Science names new editor-in-chief

Jeremy Berg
Jeremy Berg, via AAAS

Science has a new editor-in-chief.

As of July 1st, Jeremy M. Berg will be at the helm of the family of journals published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, replacing Marcia McNutt. McNutt is leaving to become president of the National Academy of Sciences.

Berg, now associate senior vice chancellor for science strategy and planning in the health sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, has led the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), and was president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) from 2012-2014.

Berg who said in an AAAS press release that he is “thrilled and humbled by the opportunity to work with the team at Science and AAAS,” assumes the role following a year in which one of the world’s most prominent academic journals has faced significant scrutiny. In the past year, under McNutt, the journal wavered about how to handle a long-criticized chemistry paper, received a letter signed by hundreds criticizing them for promoting damaging stereotypes, and retracted the now-infamous study on changing minds about same-sex marriage — a story that caused our site to crash.

But like McNutt, who has made herself more and more available to the media and to readers to respond to concerns, Berg has written about his commitment to transparency. In a President’s Message during his time at the ASBMB, he said that he had an advisor at Harvard who held town hall-style meetings for his graduate students, and that he once filed a Freedom of Information Act request in an attempt to learn why a center at the National Institutes of Health was abolished.

He wrote:

In my experience, transparency almost always improves outcomes and has a positive impact on the perceptions and attitudes of even those who do not agree with a decision. Certainly, some information is sensitive and cannot be shared widely without causing difficulties. Furthermore, achieving transparency is not always simple, even when desired, because effective communication and engagement can be quite challenging. Nonetheless, all will benefit if we encourage or even insist on greater transparency from organizations with which we are involved.

And Berg was the first author of an article in last week’s Science summarizing the promises and challenges of using preprints — popular with physicists, not yet widely used among biologists:

Currently, the time between manuscript submission and paper publication is unpredictable and can be long. Depositing a manuscript in a preprint archive makes the work publicly available almost immediately. Posting preprints has the added benefit of democratizing the flow of information and making it available to all investigators across the globe, while allowing journals to make their own judgments of appropriateness and interest after peer review. Publicly available preprints provide an opportunity for authors to obtain feedback beyond the few scientists who see the manuscript during peer review. Finally, preprint archives also document the history of the ideas, as old versions of a manuscript are maintained even after revisions of the work are submitted.

It would appear that Berg’s granddaughter is excited about the news of his appointment:

Update, May 26th 1:00 PM EST

We spoke to Berg this afternoon by phone.

We asked what the biggest issues facing Science and publishing are. Berg said:

Well I think one of the issues facing Marcia McNutt is the whole reproducibility issue. I would reframe it a little more broadly as an issue of trust of the science enterprise both within [science] and with the public. [We need to] both get the diagnosis right and figure out the treatment.

Berg also told us more about his commitment to transparency:

When I moved to NIH, once I learned my way around and learned that there was actually a lot of rational discussion that lead to some of the policies that the community was confused about, I started an electronic newsletter, I started a blog…I am sure once I get to AAAS and learn what data are available and how they’re used, I will figure out a way to share them with the community.

When he left the NIH, he would often call people up with questions — until higher-ups said that he had to go through the same channels as everyone else to get information. Now, he’s “a frequent filer of FOIA requests.”

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