Editor's Pages

The rush to publish

As I entered my first year as a graduate student, my PhD mentor gave me his opinion about scientific publications – ‘more papers than you can imagine are not correct’. I have been reminded of my mentor’s statement on more occasions than I would have liked during
my career as a scientist; when reviewing papers or trying to repeat published experiments. But now, as Editor- In-Chief, I have a different perspective. Earlier this year, I alluded to the measures PCMR had undertaken to improve the quality and integrity of the data and to
prevent plagiarism in the papers we publish (It’s in Our Roots, February 2011). I was satisfied when none of the manuscripts submitted to PCMR over the past year
failed our close examination. Even so, I wish the technology enabling such analyses had been available 5 years ago.

I was recently sent an email by a Professor, not associated with the pigmentation field, who for personal reasons was searching the literature for information about a pigment disorder. I was alerted to the fact that a review that was published in PCMR in 2007 had actually been published earlier in a different Journal. Our Editorial assessment revealed that the papers shared more than 80% similarity. Further, a third version of this review was published subsequently, also with substantial identity. None of the papers referred to each other.
Why would one publish the same work three times? What is the justification for such ‘intellectual laziness’? My reaction to this is well reflected in the title of an Editorial
published by ME Broome in 2004: ‘Self-plagiarism: Oxymoron, fair use, or scientific misconduct?’ At the end of the day, the scientific community has been misled,
and the author has lost credibility while some of the replicated publications could be retracted by the publishers.

On a different note, a Letter to the Editor in this issue addresses a melanoma study published last year in Nature. The authors of the Nature paper provide their
response, which also appears in this issue. This healthy discussion among scientists is welcomed as it demonstrates that we do care to share our opinion. The openaccess
journals (i.e. PLoS) have implemented a forum that allows you, the reader, to voice your opinion about a published paper, whether as a comment about a specific
experiment or a differing opinion about a conclusion. This will likely be the future of our publication process, where online publishing will allow two-way communication, and readers’ comments will appear in near real time. Already, one can envision the nascent
scientific social networks maturing into forums for formal discussions on studies and concepts.

PCMR is heading that way. PCMR today offers numerous platforms for publication – from Original Research Articles to Hypothesis and Concept papers to Resources for the pigment and melanoma community – that make the Journal more appealing to the larger
audience. I expect that PCMR will offer the opportunity for dialog between readers and authors as part of our online presence and continue to initiate and support lively discussions about our scientific discoveries.

This issue of PCMR, which is also provided to all participants of the 2011 Melanoma Congress, includes a timely review by Boris Bastian and colleagues about the origins of melanoma, and a review by Pablo-Lopez Bergami on MAPK signaling, the hallmark of melanoma rewiring. Meenhard Herlyn raises an important question, which should be openly discussed, as to how we should select future combination therapies for melanoma
from the exponentially increasing number of options. I am pleased to see more papers appear in PCMR addressing the role of ubiquitin components in pigment gene function (UBE3A and MC1R by Chen Ken Shiung and colleagues), as well as on the roles of microRNA
in melanoma (Mir222 and ETS by Alessandra Care and colleagues), and that of stem cells (Zigang Dong and colleagues). I expect PCMR will also see an increasing number of papers on metabolism and melanoma genomics in issues to come.

In his remark to me, my mentor did not refer to autonomous reduplication. Yet, was he right when he skeptically criticized the quality of scientific publications? I leave that for you to judge.

Ze’ev Ronai
Editor, Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research

Research – endure!

We are living through times when we are questioned, more than ever before, about why we engage with such zest in basic research. What drives our unlimited dedication to answer fundamental questions at a time when this seems less and less appreciated? The economic outlook in the US, and everywhere, has increased the pressure to conduct more ‘translational’ studies, where we are expected to deliver a solution even if we have not yet fully understood the problem. The generation of students we are currently educating watches us in fear,
as our generation undergoes ‘evolutionary trimming’. Where are we headed? Are we being pressured towards less – or a different type of – research?

A few years ago I attended a ‘senior official’ meeting where there was a discussion about allocating funds for future melanoma research. One senior official made it clear that having found the mutation present in most melanomas makes it of no further interest to devote more funds to melanoma research, other than to figure out how to target the mutation for therapy. Now, just a few years later, we recognize clearly that we have barely begun to reveal the complexity of melanoma. We see now more than ever that even the most focused
single therapy will elicit resistance and that long-lasting therapy will only be achieved by combining multiple targets. How do we find those new or additional targets if not by putting our efforts into continued basic research?

