Song by Paul McCartney & John Lennon. The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour, 1967. https://www.thebeatles.com/hello-goodbye
Handling Editors: Kim Barrett & Laura Bennet
The peer review history is available in the Supporting Information section of this article (https://doi.org/10.1113/JP285711#support-information-section).
Now that summer vacations are over, it would seem an appropriate time for me as the recently parted Editor-in-Chief (EiC) of The Journal of Physiology (JP) to offer a personal reflection on activities during my time at the helm of the flagship of The Physiological Society. Before doing so, I should like to express my gratitude to Kim Barrett for taking over as EiC again; a role I had inherited from her 1.5 years ago. Kim knows ‘the ship’, is utterly devoted to JP, and I wish her all the very best in protecting The Journal’s integrity while negotiating the choppy waters of present-day academic publishing and the undercurrents of doing so for a society-owned journal.
JP is moving with the times, increasing its scope and diversity. In 2022/23, we extended our research theme breadth, as reflected by the establishment of two new Senior Editorial portfolios for Modelling and Data Science and for Physiological Omics. Furthermore, we introduced a new article category – Opinions – to foster dialogue on controversial topics (Kohl, 2022a), and we are actively expanding our geographical reach and representation by the re-introduction of Regional Editors, first for East Asia (Kubo & Kohl, 2023), and next for South America. We have reached parity of women and men among Senior Editors, are making steady progress in the same direction (now at 40%) across the Editorial Board at large, and we are becoming more global – including our Editorial Board fellows, among whom the share of non-UK/non-US based scientists has risen from 20 to over 30%.
Broadened inclusion benefits from the proactive engagement of our outstanding Editorial Board members and fellows in shaping JP. A prime example is their guest-editing of special issues on topics of their own research. The seeds for this development were laid during 70+ virtual one-to-one meetings between the EiC and the individual board members in early 2022. The strategic shift towards special issues as an integral part of the JP portfolio, though, was an outcome of the exceedingly stimulating and productive in-person Editorial Board meeting in June 2022 in London. Face-to-face meetings really are essential for creative interaction (Brucks & Levav, 2022), especially if they involve larger groups and people based in a wide range of time zones around the globe – as is the case for the Editorial Board. Roughly three dozen special issue proposals have arisen from these discussions and, at the time of writing, 15 of them are at various stages of implementation, from the initial call for papers to final publication (https://physoc.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/hub/journal/14697793/features/special-issues).
Special issues address timely topics, put an academic field into the spotlight, and attract reviews and original papers that would not otherwise have been submitted to JP. As a direct result, we are predicting that in 2023 – for the first time since 2019 – the number of manuscripts submitted to The Journal will exceed that of the year before. And we expect this trend to continue in 2024. The aim of soliciting more and better papers has been a guiding principle of my tenure as EiC (Kohl, 2022b). The relevance of this for the role of JP in our field is self-evident. But in addition to the scientific value, the rise in submissions improves our position in forthcoming negotiations about our next publishing contract. This is mission-critical from a commercial point of view.
Breadth and inclusion also arise from productive interactions with peer journals. This builds on a new quality of relations with our sister journals, Experimental Physiology and Physiological Reports, which is dominated by mutual support and sharing, rather than competition (which would have been quite prominent, historically (Bailey et al., 2023)). The present, highly collegial stance found reflection in a number of joint activities at Physiology 23, and it is backed up by a purposeful and coordinated approach to ‘cascading manuscripts in-house’, which is being embraced now by all three journals. Incidentally, any increase in the number of manuscripts submitted to JP has welcome knock-on effects in this context, too, as it sustains the all-important input to the cascading flow.
Of course, peer interactions extend beyond our publishing family members. JP launched a process of consultation, and now coordination, among not-for-profit physiology journals to agree on a common Rigour and Reproducibility (R&R) approach. This aims, both, at increasing the reliability of published data, and at reducing the burden on authors – by utilising one-and-the-same R&R checklist across all involved journals. This replaces JP’s rather complex ‘statistics policy document’, which already is no longer required for manuscript submission. The new R&R checklist is about to go live, and it will show nicely that non-commercial journals can set the academic publishing agenda. Watch this space …
Ultimately, journal activities boil down to what authors and readers experience. This includes ‘celebrating science’ – from highlighting exciting research in the JP symposium at the annual meeting of The Society, to providing authors of cover illustrations with a mounted copy of ‘their’ front page – and ‘talking about it’ on social media. In addition, peer-review decision letters have been reworked to simplify categories of outcomes, and to convey those outcomes using positive language. Our core asset – high quality reviewing – of course remains a crucial service to our community, for which I would thank all our peer reviewers, who dedicate their time and energy to JP, its authors and its readers.
So – no unfinished business?
Far from it. My first regret is that we did not succeed in reducing the turnaround time for initial peer review of submitted research papers. This currently averages almost 5 weeks, even though the amazing team at JP’s office have managed to reduce the average time needed to obtain an individual peer review to under 2 weeks. Clearly, there is scope for improvement.
My second regret is that I did not manage to generate a more lively dialogue between JP and The Society's membership. The visible presence of our Editorial Board at the main annual meeting is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, as perhaps is the EiC column in Physiology News that I was allowed to proffer. But for JP to be embraced and ‘owned’ by The Society at large, we need further exchange. In my view, this could include suggestions for content and letters to the editor, but it would also require many more of us to think of JP first, when we decide where to submit our best work. And of course we should take note and give credit where credit is due – by citing the high quality, rigorous work published in JP whenever we submit papers for peer review, anywhere. Such sense of ownership can become a self-fulfilling promise where the role and reputation of a scientific journal are concerned. The benefit would be mutual, as the income generated by JP underwrites the vast majority of activities of The Society.
My third regret is that I failed in forging constructive working relations with the leadership of The Society. Our differences in opinion, such as on the scope of editorial independence of JP and its budgetary enablement, or on transparency in decision-making processes and dependability in their implementation, ultimately necessitated a re-set. This brings me back to the start, and to wishing our new EiC the very best on the way forward for JP.
I would like to finish by thanking our journal staff, fellows and members of the Editorial Board and of the Senior Team – past and present – for their support, collegiality, expertise and dedication.
JP is being run by an outstanding team.
We should let them get on with it!
The author's work is supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) Collaborative Research Centre SFB1425 (#422681845).