Peer review in scientific publications - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Supplementary written evidence submitted by Philip Campbell (PR 60a)

1.  Nature editors are selected from the ranks of post-doctoral researchers for their unusually broad interests in science and for their abilities, in particular, to take any scientific paper, assimilate its key ingredients and messages reliably and promptly, and apply critical thinking even if the paper is not in their own expert area.

2.  Such people will have already experienced the process of peer review as authors and in some cases as peer reviewers. They will also already have a strong sense of how one piece of research might be more significant than another and, within their own disciplines, what would represent an outstanding accomplishment.

3.  The training that takes place, therefore, can only happen by participating fully in the process of selecting papers. Every new editor sits within a small team with a team leader who will initially track their every thought and action in respect of every paper they handle.

4.  As months go by, this scrutiny gradually relaxes. We reckon that it takes about two years of handling papers and visiting many labs and conferences for our editors to gain the full experience of the various ways in which authors, editors and referees can interact and hence optimize the process. Also, over that time, an editor builds up extensive scientific and research-community knowledge and contacts.

5.  After two years, typically, they will be fully autonomous. However, they still act as part of the team, so that decisions are routinely discussed with colleagues, and the team leader ensures that Nature's standards within the team's disciplines have an appropriate degree of consistency.

6.  All editors will be given occasional training by the company in relation to ethical and legal issues. Moreover, we set up occasional meetings with external experts to discuss possible changes in standards and criteria, as new research technologies and practices emerge.

Philip Campbell PhD

20 May 2011

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Prepared 28 July 2011