Bernhard Baune is the Section Editor in charge of Neuroscience and Psychiatry (one of our largest fields, with 650 papers listed in this category at the present time) at PLoS ONE. His personal fields of specialization are Psychiatric Neuroscience, Biological Psychiatry and Epidemiology in Psychiatry. When he’s not busy working on papers for PLoS ONE, he has a full time position as the Professor of Psychiatry and Psychiatric Neuroscience at James Cook University, Australia.
PB: Bernhard, please tell me a bit more about your background
BB: My clinical background is in psychiatry, and my research background is mainly in the neuroscience and epidemiology of psychiatric disorders. Our research approach is broad and involves basic science such as animal models and clinical application such as pharmacogenetics. We currently focus on mood disorders and have a special interest in cognitive functioning and performance in mood disorders. Here at James Cook University, we have a mood disorders research program and specifically look at applied Neuroscience methods which have a translational approach to clinical applications.
PB: And how large is your research group
BB: At the moment we have 8 people working in the group. We are currently extending into the area of neuroprotection in neuropsychiatric illnesses and specifically we are exploring a protein with the potential of neuroprotection.
PB: You have recently been handling the editorial oversight of a Collection of papers for our forthcoming ‘Stress and Depression’ Collection (scheduled to publish in January 2009). Can you tell me a bit about your work on that Collection?
BB: The Collection is a highly relevant topic, for a number of reasons. On the one hand it reflects the research traditions in that area, but on the other hand it reflects the need for research on depression to look at gene/environmental interactions. Therefore I found it very interesting from the beginning and was happy to become involved as the Academic Editor for it. A number of very interesting papers were submitted, really reflecting different areas of relevance to the field – from animal through to clinical research.
PB: And what was the quality of those papers like?
BB: I would say they were all ‘high’ to ‘top’ quality papers and if I compare those papers to papers from other journals for which I review, then I would say they are of the same quality as top journals. The only difference I might observe is that some of the papers were more specific in their topics as opposed to be being ‘broad’ in their approach, which is often the criteria of more traditional journals which may seek broader papers to attract a wider readership. Papers in my field sometimes deal with very specific and detailed mechanisms for example, so I think that while they may have a tendency to be more specific and detailed, the good thing is that the journal gives the authors the opportunity to publish that type of work.
PB: And would you say that this is a general feature of PLoS ONE papers – that authors have the freedom to be more detailed in their submissions and don’t feel that they need to write articles just to satisfy a broad readership?
BB: Yes, that is my impression. I wouldn’t say that is the main characteristic of PLoS ONE papers but certainly a proportion of papers submitted do have that profile. I think that’s very good, because its really about the detailed science of the paper rather than the ‘message’.
PB: I think that’s really one of the main advantages of PLoS ONE. Because we do not sell our content, we don’t have to publish only the most ‘impactful’ or ‘interesting’ articles (which might improve our ‘salability’). Therefore, authors are able to write their article according to the needs of their science – and this is very liberating for many of them.
PB: And how do you work, in your role as Section Editor?
BB: As a Section Editor I receive all papers submitted in my area of neuroscience and psychiatry. I look at the paper, and read it to evaluate the exact topic before assigning it to the Academic Editor whom I feel is best qualified to handle that particular paper. Then the papers are sent our for peer review, and from my point of view the peer review process is identical to that of other journals – at least 2 external peer reviewers are asked for their expert opinion; those comments are sent back to the authors; and they are required to reply appropriately to improve their manuscript before a final decision is made by the Academic Editor. This process is fairly quick, by which I mean our turnaround time is fast.
PB: I agree about the speed. For example, we are online only and so are able to publish final articles on a daily schedule. As a result, our current performance from final acceptance to online publication is just 26 days on average which I believe is significantly faster than the majority of journals, which typically still adhere to an ‘issue based’ publication schedule.
PB: How much time would you say you spend on PLoS ONE
BB: I work on it on a daily basis, as I need to keep track of newly submitted papers in my section. I spend maybe an hour a day on the journal.
PB: And what is the most important thing that scientists should understand about PLoS ONE. Is it simply the fact we are Open Access? Or are there more interesting things that people should know about?
BB: The most important thing to know is that the selection criteria is dependant on the quality and methodology of the research, rather than interest level. That is important because there is a lot of good research out there which deserves publication. Secondly, the broadness of the topics, both within a section but also overall, is very important. This means that the diverse research conducted at various labs around the world has the opportunity to be published. And finally, the speed of publication is also very important, although other journals can also be fast so I would place this third.
PB: And what about Open Access in general? What is your opinion of this publication method?
BB: Open Access is very good because people who do not engage with research on a day to day basis, or only on a more occasional basis, have easy access to the literature.
PB: That’s a very good point, I think. Is there anything else you would like to add to this interview?
BB: Well, PLoS ONE is a great idea with great potential. I would also like to say that the PLoS ONE team is really fantastic – speedy responses; good high quality feedback; very efficient; very knowledgeable. I really appreciate that communication with the team.
PB: That’s a very nice note to end on Bernhard, and I am sure the PLoS ONE team will be very pleased to hear those comments. Thank you very much.
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