Head of Cancer Biology at the Institute of Cancer Research, Jon Pines FRS has been a member of the Open Biology editorial board since its creation and in January 2020, takes over David Glover FRS who concludes his term as Editor in Chief at the end of the year. Jon’s research interests include cell division, the cell cycle and mitosis.
What makes a good paper for Open Biology?
When submitting to Open Biology it’s important that people remind themselves of the essentials of a good scientific article. I need to be able to see your hypothesis and clearly understand the aim of the paper and how it will advance our current knowledge. Then I need to examine data that supports your conclusions. This should be based on a clear, logical, rational series of experiments that are testing your hypothesis and excluding other potential models.
Finally at the end of the paper I want to know more than when I started reading.
Remembering these essential components can really raise the quality of a paper. As the author it’s important to step back and ask yourself; what is the question I’m trying to answer? Why is it important? And is there an alternative explanation to the one that I have?
What sets apart a great paper from the good ones?
Among the many papers I read for Open Biology an exciting hypothesis will always attract my attention; a hypothesis that represents a real step forward. Crucially though, the author needs to have the data to support their conclusions.
The abstract is important, you need to convince the editors, and any readers, that they want to invest time in analysing the paper. There are many guides to writing a good abstract that researchers can seek out, but this is definitely a skill worth developing. I want to read something that sets the scene, clearly articulates the question to be answered and that tells me what the conclusion is.
Are there any common mistakes you’d encourage people to avoid?
Over hyping the conclusion is one that does come up. As I said, a hypothesis needs to be validated with the data.
Also, make sure you are addressing an important research question through testing a hypothesis, rather than just describing something. A series of observations without an overarching hypothesis isn’t particularly interesting. If you’re not trying to answer a question but just describing what you’ve done then that’s easy for us to see that your paper won’t be a good fit for Open Biology.
Have you seen changes over your career as a researcher and an editor?
Open access is the biggest one. The principle of openness is a key part of science. It’s important that data is freely available to everyone for them to build upon. People now understand that science should be as open, transparent and collaborative as possible and a key part of that is making sure that the results of the research are freely available.Another change is that many journals have a transparent reviewer process. It helps researchers to know that their science is being judged objectively. Some journals have introduced open discussion between reviewers that in many cases moderates the more strident opinions; I think that is really constructive.
What papers would you like more of for Open Biology?
For Open Biology of course I personally will always be interested to see articles in my own research area; the cell cycle and chromosome segregation. But a lot of science is becoming interdisciplinary, there are really exciting collaborations between biologists and engineers and physical scientist that are resulting in new types of papers.There is a tendency for people to publish things far more quickly. In the past people wrote up and published when they had a fairly complete story. Now there are a lot of articles describing relatively incremental advances, and this is making our literature unwieldy. I’d encourage researchers not to limit themselves to publishing just the next logical step. I’d definitely like to see more rounded, insightful papers that represent a real advance in the field. That probably means people publishing better but fewer papers.I’m interested to read more papers that offer speculation on a hypothesis, perhaps after a review of the literature, and suggest an interesting alternative explanation that is away from the dogma of the field.
But most of all; be ambitious, go after the big questions.
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Professor Jonathon Pines FRS, Institute of Cancer Research, UK © The Royal Society