Sunday, April 14, 2024

Vladimir Mrša | Future of Medical Journals

by Editor

Vladimir Mrša is Editor-in-chief of Food Technology and Biotechnology. “one of the best science journals in Croatia… and we try to keep it this way.” 

This interview took place as part of the 30th anniversary celebrations of the Croatian medical Journal

Watch the interview and enjoy the conversation

In conversation with… Vladimir Mrša

Being a journal editor is quite a challenge, what are the challenges you face at the moment?

The challenges are many.  We live in a world that is constantly changing and the changes fast. So, rapid adaptation to changes in the world is one of the challenges of a scientific journal. The other challenge is, of course, finance.  Publishing papers costs money and now we have different models of financing scientific journals- from a model where institutions and libraries pay for publishing, to authors paying for publishing and now, in some Diamond access journals, someone else pays in exchange of research data. This is a challenge because, on one hand a scientific journal-every journal in fact- needs stability and, on the other, all these changes which are the opposite of this stability.

DMacA: Food technology changes very rapidly and there are huge changes in the way we think of food, trends in food. That must be an enormous challenge to a journal like yours?

VM: These changes in technology are something that we have to reflect in our papers. It is not just the quality of the paper but the message the paper will send to readers is also very important.  And, we also have technology in the publishing process and that transforms the journal itself. And these are somehow interwoven because they all affect the way we publish scientific information today.

DMacA: One of the challenges in many medical journals is pressure from industry. I guess in the food industry there is enormous pressure as well?

VM: Yes, well this is a part of a broader issue, which again includes the finance.  Because we now have research that is primarily financed by public sources. But, especially in in our field, we also have research that is funded by private sources, and more and more we have an intermediate state where part of the research is paid for by taxpayers and the other part  by private companies.  Now, as the whole of science moves towards open science, we would like to have a more open environment with open access to research data.  But, research is getting more and more expensive, especially in the field of medical research and biotechnology where you need more and more money to get competitive results, and it becomes more and more clear that public sources are not going to be sufficient for research.  So, the research institutions are looking for additional sources of money amongst the private investors. And this sheds a different light on the question of open science because, of course, if private money is involved, an investor will not be very happy with open access to the data.  Now this is where we have to have a balance, and we have to find ways of coping with what is a more and more hybrid situation.

DMacA: One of the concerns we have in medical journals is misconduct.  Is scientific misconduct a problem with the food technology industry?

VM: It can be, yes. Misconduct in science is not restricted to a particular field of science, it is more a consequences of the direction science in general is going.  Scientists are subject to constant evaluation and this evaluation, using metrics as the major parameter, and this puts a scientist, and especially a young scientist, into a position that his job may be jeopardized if he or she does not have a sufficient number of papers in journals with high impact factor, the h-index  is going to be scrutinised and, in such a situation it’s not surprising, I think, that we have more cases of misconduct.  People are simply put in a situation that their life existence depends on the metrics of the journal.

DMacA: The other big change in publishing is the increase in the number of pre-prints, the potential to use repositories, different ways of publishing.  Is this something you’re interested in, how things are happening, how things are changing?

VM: We are definitely interested in it because we cannot avoid it.  It’s the future.  If  you ask me what a science magazine, a science journal, will look like in 10 years, I don’t know.  But the only thing I do know, is that it will not look like the journal today. Everything is going to be different.  

The publishing system is there for several reasons. One, it is a part of science.  Communication is a part of science.  I often try to the compare scientific process with a cake. You have different layers- you have a layer of research, creating or gathering data. Then you have a layer of communication because you have to communicate these data.  And you get the feedback from others to these data you have communicated. And then your next layer of research will depend on this response, and the next communication will depend on the next research, so you have these repeated layers. 

But, it is not only the communication itself, it is also the evaluation process that is driven through the journals. We need some form of evaluation, and the evaluation will always be determined by the researchers’ output and this is in their papers.  It’s just that perhaps today it is oversimplified by using pure metric numbers.

DMacA: You spoke there about communication and, of course, you have another group who are very interested in what you do- they’re the consumers and the media. How do you see the interaction between journals and the population in general?

VM: It is more and more difficult.  If you asked me this question 40 years ago when I was a student. I would have said that at least the media, people from the media, could read research papers and get an idea of what we are doing and then communicate it, put in a way that that the public will understand and accept. Today it’s more and more difficult because research communication, scientific communication, is focused more and more on narrower topics.  And so, in my opinion, we need a completely new set of vehicles to transform our research data into something that the public can understand,  and put it in context of broader problems.

The other aspect, as I mentioned, is evaluation. This is something that is very very important because scientists have lost at least part of their credibility in the recent years.  We need this credibility because, otherwise, nothing we do makes sense.  We have to be trusted. The data that we publish has to be trusted.  This has always been so in the past.  And whenever you wanted to argue about something, you went to the scientific data and looked at the scientific data and quoted what scientists had said about it.  Now, in recent years, in the last decade or two, this has been lost to some extent and this is very dangerous because, if you lose trust in science. People have to be able to trust something, somebody. If they don’t trust scientists it may be very dangerous.

DMacA: Thank you for this wonderful conversation about what’s happening in publishing, what’s happening in your particular industry. But what a fantastic note to finish on- the whole issue of scientific trust.  Thank you very much indeed.

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