Reflections of an Editor


By Gary Miller posted 02-14-2019 13:38


Communique 2019 Issue 1 Masthead

In a few months, my term expires and I will step down as Editor-in-Chief of Toxicological Sciences. It has been an incredible honor to be entrusted with the leadership of the Society of Toxicology’s journal. It has been a pleasure working closely with the editorial staff of our publisher, Oxford University Press, and Society leadership. I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on the past five and a half years.

Overwhelming Amount of Knowledge

John B. Gurdon and Gary W. Miller during the 2014 SOT Annual MeetingThe field of toxicology is expansive, dynamic, and evolving. The breadth of research conducted within the field is daunting. Our scientists conduct research at the molecular level to understand the structure of receptors and how they interact with chemicals, at the organ-system level to understand how different cell types work together to respond to a toxic insult, at the in vivo level to explore how different organ systems interact to process drugs and toxicants, and at a computational level to model complex interactions at the molecular to population level. The manuscripts I have reviewed have encompassed a range of techniques, including CRISPR-cas9, nuclear magnetic resonance imaging, electrophysiology, X-ray crystallography, mass spectrometry, and machine learning. The evolution of the field continues because of the development of new techniques and technologies and the emergence of new chemicals, products, and exposures.

Overwhelming Amount of Data

The aforementioned techniques generate a vast quantity of data. Decades ago, a compilation of data from an enzymatic reaction, a western blot, and a binding assay could compose an entire manuscript. One could literally lay out the data on one’s desk. Now, we see high-throughput studies that generate data from thousands of reactions and experiments. Confocal microscopy and high-content imaging generate gigabytes of data. The sheer volume of data challenges our historic models of evaluation of science. Investigators write code to analyze data, and it is becoming necessary to develop new ways to study the underlying processes. This was one of the main drivers of our partnership with the Dryad Digital Repository. Authors of Toxicological Sciences have access to a system that allows archival and retrieval of code, a range of raw data files, and high volumes of data. Dryad and systems like it are helping science deal with the increased complexity of our data. This remains a major challenge for academic publishers. It is getting more difficult to contain the output of a field within the confines of a 10-page scientific paper.

2018 Toxicological Sciences Featured SessionThere are other challenges regarding data. Rigor and reproducibility received a great deal of attention over the past few years. Toxicological Sciences has always been focused on high-quality and rigorous science, even before the National Institutes of Health took up the mantle. Thus, it was easy to adapt to the new expectations. We updated our guidelines to emphasize our ideals that support rigor and reproducibility. To encourage authors to provide the necessary detail, we do not put limits on the methods section. We were early adopters of allowing submission of manuscripts that had been previously deposited to a preprint server. Preprints provide a mechanism for access by the research community to early versions of manuscripts and allow for examination, revision, and improvement. We also support open-access publishing, and while our publisher’s open-access license fee for ToxSci is on the lower end of the scale, we recognize that fees of $3,000–$7,500 can be restrictive for many investigators. I am proud that Toxicological Sciences and SOT provide an outlet for publication that does not require the authors to pay anything. Zero. We do not have submission fees. We do not have page charges. We do charge fees for our open-access option and for color figures in the print version of the journal, but these are optional. We would like to have more authors opt for the open-access option, but we do not want to create a barrier to publication by requiring this type of license.

Overwhelming Amount of Work

2015 Toxicological Sciences Associate Editors MeetingBeing an editor is a lot of work and is often unrelenting. I have processed manuscripts in dozens of states and countries, in hotel rooms, in coffee shops, in parks, and by campfires. However, editors are typically compensated for this work both from a financial and a professional perspective. What I have been especially impressed with is the dedication of the members of the editorial team, who are not compensated. This includes our associate editors, Editorial Board members, and the members of the SOT Board of Publications. During my tenure, there have been nearly 200 people who have served in these roles. They have dedicated hours of time and energy to the process, yet their absolute efforts pale in comparison to the scientists who have performed the thousands of reviews required during that same time period. The amount of intellectual output from the editorial staff and the reviewers is extraordinary. The explosion of output continues. Each one of the over 5,000 manuscripts that passed by my desk represents countless hours of labor by graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, technicians, staff scientists, lab directors, and the range of others that help make science possible.

Overwhelming Amount of Satisfaction

When I began this endeavor, I anticipated that it would be very demanding and consume a great deal of my time. However, I underestimated the benefits of the position. Having had the opportunity to work with so many dedicated scientists has been one of the most gratifying phases of my scientific career. I have been able to represent the journal across the United States and in Europe and Asia. It has been an incredible honor and responsibility to shepherd the research of this field. Doing so for a society that has been instrumental in my career development makes it even better. I attended my first SOT meeting as a graduate student nearly 30 years ago. As my scientific interests shifted, I attended many meetings other than the SOT Annual Meeting, but SOT always served as my scientific cornerstone. I viewed the other disciplines through the lens of a toxicologist. Thus, it seemed fitting to give back to the Society and spend six years examining work through that same lens.

I end with a simple expression of deep gratitude to those that have made this journey possible. I look forward to our continued interactions as a former editor.