In this blog, we talk to Erwin Dreyer, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Annals of Forest Science, about the changing world of scientific publishing in forest sciences, including the transition to open science and the importance of sharing data and maintaining scientific integrity through rigorous peer review.
I was recruited in 1980 by the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA1) to work on tree ecophysiology issues specifically identifying the impact of soil water shortages. Using quantitative approaches, tree ecophysiology measures fluxes of water, carbon, and other elements in the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum. This can be done on a leaf, plant, or forest scale using increasingly advanced methods. Scaling from leaf to forest has provided better understanding of how forests and vegetation contribute to global cycles of carbon, water, nitrogen, and other elements.
The transition from the hybrid model (subscription plus Optional Open Access) to full Open Access took place on 1 January 2022 and it is still too early to assess its effects. The decrease in article submissions we have seen since is a preliminary indicator, and hopefully, it's temporary.
Open Access is just one facet of scientific publishing's ongoing developments. The number of articles published in forestry has doubled in the last two decades due to increased publishing by researchers, which has led to a rise in open access journals that use artificial intelligence tools and active communication to attract customers. The more established journals, such as Annals of Forest Science, and the publishers who carry them, need to evolve in their relationship with authors to remain attractive. Above all, they must ensure scientific quality through an efficient, high-quality, and preferably open peer review process.
Our journals must also support the preprints movement and accept that such manuscripts are evaluated by peer communities: these public and referenced evaluations can be taken up and completed in a second phase by journals for publication of a final version of the article. In our field, a "Peer Community in Forest & Wood Sciences2 " has been set up and started its activities in 2021. Annals of Forest Science is a PCI-friendly journal.
Annals of Forest Science has been encouraging authors to deposit data in institutional repositories for almost 10 years. Springer Nature's four types of data policies have been helpful in encouraging data deposition, as the journal cannot force researchers to do so. Lack of data or codes for analysis can compromise peer review and full use of research results. The journal has introduced data papers, which share large databases for further analysis and reuse. Authors are strongly urged to deposit data in a repository, as France is implementing a policy that will require structured and documented data deposits. Peer review is essential to maintain quality in the face of the increasing number of papers published. Editorial work and peer review are the real added value of publishing in a research journal.
The forest research community faces many challenges due to climate and global change and Open science practices are important for disseminating results quickly in a context of rapidly evolving publishing models. These changes are partly linked to digital technology, partly to the fact that everything is being disseminated very quickly with the emergence of preprints and new communication tools. Scientific integrity is of utmost importance in this context, as minor breaches can accumulate and lead to significant consequences. Journals must address these issues and publishers like Springer Nature should communicate about scientific integrity requirements. COPE3 (Committee on publication ethics) is doing good work in this area, with Springer Nature and INRAE as members.
INRAE's contract with Springer Nature for 6 research journals ensures that editorial boards (made up of international scientists) make decisions on publishing submitted manuscripts based on strict criteria of quality and scientific integrity. There are no quantitative constraints and both INRAE and Springer Nature prioritize maintaining these standards.
Quality is very subjective. In prestigious journals, originality and novelty of results are key. For us, scientific integrity and respect of scientific rules are paramount, especially amid the reproducibility crisis. It is also necessary to strengthen confidence in what is published. Springer Nature provides tools to facilitate quality control by the scientific community, but the responsibility for ensuring scientific integrity rests with editors, reviewers, authors, and users. Stronger communication on this subject should probably be carried out jointly by the journals and Springer Nature.
About the author
Erwin Dreyer is a tree physiologist and forest ecologist and a researcher emeritus at INRAE. Since 2007, he has been editor-in-chief of the journal Annals of Forest Science. He is currently involved in the development of open science practices, including scientific publishing within INRAE and its partner institutions.