Posted by: oikosasa | August 19, 2012

Being a Subject Editor…

Why being a Subject Editor at Oikos? And what does it really mean? Wim van der Putten, who has been Subject Editor at Oikos for many years, and for several other journals as well, gives you his answers:

Why would you submit your research papers to Oikos and what would you expect to read in this journal? Those are key questions that each Subject Editor has to answer every time a new manuscript is ending up on the digital desk. Before that happens, however, the submitting authors had to answer the same questions, as did the Editor in Chief and the Managing Editor, and later on the anonymous referees. If somewhere in this chain a weak connection shows up, the submitted paper will not appear, at least not in Oikos. In spite of the high rejection rate at Oikos, my experience is that simply addressing these basic  why-what questions results in a balance between papers for which I proposed acceptance and rejection that comes close to the acceptance-rejection final rate of Oikos and official complaints are rare.

I am Subject Editor for Oikos since 2007. As in all journals that I was involved in as Subject, or Handling Editor, the atmosphere is nice, personal, involved, and, quite important, professional. The way how decisions are made may differ among journals. For example, in the case of the Journal of Applied Ecology, it was pivotal that the work presented should be both scientifically novel and practically applicable, which ruled out quite some submissions. On the other hand, in the case of Ecology Letters the question whether the paper presents excellent novel science that is of interest for a wide audience provides another sort of criterion and my experience is that reviewers often are quite outspoken on that issue.

My subject is terrestrial ecology, soil ecology, aboveground-belowground interactions, climate change and invasions. Quite wide and luckily I don’t get all papers in this area. All these papers get equal chance, provided that they are not narrowly focused. This may happen with for example soil ecological papers that are too obvious for specialists and not for a wider ecological audience. I think that Oikos is very suitable for soil ecological papers, provided that they are strongly conceptual. Those papers are, to my experience, very well cited in Oikos. Papers that deal with, for example, mesh sizes of soil sieving or a process in plant ecology that has already reported ten times, will not be sent out to reviewers. Also, papers that do not test clear hypotheses may not find their way through. Pleasantly, it is not too difficult to find referees, except in Summer or just before Christmas. I really don’t understand why authors submit their paper on the day before their Summer holyday starts. All potential referees may also be out for field work, hiking in the mountains, or whatsoever, which provides a hassle for the journals to find appropriate available referees.

Why would you be a Subject Editor? I see it this way. Progress in science depends on a peer review system and that depends on scientists who are willing to spend their time to handling and reviewing manuscripts for journals. When you wish to publish, but not to contribute to this process, you are capitalizing on time from others to keep the system running. That would be sort of cheating. I don’t get paid, so that my decisions will not depend on money, but on the question if I wish to make time available for this activity. The nice thing of being a Subject Editor is to send manuscripts out to who are the best experts in that field, ask their view and then weigh the outcomes. The difficulties are always in weighing contrasting views. It would be far more comfortable when all research would be published open access and I hope that we will gradually move towards that system, but there are many limitations and constraints as well.

For the near future, I hope that Oikos will be able to develop a strategy that facilitates easy availability of published work. It is very easy these days to send a request for a copy to the corresponding author, but that takes extra time and efforts, which is a real waste of money. Contents-wise, I think that Oikos is a great journal in the field of community ecology and that it might be developing even more profile into that area. Aboveground-belowground interactions and the rapidly developing area of analyzing the composition and functioning of networks in pristine ecosystems and those under (human-induced) global changes such as land use, climate change, and invasions are in my view perfect topics for Oikos and I hope to see some really great manuscripts in this area. I am ready for them!

Wim van der Putten

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