photograph by James Kegley

Journal: Scientists at the Heart

Earlier this summer, leaders of the Wellcome Trust, Max Planck Society, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute met in London to make a significant announcement: our decision to join forces to launch a top-tier scientific journal. We expect the first issue to publish a year from now under the leadership of Randy Schekman, a distinguished HHMI investigator who has agreed to serve as editor in chief. Over the coming months, Schekman will be responsible for recruiting an editorial team composed of active, practicing scientists and for bringing this exciting new venture to life as an independent scholarly publication.

Our plan is bold: to publish the highest-quality research across the full spectrum of the life sciences. We expect the journal to become self-sustaining over time, but our first priority is to develop a rapid, efficient, and transparent editorial process. The new journal will seek submissions from scientists around the world; it will be open to the scientists supported by our three organizations, but they will remain free to publish in the journals of their choosing. We will define success by the influence the journal has within the scientific community—rather than by impact factor, the numerical score assigned to journals based on the number of times its articles are cited. I can offer one practical indicator that makes sense to me: Is this journal THE place where the best graduate students and postdocs want to publish their best work?

As one might expect, a few observers have posed an obvious rhetorical question: does the world need yet another scientific journal? The leadership of HHMI, the Wellcome Trust, and the Max Planck Society believe the answer to that question is yes. The world does need another scientific journal, albeit one with a distinctive model that puts scientists at the heart of the decision-making process about what gets published. After all, the work of science isn’t complete until the results are shared through publication. As funders who support the research of some of the world’s leading scientists and their collaborators, we are prepared to play a positive, active role in bringing the work to completion.

Our plan is bold: to publish the highest-quality research across the full spectrum of the life sciences.

Robert Tjian

Our organizations have already invested considerable thought and resources to encouraging creative thinking in scientific publishing and believe we can do more. The Wellcome Trust and the Max Planck Society have long supported fundamental change in scientific publishing and the adoption of open access policies. HHMI provided early support for the Public Library of Science, a pioneering open access publisher, and adopted policies to ensure rapid dissemination of research results. But institutional policies cannot, in and of themselves, address the frustrations of many practicing scientists as they navigate between the world of research and the world of publishing.

We certainly heard plenty at a workshop held last December at HHMI’s Janelia Farm Research Campus when we brought together journal editors and a group of scientists from a range of disciplines for a conversation. Key themes emerged: a belief that selectively engaging active, practicing scientists can add value to the publishing process, and that both editors and reviewers should be appropriately compensated for their work; a desire to address repeated cycles of review that delay publication and often generate too many additional experiments that do not necessarily advance the work but result in articles laden with supplemental data; a conviction that science is well served by diverse publishing options; and a commitment to a fully online, open-access model that enables wide sharing of information.

Our plan for the new journal reflects these important themes. But I would like to focus on another aspect that exemplifies a significant goal of the new journal: redefining the size of the publishable unit. Just how many years of work should a single paper represent? This is a real and important question that confronts many labs, including my own. If a postdoc or graduate student spends six years on rigorously documenting a new discovery, should he or she then be required to conduct numerous additional experiments to satisfy reviewer comments? Where should the line be drawn? What is reasonable? I for one would like to see articles—that is, publishable units—reflect the fact that science itself is a continuum, that you can never have a complete story. You can, however, describe a compelling story of discovery that sets the stage for directing future inquiry and experimentation. That is what HHMI and its partners, the Wellcome Trust and Max Planck Society, seek to achieve in an efficient and timely manner without sacrificing originality, novelty, or rigor.

Scientist Profile

HHMI President
Biochemistry, Molecular Biology