Editor Spotlight: Haroldo V. Ribeiro

For this month’s Editor Spotlight, we talked to Dr. Ribeiro about his editorial experience, his interdisciplinary research on complex systems, and his experience with sharing data and code.

Dr. Ribeiro is an Assistant Professor of Physics at the State University of Maringá in Brazil and co-head of the research group ComplexLab. His research focuses on data analysis of complex systems and aims to address a broad spectrum of problems related to the emergence of patterns in social, economic, biological, and physical systems through the lens of physics, data science, and statistics.

Examples of recent problems investigated by Dr. Ribeiro include understanding how properties of cities change with their size, quantifying the history of art paintings using entropy and other physics-inspired approaches, identifying patterns in criminal networks, investigating the association between research productivity and scientific impact, and the developments of ordinal methods for time series and image analysis.

What motivates you to contribute as Academic Editor at PLOS ONE?

In September 2018, I was invited to join the Editorial Board of PLOS ONE as an Academic Editor. I remember feeling very excited about the invitation; in fact, I replied accepting the position in less than ten minutes. At that time, I had already published about ten articles with PLOS (my first article was published in 2011) and had served as a reviewer on dozens of other occasions (my first invitation was in 2012). I was also at the beginning of my career as an Assistant Professor of Physics at the State University of Maringá, which is still my current position.

I was (and still am) motivated by the opportunity to work with researchers from various disciplines and to help advance and disseminate scientific knowledge in different areas.

As a result of my familiarity with PLOS and its mission to provide an open-access platform for publishing and making scientific research accessible to a wider community, as well as with most of the processes involved in the scientific enterprise, I considered becoming an Academic Editor to be a natural next step. I was (and still am) motivated by the opportunity to work with researchers from various disciplines and to help advance and disseminate scientific knowledge in different areas. What I was not fully aware of at the time, was that being an editor would also allow me to further develop my skills in scientific communication, critical analysis, and decision-making. As an editor at PLOS, I am continuously exposed to a wide range of scientific research, and I find it incredibly rewarding to learn about new areas and to assist researchers in effectively communicating their findings to a broader audience. This exposure also enables me to identify emerging trends and problems of interest, as well as to see connections between seemingly disparate research areas.

Of course, not everything is perfect, and I must acknowledge the ever-increasing demand for editing and reviewing papers, as well as the challenges in securing good and timely reviewers. In my opinion, something is brewing in the scientific community, and as a researcher on complex systems, I believe that we are approaching a boiling point in scientific publishing. I hope that PLOS will continue its mission of promoting collaboration, transparency, and open science in this possible new era.

Image credit: pone.0040689

You’ve tackled an impressive array of seemingly completely unrelated topics in your research on complex systems, such as sports statistics, collective behavior in fish, and human networks. What is it that makes this field so versatile? What are the current limits that this field faces?

My background is in physics, but unlike most of my classmates from my early years of undergraduate school or some students I now encounter in physics courses I teach, I was never passionate about particles, string theory, or astronomy. Instead, I was much more fascinated by the simple idea of why some patterns emerge in nature, and I was lucky enough to start an undergraduate research project on this theme during the second year of my undergraduate course. This was in 2006, and I have been working with complex systems ever since. And as you mentioned, the topics covered by most researchers on complex systems vary a lot, which produces the false idea of unrelatedness, but when you look carefully, you will always see this search for patterns, commonalities, principles, and universalities.

As a physicist (and I am probably biased here), I always thought this identification of patterns in complex systems was very much aligned with the overall goals of most traditional research in Physics, but the strong reductionism of physics-like approaches in opposition to the complex systems’ mantra that “the whole is more than the sum of its parts” initially hampered this idea to become what we may say is now the dominant view in the research community.

I remember that publishing on topics such as sports or music in journals of the physics community required much more effort in connecting findings (sometimes in unnatural ways) with more traditional results and theories of physics. Without being too demagogic, I believe that the more open view of PLOS has somehow contributed to changing this status, and I must confess that some of the first papers I published in PLOS ONE initially got rejected by more traditional physics journals. Fortunately, today even the most traditional journals of physics have dedicated sections to complex systems research, and especially after the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics, I do believe research on complex systems is sedimented as an official part of Physics.

(The) versatility (of the field) also makes research on complex systems naturally interdisciplinary, which requires researchers always to be open to studying new topics and collaborating with people from different backgrounds.

