Community Spotlight: Yan Ropert-Coudert, Researcher at CNRS & Academic Editor

Image: by Sylvie Vandenabeele

As we prepare ourselves for the International Week of Open Access...

Let’s hear the point of view of a brilliant, hyperactive, extra-fun and deeply-committed marine biologist, who, in addition to his research work in CNRS, is an academic editor for four (!) different OA journals, including the well-known PLOS One. 

Yan Ropert-Coudert does not know the meaning of the word “vacation”, but was kind enough to take some time to present us his role as an academic editor and share his views on OA.

(Find the newsletter this is written for here.)

Edith Grossbellet: Could you present your research work in a few words?

Yan Ropert-Coudert: As a research director at CNRS (Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, France), I study how top predators face environmental changes, such as the change of resource availability. By long-term monitoring of their foraging and reproductive activity, I use key predator species as eco-indicators of their environment. To create these “living observatories”, I use small devices ­ called bio-loggers­ attached to the animals and recording their biological data and the physical parameters of their surroundings.

In addition to this study of ecosystems, I am also interested in the behavioural and ecophysiological strategies of animals. I therefore use the collected data to understand why some individuals are better than others in foraging or reproductive tasks.

I work in collaboration with teams all over the world to study top predators of marine ecosystems: for instance in Australia (little penguins), in Antarctica (Adélie penguin), in the Arctic (guillemots) and in the subantarctic territories of South Africa (various species of seabirds).

E.G: Can you tell us more about your job as academic editor?

Y.R-C: In addition to my research work, I work as academic editor in four OA journals: PLOS One, Movement Ecology, Marine Ornithology and Conservation Physiology. PLOS One dealing with a higher diversity of topics, I receive most papers from this journal.

In the database of every journal, I first had to define my area of expertise through keywords, such as “marine biology”, “conservation and ecology” or “bio-logging”. I then receive the submitted papers containing similar keywords. I can decide to handle the paper or decline it in case, despite the keywords, the topic is too far from my expertise.

Once I accept to handle a paper, I first scan it: I check the quality of written English and the overall validity of the scientific content. I then contact at least two different researchers and ask them to be reviewers. Once their reviews are completed, I make a synthesis of their work and give my opinion on the paper. I can ask the authors to answer specific points of the reviewers. The paper can be either rejected or accepted after a first or a second round of reviews.

E.G: Is it an important load of work in addition to your work?

Y.R-C: Yes, especially with a journal as general as PLOS One, which deals with a lot of different topics and receives a lot of papers. Between 2009 and 2017, I intensely worked for PLOS One. Last year, I decided to reduce my activity as academic editor, which was hardly compatible with my increasing research workload. I still work for PLOS One but I only handle papers in which authors have suggested my name for the role of editor and which fit my expertise (authors always suggest 2 or 3 editors they think appropriate to handle their work).

During the 8 years where I intensely worked for PLOS One, I would receive in my mailbox up to 10-15 articles every day. I used to spend at least one hour every morning to read each abstract and decide if I was competent enough to take care of the paper. It was a lot of work. I tried to review approximately 15 papers for them every year. Contacting reviewers was also a very time-consuming part of the job. The number of worldwide scientific publications has exploded in the last decade, from 800 000 in 2000 to approximately 1.8 million in 20151. Researchers being increasingly requested to review papers, they are of course forced to decline many of them, making it more difficult for academic editors to find appropriate reviewers.

E.G: Why did you choose to work as an academic editor in addition to your research work?

Y.R-C: Being an academic editor or a reviewer for a journal is mostly a volunteer job done primarily by researchers. I chose to work for PLOS One because I liked the idea of being in the front line of research. As an editor, you read every day many papers that are in or close to your field of expertise. That really keeps you updated with the latest scientific work. And let’s be honest, I knew it would be interesting for my resume and my career. Being an editor offers you a sort of recognition by your peers about your scientific abilities.

E.G: Why did you choose OA journals?

Y.R-C: In 2009, when I started to work with PLOS One, I had the feeling that it was still a novelty to publish in OA journals in my scientific community. I was seduced by this way of increasing the visibility of research papers. Nowadays, I am still convinced about the importance of OA in research but I am aware of the new challenges triggered by the rapid development of new OA journals.

E.G: What challenges will OA have to face in a close future?

Y.R-C: The number of OA journals is exploding. A new challenge is to ensure that these journals are really based on scientific­ and not only mercantile­ goals. Some of the OA journals with a Gold OA model ask more than $2000 to publish one paper. In a field like ecology, where funding is sometimes tough to find, it is impossible for authors to publish several papers with publication fees so high. This puts small research teams to a disadvantage compared with bigger labs and exacerbate the imbalance between disciplines. I’m even surprised that fees get so expensive when I see the number of submissions that a journal receive. Surely, the fees cover the cost of publishing online? We must also find a way to ensure the quality of peer review in such new journals. Some of the new OA journals are dubious and authors have to be careful when they publish their work.

E.G: What solutions could we imagine?

Y.R-C: A solution would be an increased help from institutions to authors but not only by increasing the amount of money given to researchers. Joint research units already take care of making research database accessible. We could imagine a similar help from these institutions for the publication of scientific results. They could systematically offer free depositories of research papers, in the idea of a Green OA model. I know that more and more grants require Green OA for the publication of the funded work. I have not been directly concerned by such funding yet, but I work with a post-doc having a Marie SkÅ‚odowska-Curie fellowship and it is a mandatory requirement for this funding.

Moreover, a lot of pressure is put on researchers about the impact factor of their publications, for the recruiting process and the evaluation of their career. Although the introduction of the h-index has improved the situation, it is still difficult for researchers to totally embrace OA and get rid of the “impact factor” influence. Some OA journals develop their own metrics to evaluate the work of a researcher. It is an improvement, but it remains very quantitative. Reducing the pressure of publication in high impact paper on researchers would be a valuable help to encourage publications in OA journals.