Should we devote our efforts to develop more drugs? There are 600 drug candidates waiting in the pipeline for clinical trials. If we calculate the number of patients needed for each trial, we see that we actually have too many drugs candidates (or thankfully, not enough patients). Doesn’t it make more sense to continue hypothesis-driven research to find smarter solutions for complicated diseases including cancer? NCI has initiated a programme to do just that (provocative questions initiative at http://provocativequestions.nci.nih.gov/), which led to identifying 20 well-thought-through areas; however, the budget allotted will likely fund just an equal number of applications. More is needed. Much more.

So, where is our research enterprize headed? Looking forward, one can appreciate a shift in how we conduct research. We are likely to transform ourselves from a single laboratory–single gene approach into a multidisciplinary– multicenter research model. Technologies such as whole genome, exome, or proteome analysis have become more affordable, and we are better able to work closely with experts from different disciplines – biochemists, chemists, cell biologists – to build new platforms with experts from material sciences, nanotechnology, bioinformatics and systems biology. This will move us towards an understanding of critical changes at the cellular or organismal level that is based on clusters of targets, rather than single components. We are inevitably headed even more towards multiexpert papers and our future grants will be no different. Scientific questions will be addressed more efficiently with such concerted efforts, and this will likely be reflected in a different support model; more experts will be likely to have to share in the support previously provided to a single investigator.

Will the winds of change now blowing over us prompt a change in our future focus? Likely so. Our community has devoted significant effort towards understanding the biology of a disease, to develop treatments, and hopefully to overcoming resistance to those treatments. Perhaps we may be in the best position ever to shift our growing knowledge towards the Holy Grail of medicine – personalized prevention. Can we use the databases that are being created by the multiomic’s approaches to design personalized prevention protocols?

We are fortunate to live in an era of technological breakthroughs that allow us to ask questions at an unprecedented level. Our ability to integrate these newly evolving, fascinatingly powerful technologies will eventually allow us to answer questions we could only dream about before. Basic research is here to stay, likely different, likely slimmer, but steadfast and enduring.

Ze’ev Ronai
Editor-In-Chief, Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research

Track record?

As scientists, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to explore hypotheses – as many as our minds can generate and our lab fellows are willing to test. Although only a fraction of these hypotheses will be proven correct, the serendipitous discoveries made in the course
of our explorations will lead us to formulate new models and, of course, new hypotheses. Like Sherlock Holmes, we focus on solving the crime, mechanisms underlying pathogenesis, while also enjoying the mystery. We have the honor to be among the select few that comprise this 24 ⁄ 7 investigative team. Yet, we are required to prove ourselves constantly. Even if we have performed outstanding science for our entire careers, we are obliged to prove time and again that our plans are competitive with those of the best and brightest of the next and the current generation.

Is this really so? Well, yes – if you depend on peer reviewed grant support. In essence, this is the principle of the peer review system in the US and, in differing configurations, in many other countries. The most important criteria in evaluating scientific grants are the novelty and significance of the problem to be studied, as well as the impact that the studies would have when completed. The ideas to be tested should be exciting and with very few exceptions, they should be backed up by solid preliminary data.

Yet, where does the investigator’s track record fit into this? Apparently, in different systems, this parameter has different weights. NIH Intramural review guidelines devote approximately 50% of their evaluation for the scientist’s track record. In the Extramural system, it appears to be left up to individual peer reviewers to decide how the scientist’s track record is to be emphasized. Additionally, the standards set for young investigators appear to be more flexible. If an applicant has not published significant work during the past decade, and has written an impressive application, should the weak productivity be a major point of discussion, or merely, say, 30% of the overall score? Or, could one argue that
if there have not been significant scientific accomplishments in recent years, why would one expect that there would be a different outcome in the future?

How do we define good progress or impressive track record? Currently, it seems that this is too often based on the quantity, not quality, of publications. This metric vastly undervalues the more time-consuming disciplines; for example, the time needed to perform complex studies that integrate genetic mouse models or clinical data into mechanistic biochemical or cell biological studies. Hence, in assessing a scientist’s track record, it should be more important to evaluate the overall past research impact than to count the number of low impact publications. Has the applicant’s research resulted in a paradigm shift? Are his or her contributions translatable to clinical evaluation? Do they present a novel technology? Are they broadly applicable? Have they been cited more than a few times and not just within a small field?