Moving back to your question, this versatility in approaching the most diverse topics is tightly related to the generality of concepts and methods used to tackle complex systems. To stay with a simple but crucial example, I would cite the basic idea surrounding the concept of networks, that is, a set of vertices and a set of edges among them. This is so general that you can use it to describe human and animal interactions, but also in more abstract ways, such as describing patterns in scientific careers, where vertices could represent researchers and connections among them indicate some similarity measure related to some aspect of scientific careers.

This versatility also makes research on complex systems naturally interdisciplinary, which requires researchers always to be open to studying new topics and collaborating with people from different backgrounds – which sometimes can be challenging due to differences in research culture. In addition, one of the biggest challenges I believe the field faces is the need to merge theoretical approaches (which are often based on simple models) with the advances in empirical analysis (which are becoming more and more detailed and complex) driven by the increasing availability of large-scale data at an impressive degree of detail. Another critical challenge, I would say, has to do with making society and decision-makers aware that research on complex systems is a fundamental part of the solutions to our most immediate problems, such as disease spreading, climate change, financial crises, and human conflicts.

Can you tell us your experience with data or code sharing? How has it impacted your research?

I believe that everyone considers data and code sharing to be essential aspects for the reproducibility and transparency of research. We now see many scientific journals, including PLOS ONE, require or at least incentivize authors to share data and code alongside their research articles. Sometimes, I believe there are some short-time benefits in not adhering to these practices, such as when one does expensive and time-demanding experiments and is just beginning to dig into the research question, but overall and beyond the transparency issue, I consider data and code sharing help researchers by facilitating and driving the creation of new collaborations and partnerships.

Recently, together with a Ph.D. student, we had a very positive experience with the release of a Python module implementing a set of techniques related to ordinal methods for time series and image analysis (ordpy). We have been working as well as contributing to the development of these methods for a long time, and as a result, we accumulated computational implementations of these techniques that remained restricted to our group until we were able to organize, document, and make them available. We initially thought no one would use it, but to our surprise, it has been downloaded hundreds of times per month ever since. Additionally, we have received feedback and suggestions from other researchers, and in the end, it is pretty gratifying to see others directly building upon code that was previously only available to our lab.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

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Editor Spotlight: Branislav Šiler

In this post, Dr. Branislav Šiler gives advice to new Editorial Board members, explains the importance of genetic diversity in plant populations, and discusses what open science means to him. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

PLOS ONE Academic Editor Branislav Šiler

Dr. Branislav Šiler is a Principal Research Fellow of the Institute for Biological Research “S. Stanković”, which is the National Institute of the Republic of Serbia and a member of the University of Belgrade. Dr. Šiler is professionally devoted to the world of plants and personally to his family of five. Throughout his career, he constantly strives to focus his research on population genetics, but his interests include the basic plant physiology, phytochemistry as well as evolutionary biology. He studies the process of how particular secondary metabolite profiles result in a higher chance of survival for some genotypes and investigates the genetic events as sources for plants’ genetic variations, namely polyploidization and interspecific hybridization. Dr. Šiler is passionate about his fieldwork and spends most of the time in a laboratory.

As an Academic Editor with a long tenure on PLOS ONE Editorial Board, what advice would you give to new Editorial Board members?

My general advice: give it a try!

If you feel you have gathered enough knowledge in a scientific field and wish to share it with the world, getting involved as an Editorial Board member at one of the most famous multidisciplinary journals is a good way to help authors increase the presentation quality of their works. Finding reviewers and making decisions based on their sometimes opposed opinions might be difficult at first but after several months, you will find yourself extremely skillful in these processes though may still face challenges once in a while.

My second major advice is to always be respectful of authors and reviewers and dedicate to them the amount of time and professional input that they deserve. This means maintaining good communication with the authors and reviewers, providing a proper explanation for your editorial decisions, and sending the authors additional recommendations not mentioned in the reviewers’ reports, for example, to further increase the clarity and the flow of the text or the figure presentation. Overall, you should be professionally satisfied with the published article as you would have authored it.

Your research focuses on genetic makeup of plant populations, especially among Centaurium species. Why is understanding genetic variations important and what interests you to study Centaurium species?

I always try to emphasize that Mother Nature has no plan to sustain species’ survival other than potentiating their genetic variability. Genetic variations, often undetected in a phenotype (observable characteristics), represent an information pool where a plant draws from when encountering environmental challenges such as the loss of habitat or various forms of stress. Diminishing genetic variations in a plant population is reducing its potential to cope with a changing environment, which finally leads to its extinction in the affected area. Preserving a high volume of genetic variations in a population secures the availability of a few genotypes with a combination of genes that can give rise to desirable characteristics for the survival of the population.

