Against the Grain v34#5
ATG: Richard you started your career as a researcher at Trinity College Dublin before you began working in academic publishing. What prompted you to switch careers?
RG: I’d been an avid reader of the magazine Immunology Today, one of the Elsevier Trends Journals, since I was an undergraduate, but working in publishing never occurred to me until one of my postdoc friends became its Editor. She and I kept in touch, giving me a good insight into the role, and when she decided to return to Dublin for personal reasons, I applied for the job. That position — thinking about science, interacting with researchers, commissioning and editing articles, and putting issues together — was thrilling. I was sorry to leave Dublin but moving into publishing was the best decision I ever made. And honestly, it wasn’t a huge loss to research.
ATG: It sounds like you are wearing two hats as President & Editor-in-Chief at Annual Reviews. Are we right? How do they differ? What are your specific responsibilities for each?
RG: There are two distinct roles, but they pair well. I see my job as integrating the various talented groups that contribute to Annual Reviews to maximize our collective value to science. As President, which is the CEO role, I connect the Board of Directors who guide our mission, the external editors who shape the content, and the management team that runs Annual Reviews as a business, as well as representing the organization to the external world, including the customers. As Editor-in-Chief, I have a more specific task of working closely with the editorial committees, who are at the heart of the organization. This means that I get to participate in the meetings where topics and authors are debated and selected, often described by committee members as their most enjoyable meetings of the year. This gives me the science buzz that I crave. More importantly, it positions research and researchers at the core of decision-making and prioritization for the organization.
ATG: You have had diverse experience in academic publishing, working for Elsevier, as well as individual publications like Science, Nature, and The Scientist. So, what was it about Annual Reviews that caused you to agree to be its President and Editor-in-Chief? Were there specific opportunities and/or challenges that you found appealing?
RG: Before joining, what appealed to me was the interesting people that I would get to work with, and their sense of purpose. Annual Reviews’ nonprofit status and mission to synthesize and integrate knowledge for the progress of science (since expanded to include benefit to society) gives clarity and value to the job. The staff and volunteer experts (board members, committee members and authors) are aligned and committed. Another attraction was the breadth of coverage. Previously I’d focused on biology and biomedicine, but here was criminology, linguistics, resource economics, physical chemistry, particle physics and many other topics. That was daunting, but hugely appealing.
Regarding specific opportunities and challenges, when I joined Annual Reviews in 2015, it was the first time since 2002 that I’d worked at a company that operated behind a paywall. And during that 12-year period I was more involved with science magazines than with journals. I therefore saw the potential value of moving the reviews to open access, and of making the knowledge contained in them more relevant to non-researchers. These have been the two main opportunities/challenges that we have pursued, with a commitment to carbon neutrality (a business consideration), a climate change initiative (a content-development project) and a drive for diversity, equity and inclusion (impacting both content and business) added along the way. It’s a real team effort and I feel privileged to be part of it.
ATG: Recently, Annual Reviews purchased The Charleston Advisor. At that time, you said that TCA was “a good fit with our mission to synthesize and integrate knowledge.” You also said that it “expands our horizons by providing high quality reviews of products and services.” Can you elaborate?
RG: TCA shares an overarching goal with Annual Reviews of reviewing crucial information for a key group within the knowledge ecosystem. The many distinctions — TCA focuses on products and services, provides candid assessments and recommendations for action, is less formal in style and shorter in length, and it is aimed at librarians — bring new ideas to the organization. Diversity is a strength. Likewise, Annual Reviews has extensive editorial and business experience that we can apply to develop TCA.
ATG: Are you planning any changes or enhancements to The Charleston Advisor? What can current subscribers expect from TCA now that it is part of Annual Reviews’ portfolio of review journals?
RG: Yes, there will be developments within the next year. For now, we’re taking the time to get to know the TCA staff and integrate the publication into our workflows, it’s the first time we have done this with an established publication. In the meantime, we are exploring the needs and interests of current readers and the larger target audience, and this will guide additions and enhancements to TCA. To give one example, coverage of open infrastructure for libraries is likely to be one new focus, and there will be others.
ATG: Under your leadership, Annual Reviews developed its “Subscribe to Open” initiative removing paywalls from its review journals. What led you to develop this innovative subscription model? What has been the library community’s response?
RG: Necessity led to the development of Subscribe to Open (S2O). The existing approaches to open access, APCs and Read-and-Publish, could not be applied to Annual Reviews, yet case for converting our content to open access is compelling. As a recent illustration of this, in Bangladesh articles from the eight S2O titles in our pilot program are downloaded 3,500 times per month while the other 43 titles, although freely available through Research4Life, collectively accumulate fewer than 500 downloads per month. The new approach, S2O, is based on a mutual assurance contract model proposed to us by publishing consultant Raym Crow. There is now an active S2O Community of Practice to guide development of the model. It includes librarians, researchers, funders, publishers, agents and others, working together towards the common goal of equitable OA.
In general, the response from the library community has been incredibly positive and supportive. That’s vital, as it is they who will determine whether S2O succeeds or fails. They are making that decision right now as we are in the middle of the 2023 sales season.
ATG: Are there any other innovations in the offing for Annual Reviews? Can the scholarly community expect any additional new journal titles?
RG: No new titles for now. Rather, we are working on maximizing the impact of what we publish, not just within the research community, but in policy, business and civil society.
An example is our climate change initiative. We know that decisions taken today will have profound effects on planetary health and the prospects of every generation to come. It is imperative that policy decisions prioritize effective change and that a consensus is built around responsible institutional and personal behavior. To underpin this, accurate and unbiased research information on climate change must be freely available. And it must clear and comprehensible regardless of background knowledge of the reader.
Scientific reviews have a special importance as they provide concentrated summaries of knowledge. Our aim is to make all Annual Reviews journals open access (through S2O) and then to develop products and services based on the reviews that deliver accurate, useful, and engaging climate change research information to different audiences in different societal contexts.
Our award-winning general science publication, Knowable Magazine (https://knowablemagazine.org), is the most advanced of the engagement efforts. Published in English and Spanish, it is free to read and republish. Its content appears in major media outlets world-wide, including The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Smithsonian Magazine, and BBC Future. This provides readers with scientifically valid and digestible information via their preferred media outlet.
Several other initiatives are in earlier stages of development, aimed at two-way interactions between climate change researchers and policy makers, business leaders and social influencers. Helping to bridge the gap between research and society on climate change is our way to meet the moment. The extent of these efforts will depend on attracting new funding sources; journal subscription income is used solely to support production of the journals. We are exploring partnerships with technology, media, event and publishing organizations to deliver more usable research knowledge, and to counter misunderstanding, misinformation, and deliberate disinformation.
ATG: Your work at Annual Reviews must keep you extremely busy but everyone needs some down time to relax and recharge. What fun activities do you enjoy when you are not working?
RG: I’m going to give four.
Top billing to our two young grandchildren that my wife and I love spending time with. It’s far too little time as they are 5,000 miles away in London.
I’ve always been a runner and these days I aim for 26 miles per week, outdoors, usually early in the morning. All my other habits are bad, so there’s a lot riding on this one. It’s definitely the best way to explore places when you travel. We also enjoy hiking vacations, which tend to be in France or Spain.
My Francophilia extends to cars — I have a bright green Citroen 2CV, the French equivalent of the VW Bug. It gets more attention in San Francisco than any supercar. However, despite its tiny engine, it is rather polluting, so its outings are increasingly rare.
Last, and not least, I follow Celtic FC. The only time being up at 4am is acceptable is for a match on celtictv.