in the classroom
From scientist to editor
Kostya S. Novoselov, professor of physics at the University of Manchester, UK, has been digging into the details of the
life of an editor by asking Fabio Pulizzi, Chief Editor of Nature Nanotechnology, some inside information on his work.
■ The original idea of this interview was
to discuss the review article ‘The rise of
graphene’, which you asked me and Andre
Geim to write, ten years after its publi
cation. Because we are late I decided to
expand the topics a bit. Still, we can start
from there. You commissioned the Review,
what gave you the idea? Can you remem
ber the details?
The reason was partly trivial: Vincent
Dusastre, my boss at the time, asked me to
think about a review article. I had only just
arrived and the first thing that came to my
mind was carbon electronics. Then I spoke
to you, and you told me you didn’t want to
write anything about carbon nanotubes. You
would have happily written about graphene,
but it was too early. Andre Geim had the
same opinion, but he said that you and he
would contact me as soon as you thought
there was enough material. It was only about
two or three months later that the two of you
came back to me, and told me that you were
ready to write.
■ After all these years it is safe to say
that it was a successful article. I still feel
its curse sometimes, as it is dicult to
move away from the topic, and you are
partly to blame for this. Do you feel some
bias towards graphene now?
Not at all. I have certainly handled a great
deal of manuscripts on graphene in the past.
Part of the reason is the timing. I became
an editor at the moment when graphene
was emerging, thus I have followed it from
the beginning and enjoyed it. The fact is
that we used to receive a huge number of
submissions on graphene, both at Nature
Materials and at Nature Nanotechnology.
I don’t think that had anything to do with
me or the fact that I published that Review,
it was simply the fact that the field was
growing. But the ratio of accepted over
submitted papers was, broadly speaking,
the same as in the other fields. It was just
simply a reflection of what the community
was doing. Now, I see a lot fewer papers
on graphene in terms of submissions and
many more on other types of 2D materials.
More recently we have been seeing many
submissions on 2D ferromagnets, which is
a very interesting topic in my view. Thus, I
don’t feel responsible for graphene. Given
your seminal work I think you are much
more to blame than me!
■ Talking about bias, were you biased
towards your own ﬁeld, semiconductor
optics, when you started, and how long
did it take before that bias vanished?
I was never biased in the sense that I would
favour publications of papers in that field. I
might have had a soft spot in that I enjoyed
following the field and therefore reading
those papers. I still do after 12 years. But the
main reason I chose to become an editor
was that as a researcher I was too focused on
one topic. I was therefore willing to explore
new areas as soon as possible. Of course, it
was easier for me to understand papers on
excitons in semiconductor quantum dots or
wells initially, and still now I read them with
pleasure. But when taking a decision, I have
always treated them like all the others.
■ When you take a decision, how much
is this based on your judgement and how
much do you rely on the reviewers’ opinion?
As an editor, you really have to try not to
look at the technical details and instead
decide whether the results, assuming that
they are technically valid, are likely to be
significant. There are cases in which the
results are simply not substantial enough to
justify any conclusion and you can take a
negative decision based on that. But those
■ So the decision on editorial suitability
is made by you, and you only ask the re
viewers to check the technical aspects?
Yes, in the sense that the editor has the
final word on suitability, even after review.
But this does not mean that we disregard
completely the opinion of reviewers beyond
the technical aspects. If reviewers express
their view on the importance of the results,
we may take that view into account. For
example, if all reviewers tell us that the
results are correct but not necessarily
important we may realize that perhaps our
initial impression was overly optimistic and
decline publication. In other cases, we may
decide that despite the reviewers’ negative
opinion on the importance, as long as the
results are technically correct we shall
publish the paper.
■ Do you argue a lot within your editorial
team? Or is there a clear separation of
topics, so you don’t get into the territory
of your team members?
Essentially one editor is responsible for
a manuscript. We exchange opinions, in
some cases more than in others, and as a
Chief Editor I need to give my blessing of
course, but I trust my team members to
make their decisions. We also discuss a lot
about strategy, for example on how much we
should be looking for fundamental advance
over technological developments.
■ And, how often do you discuss with the
editors of other Nature journals?
Regarding specific papers, never, because
we are editorially independent. Unless we
have decided not to publish a paper and,
with the authors’ permission, we ask
editors at other journals if they are
interested. At a more general level, we
discuss considerably about editorial policies
and strategies. In this period, what I just
mentioned about the balance between
fundamental and technical advance is often
a topic of conversation. It is in the DNA
of Nature editors to look for fundamental
advance, but we are paying much more
attention to technological advances.
■ The publishing world is changing. Do
you think that the editorial and review
processes will one day be performed in a
more automated way?
Frankly, I don’t think so. That sounds like
science fiction to me. Especially for journals
that publish papers in the way that we do,
that’s not going to be possible, because
there is a lot of personality in the way we
make decisions, it’s at the core of the way
we operate. Will it happen for any type
of publication? I don’t know, but I think
that before we reach the point at which
decisions on publications can be taken in an
automated way, science communication will
have changed more radically, in ways that I
cannot even imagine.
NATURE NANOTECHNOLOGY | VOL 13 | JUNE 2018 | 522–523 | www.nature.com/naturenanotechnology
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