline to publish so many submitted manuscripts (see June editorial), thinking that this would motivate researchers to consider steps that they could take to improve their likelihood of being published. The established researchers appreciated my message about the need to submit novel, rigorous research, and to pay attention to the journal’s stated scope when preparing submissions, but some of the younger researchers interpreted the figure as evidence that Asian authors were not being treated fairly during the peer review process. Judging from the decisions made by the journals’ Associate Editors and my own experiences handling manuscripts, I see no evidence of bias against authors on the basis of country of origin. This view is supported by quantitative analyses performed on other scientific journals (e.g., see http:// dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2015.02.025 for a thoughtful analysis of this question in a conservation biology journal) and observations of our Asian editorial advisory board members. However, this does not mean that we should be complacent. A poorly written paper or a paper on a topic that is mainly of local interest does not belong in ES&T. But a well-presented manuscript that includes substantive research on a topic that is more important in Asia (e.g., treatment of industrial waste) deserves a fair peer review, even if the findings are not as directly relevant to Europe and North America. In response to what we learned during our meetings, we are developing an action plan for engaging and supporting ES&T’s authors, reviewers and readers in Asia. Working in conjunction with our Asian editors and editorial advisory board we will continue the discussion about the journal and its peer review process. We also plan to establish a program to increase participation in the peer review process by Asian researchers. To support the continued growth of high quality research in Asia, we made plans for soliciting feature articles, critical reviews, and special issues of the journal highlighting contributions from the Asian research community. Through these activities, researchers outside of Asia will learn about emerging research topics as well as ways that their expertise can help improve Asia’s environment. Working together on topics facing Asia and other rapidly developing regions, we can realize a shared vision of a better environment.


n late May, I traveled to Beijing and Hong Kong with the Managing Editor of ES&T (Matt Hotze) and the Deputy Editor of ES&T Letters (Bruce Logan) to learn more about the environmental challenges facing a rapidly growing Asia and to identify concrete steps that our journals could take to better serve the needs of this important research community. We gave public lectures at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University in which we explained the inner workings of the journals and presented overviews of our own research. But mostly we listened. We listened to graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and junior professors express their opinions about emerging research topics. We listened to senior researchers in China as they shared their insights into research needed to alleviate problems caused by industrial pollution. And we listened to the journals’ Asian editors and editorial advisory board members as they gave us advice about how we could better engage the region’s research expertise. Here are some of the things that we learned: Within the Asia-Pacific Region, the biggest investments in environmental research are being made in China. Through a massive influx of resources, China’s researchers are developing the means to expand their influence beyond areas of existing strength, like photocatalysts and emission control devices, to topics related to important regional environmental problems. Faced with the daily spectacle of smog-choked skies and polluted rivers, Chinese researchers are increasingly recognizing the need to quantify pollution sources and to identify costeffective policies for protecting public health and the environment. Expanding environmental research from topics that result in patents and the growth of new industries to studies that support policy decisions about pollution control will be challenging in a culture where reports of pollution may be viewed as criticisms of authority, but China’s environmental scientists realize that such research will be essential to the solution of the country’s serious environmental problems. We also learned that, like the rest of the world, Asia’s research community is developing more nuanced views about attempts to measure research quality and influence. Metrics designed to quantify a journal’s stature, like the impact factor, or to measure a researcher’s influence, like the Hirsch Index (i.e., h-factor), remain important to university administrators and officials at funding agencies. But increasingly, the community is becoming aware of the inability of such simple measures to capture research influence in disciplines like ours, where citations are often better correlated with the popularity of a topic rather than with the quality and impact of the research. Despite hopeful progress among the region’s leading researchers, many junior researchers remain focused on impact factors due to a belief that quantitative metrics are the only basis for achieving academic success. We were happy to learn that the ES&T brand is strong throughout Asia and that the journal’s high standards and dedication to publishing novel and significant research are viewed as strengths that transcend simple quantitative metrics. © XXXX American Chemical Society


DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b02889 Environ. Sci. Technol. XXXX, XXX, XXX−XXX


Environmental Science & Technology

David Sedlak, Editor-in-Chief AUTHOR INFORMATION


Views expressed in this editorial are those of the author and not necessarily the views of the ACS. The authors declare no competing financial interest.


DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b02889 Environ. Sci. Technol. XXXX, XXX, XXX−XXX