Several species from the genus Centaurium represent good model systems to study the consequences of habitat fragmentation on the populations’ genetic background since they form rather small populations with virtually no gene flow among them. As a result, one would expect a high level of homozygosity over time, but it is interesting to study how the populations find their ways to survive by stepping into interspecific hybridization (crossing between species of the same genus) and polyploidization (multiplication of a complete chromosome sets), thus increasing not only the genome size but also the genetic variants found in it. This type of studies provides valuable data for the estimation of species’ vulnerability, and the knowledge gained can be applied to other plant species that practice this kind of “refreshment” of their gene pools.

What does open science mean to you?

With the outburst of the “publish or perish” pressure in the scientific community and the public debate that it may have decreased the quality of scientific works, the open science movement offers anyone to access, reproduce the research if necessary, and publicly discuss the results presented in an article. Moreover, review reports and editorial decisions are recommended to be transparent and can be criticized, all of which undoubtedly increase the scientific rigor and ultimately improve the quality of scientific research and presentation.

Two additional open science principles that are the most influential to my research are open-source software and involvement of non-experts in communicating science. Open source offers a broad population of experts to use, modify, and distribute the source code, which is incredibly important for processing and modelling scientific data. Regarding science communication, I believe that open access to science results alone cannot increase the public awareness of their significance. More efforts are needed to make science understandable to the general audience and encouraging ideas such as citizen science and public science to get people involved can lead to a better understanding and an increased use value of science products among the public.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

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Editor Spotlight: Dr. Andrea Zerboni

In this installment of Editor Spotlight, we talked to Dr. Andrea Zerboni to learn more about his research and his views on PLOS policy on Inclusivity in Global Research. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

PLOS ONE Academic Editor Andrea Zerboni

Dr. Andrea Zerboni is an Associate Professor of Geomorphology and Geoarchaeology at the Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra “A. Desio” of the University of Milano (Italy). As a geoarchaeologist and geomorphologist, Dr. Zerboni has carried out research projects around the world, including continental and Mediterranean Europe, the Sahara Desert, East Africa, the Levant, the Arabian Peninsula, and Antarctica. His research aimed at reconstructing the effects of past climate changes on surface processes and the complexity and nonlinearity of the late Quaternary climate-environment-human nexus. He was involved in research programmes investigating a variety of cultural contexts spanning from the Palaeolithic to modern ethnographic case studies.

The research interest of Dr. Zerboni lies at the intersection of different disciplines – Earth Sciences and Archaeology – which requires a broad perspective on environmental and climatic issues relevant to human history. The research led him to explore the mutual influence of environmental factors and human agency with different tools, trying to decipher the early and sometimes unsuspected examples of early human overprint on nature preserved in the geological and archaeological record. Dr. Zerboni is interested in defining the concept of Anthropocene as part of the geological timeline, when human agency started leaving permanent changes on Earth’s processes, and inferring the lessons we can learn for the future in terms of resilience and sustainable use of natural resources.

As a prolific researcher and Academic Editor, how do you manage your time effectively?

There is never enough time. In addition to my research and editorial activities, I also teach at my university, provide support to my students and collaborators (who actually do most of the research activities), and work on my administrative duties. It can be quite difficult to find a balance for all activities. My fieldwork also requires me to spend weeks in the field, occasionally in quite remote places. Some of my colleagues set aside specific days for selected duties, such as an entire day per week for editorial activities but it can be quite difficult for me to follow the same schedule. I prefer to dedicate early mornings and some weekends to research and editorial activities. This allows me to spend the calmest hours of the day on tasks that need focus. Evaluating a manuscript and selecting proper reviewers is as much time- and energy-consuming as writing a paper because Academic Editors have responsibilities towards the authors and the readership of the journal. Today, most of the time I devote to the editorial process is in searching reviewers. The role of reviewers is crucial in the peer review process, but in the last few years, it has become more and more difficult – and sometimes frustrating – to find qualified scholars willing to review others’ manuscripts.

Your research sits at the interface of several different topics. What was your background, and how did you navigate all the interdisciplinary knowledge you had to acquire along the way?