At times when fewer grants are funded, past performance should be key in the evaluation of an idea; however, brilliant it may appear. It takes much to establish a strong track record. A constant stream of high-quality studies that impact the field to the degree others would
follow one’s path is a great example. A good place to start would be to define how significant the question one addresses is, and the advances achieved by the answers gathered. It would seem that Medawar’s ‘Advice to a Young Scientist’ is as valid today as when it was first published in 1979: ‘It can be said with complete confidence that any scientist of any age who wants to make important discoveries must study important problems’.

Ze’ev Ronai
Editor-in-Chief, Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research

Why PCMR?

As incoming Editor-in-Chief for Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research I am often asked - “why should I publish in PCMR?”
This goes back to the basic question of – What are the criteria that determine which journal we will choose to submit our manuscript for publication?
The criteria are clear, at least to most of us – more or less in the following order
a. Reputation, impact factor (IF)–the higher the better
b. Readership, who and how many will read your publication
c. Fairness of the review process
d. Efficiency in handling manuscripts
e. Speed of publication

Obviously there are more factors each of us can add, but primarily the above five are the major ones we all consider. Here I would like to address each of the above points and explain why PCMR should be considered for your primary publication.

a. Reputation, impact factor. Obviously, PCMR does not compete with top-tier journals, Cell, Nature, Science and their family members. So, when you think you have a study ready to go for any of these journals, go for it. This is likely to be also true for journals that can achieve an IF of 8 or above. But then, why should one consider PCMR over more general mid-range journals? The answer to this is rather simple. In part it has to do with fairness of review and efficiency of handling your submission (see below).

b. Readability. As PCMR is affiliated with the IFPCS and the SMR Societies, it is available to each of over 900 members who have free online access to the journal. Further, PCMR is published by Wiley-Blackwell and is part of their online collections, which makes it available in over 6000 institutions worldwide through Wiley InterScience. In addition, PCMR provides free access to all reviews as well as to selected highlights in each issue.

c. Fairness of the review process. To many of us this is a major issue in selecting a journal for publication. Was the selection of reviewers appropriate? Were the reviews fair? Was the Editor able to make a balanced decision? Were the comments constructive and did the outcome of a revision provide a more compelling study?

The process at PCMR is handled by scientists who were chosen by their peers for this mission. All of the members of the editorial board are scientists – like you – who are devoting most of their time to doing research in their laboratories. Hence, the key principle for our review process is scientific excellence. We handle your manuscript as we wish to see our own manuscripts handled. The EiC is assisted by two Executive Editors and selects reviewers who are most knowledgeable about the research being considered. In 95% of the cases I have handled since I assumed this responsibility (June 2009) both reviewers made the same recommendation, testifying to the success of the process. In the remaining 5%, additional reviewers were selected and the Editors themselves reviewed the debated manuscript.

One often asks, what fraction of manuscripts submitted are accepted and how many are required to undergo revision? Over the past 12 months, about 35% of the submitted manuscripts were accepted; of those, 98% needed revisions. Are the revisions required excessive? We think they are fair and will result in stronger manuscripts that will be better appreciated by the scientific community. We strongly believe that the authors appreciate the constructive peer-review since more than 95% of the manuscripts that need to undergo revision are returned to the journal and eventually published.

d. Efficiency. How long do you need to wait to hear about the editorial decision? Reviewers are asked to provide their evaluation within 10-14 days and an editorial decision is made within 1-2 days. Currently, the first editorial decisions are made between 1 to 21 days from submission. Decisions on revisions may be faster.

e. Speed of publication. Once the manuscript is accepted, it will be online within 48-72 hrs (and thus citable), and indexed in MEDLINE (PubMed) within 96 hours or less. This means that your findings will be seen by the community faster than one can accomplish in most journals.

In sum, the PCMR has been constantly rising in its quality, as reflected in its impact factor; I expect this trajectory to continue, bringing PCMR into the neighborhood of many of the high profile journals. Take this into consideration, as well as the fact that your paper will be subjected to a fair and efficient review and will be widely seen and read by your peers.

Ze’ev Ronai, EiC, for the Editorial team




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