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New Academic Editor Interview – Niyaz Ahmed

At the end of October 2008, Niyaz Ahmed (PLoS ONE Section Editor for Microbiology and Genomics) passed the milestone of 50 papers handled for PLoS ONE and by the time I caught up with him to congratulate him, he had reached almost 60. Given this great achievement, I thought it would be a perfect excuse to interview him for our ongoing series of ‘Discussions with PLOS ONE Editors”.

Niyaz is a group leader, in charge of a team of 10, at the “Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics” in Hyderabad, India. His lab is interested in the molecular basis of the acquisition and adaptation of chronic pathogens to their host niches, and the outcome of that adaptation in the long run. He kindly took time out of his schedule to speak to me at 11.30 in the evening (just 9 am in San Francisco, with a 13 ½ hour time difference) – this was a time when he would normally be working on PLoS ONE submissions!

PB: Niyaz – tell me what it is like to do research in India?

NA: Being based in India is a huge advantage for my work. India is unfortunately a hot spot for infections such as TB and enteric diseases where my main interests lie. In addition, there is a great deal of cultural and genetic diversity here that broadly influences the acquisition, maintenance and eradication of the diseases. . Therefore, my location is important from a host point of view as well as from a pathogen’s point of view. In addition, in the post genomic era there is a great deal of resources and collaborative interests percolating through to India. My group extensively collaborates with laboratories in Europe and elsewhere and we have a long term collaborative program running at the University of Sassari, Italy.

PB: What do you feel makes PLoS ONE relevant to scientists?

NA: I have spoken to many of the young leaders in science, and most of them think that PLoS ONE is making new headway in science communication, and that its’ most important function is to provide an inclusive forum (by which I mean one can publish topics between the disciplines and across the disciplines). This is the main thing that makes PLoS ONE so distinct. I would also highlight the tools that it provides for rating, evaluation, and post publication commenting, as well as the journal clubs. It is a very open, very inclusive, and yet very smart independent system of publishing – that is what attracts the attention of the new generation. Also some people are very interested in the swift speed at which papers are published. So I think the inclusive scope, the speed and being a platform for discussion are three of the most important things in my opinion.

PB: And tell me about your blog that you write – BLoG ONE

NA: I felt that I would like to air my own ideas about the papers that I am accepting and that I should somehow put what I feel about each particular paper on the web. And that is how I started the blog – as a way to highlight the best of those papers that I have been accepting. This was my way to advocate for PLoS ONE, and each post clearly links back to PLoS ONE. But I don’t just highlight papers that I handle, I also highlight many of the other PLoS ONE papers that are published every week. Although the sole intention of the blog is to advocate for PLoS ONE, I do feel that it highlights the contemporary approach to the OA debate that PLoS ONE represents.

PB: Well, we thank you for doing this – your blog is a very nice example of how to re-promote Open Access content. And what is your opinion on our acceptance criteria?

NA: As a journal we are promoting article level evaluation in the light of new generation, post publication metrics (cites, trackbacks, blog posts, media coverage, ratings, social bookmarking and journal clubs). Impact Factor only matters for the journal level evaluation of the literature. Here, we are inclusive in the sense that if the research is sound, it has adhered to the community standards, and it has been performed with a rigorous methodology then it should be accepted in the literature. So long as the research qualifies to be included in the literature, then we are not worried about its impact because its impact will be determined by the readers and the community. In this way, it is our part to let the content go before the readers and the community and only then to sit and analyze the trends.

PB: How many hours a week would you say you devote to PLoS ONE?

NA: Mostly in the evenings, after I come back from the lab I will be working on my editorial assignments. I typically spend 2 hours a day on my tasks as Section Editor and then for manuscripts that I am personally reviewing, I may work on them for more than a week before being able to submit a review. My institute gives me the freedom to make myself available for this work. They consider my time spent on editorial activities to be part of professional activity, and that is very supportive of them.

PB: What would you say is the ‘best’ paper you have handled and why?

NA: Well, all the articles that I accept are carefully considered after a rigorous peer review. The most noteworthy, however, is the case of a set of two related manuscripts on the topic of coral reef conservation (by Dinsdale and colleagues and Sala and colleagues) that I edited in February this year. My impression is that these papers would have been otherwise published in any of the frontline science journals if they were not fielded in PLoS ONE. Both the articles were based on the Scripps Institute expedition findings and were enthusiastically received by the international media. A commentary on these articles was simultaneously published in PLoS Biology and the articles were evaluated in Faculty of 1000. I have separately indicated why I have recommended publication of these articles and why I liked to handle these articles.

PB: And finally, what would you say is the thing about Open Access that most excites you?

NA: Developing countries are in great need of Open Access. The fruits of the scientific and technological revolution are not reaching them because they have to pay to receive the content. In an Indian case scenario, while the library budgets are dwindling, internet access has become affordable for masses, thanks to our technology driven economy. And that is where OA comes to enhance research productivity as well as the pace of discovery. Finally, I will say, that knowledge should not be kept bound. Knowledge is created to be open. It’s a free world!

PB: That is a great note to end on. Thank you for your time Niyaz, and congratulations again on handling so many papers for PLoS ONE.

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