My main research topic is Geoarchaeology, which is at the interface between the Earth Sciences and the Humanities. The research focuses on solving scientific questions in archaeology and anthropology using the approaches, methods, and tools from the Earth Sciences. The research explores the formation and preservation of archaeological sites, the formation and evolution of archaeological landscapes, and the relationship between climate changes, their effects on environments and ecosystems and human behavior. My university background was in geology and natural sciences. During my scientific journey, I had the opportunity to collaborate with many colleagues with skills in a variety of archaeology-related disciplines, such as geoarchaeology, bioarchaeology, anthropology, archaeometry. This opened my mind and expanded my perspective. I strongly believe that an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach is essential for researchers to investigate environmental and cultural processes, which are complicated and generally interconnected. Today, many scientists are hyper-specialized, but we must keep in mind that scientific research is like a puzzle and each specialist is working on their own piece, but all pieces are part of the same picture.

In 2021, PLOS introduced a new policy on Inclusivity in global research. How are these types of policies important in your field, and have you seen any changes on how researchers approach collaborations or field sites?

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, all laboratory and field-based research activities were interrupted. A group of colleagues (geologists, archaeologists, anthropologists) was frustrated because their fieldwork had been interrupted and started thinking about how the pandemic would remodel the way field-based sciences are taught. In a short comment, we explained that the pandemic was an opportunity to accelerate a process already in progress: the decolonization of science, the reduction of the so-called parachute science, and the creation of an open repository of data. In the past decades, researchers from the Global North were used to working in countries of the Global South without sharing their results with the local researchers, thus hampering the possibility of developing local research centers or promoting the career of local people. This also happened in my research area, but in the last few years, I noticed two positive trends: 1) there is a growing interest of geologists and archaeologists, especially from the younger generations living in countries of the Global South to work in their own countries to promote their scientific developments and 2) research teams from the Global North increased collaborations, training activities, and sharing data. I think that the Inclusivity policy of PLOS is going in the same direction: the promotion of collaborations between countries and training for researchers to support a global development of science. Moreover, in my specific field, we work on archaeological sites and need to take into consideration issues related to the sampling and export of materials that are part of the cultural heritage of the countries that belong to the local people. The request of transparency reported in the Inclusivity policy of PLOS is an effective tool to ascertain the high standards for research ethics. And of course, the Open Access policy of PLOS is a further contribution to the promotion of a global open science.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

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Editor Spotlight: Dr. Jennifer Campbell

EveryONE is excited to launch the Editor Spotlight series to highlight the contribution and work of our Editorial Board members. In this inaugural post, we interviewed Dr. Jennifer Campbell to understand her experience with the PLOS ONE editorial board, her approach to the peer review process and her research on promoting health equity.

Dr. Campbell is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin in the Division of General Internal Medicine. Dr. Campbell completed her Master’s in Public Health from the California State University in Long Beach and her PhD in Public Health with an emphasis on Community and Behavioral Health Promotion from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Dr. Campbell is a Health Services researcher whose area of research is largely focused on behavioral medicine and implementation science as it relates to chronic disease management.

Dr. Campbell’s area of interest is in identifying the barriers to care that occur across levels of influence for marginalized populations (ethnic minorities, low socioeconomic status, impoverished) with diabetes. Her research is focused on intervention development for type 2 diabetes from a holistic standpoint, accounting for multi-level influences. With an ongoing emphasis to integrate health services and public health accounting for multi-level influences, her recent work is focused on leveraging the principles of behavioral economics, specifically the use of conditional and unconditional cash transfers, to address structural barriers to promote health at the individual level for adults with type 2 diabetes living within distressed urban environments.

Why did you decide to join our Editorial Board and what do you enjoy most about being an Editorial Board member at PLOS ONE?

From the time my academic career began as a student, I have had the opportunity to have very strong mentorship in my career, which remains a very strong pillar for me today. This mentorship instilled, and continues to emphasize, a very strong sense of learning, feedback, and collaboration across the spectrum of science. When the opportunity came to join the Editorial Board at PLOS ONE I saw this as the natural progression to continue to learn, collaborate, and contribute as a member of the scientific community.

What I love most about serving in this role is the exposure to diverse knowledge and perspectives being generated across countries and disciplines. Since joining the Editorial Board, I have had the opportunity to see the breadth and scope of our scientific community and to join in conversations with academic scholars and scientists across the world that I would have never had the platform to meet prior to this.

You provide thorough comments to the authors in your decision letters. What is your process?

My approach to providing comments and feedback also stems from my own experiences where mentors, colleagues, and editors from my own submission experiences provide very meaningful feedback that genuinely improves my approach to communicating scientific knowledge. As scientists, we are a part of a larger community, and I see us as having a collective responsibility to research integrity, scientific communication, and producers of evidence. When I review manuscripts and function in my Editorial Board role, I see each manuscript as an opportunity to contribute knowledge and advance the field. With this in mind, I believe each author who has put in the work of generating knowledge is owed the diligence and time to ensure that their manuscript achieves its purpose.  

Your research focuses on identifying barriers to care for vulnerable populations and promoting health equity in diabetes care. What draws you to this field?

My career in research began at the Center for Health Disparities Research at the Medical University of South Carolina where I was first introduced to the concept of health inequity and the impact of social determinants of health on chronic disease. In this position I worked daily with researchers and faculty who spoke often of the moral obligation we have to be a voice for the voiceless, to bring hope to the despondent, and to serve as conduits to channel resources to the underserved. In working as part of a multidisciplinary team, the pursuit for health equity was carried out daily through reading the literature, writing protocols, interviewing patients, and the delivery of interventions to ultimately provide evidence to make informed decisions for improving the health of marginalized populations. It was through this position that I began to see myself as a part of a collective unit to work toward equity and justice through the use of scientific evidence and have strived to hold to this mission in each role I take.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

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Partnership at the heart of PLOS ONE: The Role of Academic Editors

From its inception, PLOS ONE’s mission has been clear: to create an inclusive venue for all rigorous scientific research irrespective of its perceived impact. Moreover, PLOS wanted to create a journal for, and run by,

New Paleontology Guidelines Enforce Ethics, Reproducibility

Ethics is a cornerstone of science, informing everything from how we design our experiments to what we do with the resulting data. Given the diverse nature of the research results published in PLOS ONE, no short and simple set of ethical guidelines can cover every situation. Thus, it is important for the journal to adapt and expand its ethical standards as the journal itself expands.

The field of paleontology, by its very nature, presents some special situations in ethics. Although the fossil subjects are long-dead, rendering matters of patient consent or laboratory animal care non-existent, other complicated concerns ranging from legalities to reproducibility must be taken into account. Any journal that hopes to be a major player in the study of fossils must confront these issues head-on.

As the volunteer section editor for paleontology at PLOS ONE, I am thrilled by the growth in the number of high-quality publications related to my field. I also want to make sure that all of these papers are held to the highest ethical standards, and many of my colleagues and I felt it was important to provide explicit ethical guidelines focused on paleontology. After extensive and thoughtful discussion with the journal’s internal editors and other interested parties, I am happy to announce that a specific set of editorial standards for paleontology submissions is now in place.

Critically, reproducible research in paleontology requires a long-term guarantee of accessibility and safety for fossils. This means that all fossils should be deposited in a permanent repository, such as a museum or university collection. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that collections owned by private individuals—no matter how noble their intentions—will be accessible in the long-term. In one notable recent case, the family of a fossil enthusiast sold off the bulk of his scientifically important collection after he died. Some of the specimens had even been published in the peer-reviewed literature, but there is now little guarantee that any of those fossils will be accessible in fifty years, or even five. Moreover, not everything that calls itself a museum is a permanent collection; some are little more than showroom floors for a commercial fossil business. Some of these fossils do end up in permanent museum collections, but until this happens, it is extremely hazardous to publish on the specimens. Reproducibility and accessibility are key, as reflected in the new policies.

Ethical consideration is also critical for fossil collection in the field. Stories abound of skeletons in the Gobi Desert being looted for the most marketable parts (such as skulls or claws), which then end up for auction in Europe or North America. In fact, one recent PLOS ONE paper discussed dinosaur skin impressions salvaged from the mess left by fossil poachers who carted off more enticing pieces. Legal loopholes often mean that the specimens can then be traded or sold elsewhere, often accompanied by official-looking paperwork that purports to legitimize the original export. This horrible practice drains the world of its historical heritage and destroys scientific information. Thus, the new ethics policy explicitly prohibits publication of specimens that were obtained without permission or legal export.

This is a great day for paleontology at PLOS ONE, helping to ensure the journal’s future as a trustworthy publication with the highest ethical standards. I challenge everyone—authors, editors, readers, and reviewers—to carry the torch forward into a better world.

About the Author:  Dr. Andrew Farke is a vertebrate paleontologist and an academic editor at PLOS ONE. Andy also has his own blog, The Open Source Paleontologist, and can be found on Twitter @andyfarke.

Image: The fossil reptile Captorhinus (collection of Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology)