ASHG Journals Seek Respondents for Reader Survey

Editors – Bruce R. Korf, MD, PhD, AJHG and Michael Bamshad, MD, HGG Advances

Scientific publishing has been central to the mission of The American Society of Human Genetics since its inception, first with the establishment of the American Journal of Human Genetics in 1949 and more recently with the launch of Human Genetics and Genomics Advances in 2020. The pace of advance of human genetics and genomics research has accelerated dramatically in recent years, and the same can be said for changes in the landscape of scientific publishing. As a result, what constitutes the scope of human genetics and genomics research is constantly evolving, as are the venues available to authors to report their work. We feel strongly at ASHG that our publications must keep pace with new developments in both the human genetics research landscape and the scientific publishing landscape, while always maintaining the highest level of scientific rigor. Given this imperative, we are launching a survey intended to gather information both from readers and authors to help us assess the degree to which AJHG and HGGA are meeting the needs of both, and where we should be considering changes in our publication efforts.

The concept of a “reader” of a scientific journal needs to be redefined in the digital era. AJHG is now primarily distributed electronically and HGGA has been from the start, so few if any are reading a physical copy of either journal. Some may peruse the electronic tables of contents and open papers of interest; others may learn of papers through services that search recently published work using preset keywords. Better understanding of how human genetics researchers remain aware of recent publications and the degree to which front matter such as digests of papers published in the journal or commentaries and perspectives are read will help us in our planning of contents. We are also eager to learn whether there are aspects of human genetics and genomics research that are under-represented in the journals.

We think that authors remain interested in the widest possible distribution of their research findings, and hope that they find the review process to be constructive and helpful in improving their published work. There is an increasing array of options that might fulfill these needs, including the use of preprint servers and open access journals, and increasing pressure from funders to share research papers and data so that they are widely and freely available to the community; however, this also has the potential to increase the costs and the effort involved in getting a paper published and uploading data to appropriate repositories. We are therefore hoping to get a sense of the priorities of our authors regarding the process of publication and data sharing.

We also recognize and strongly support efforts toward centering equity (i.e., recognizing that BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] communities have experienced historic injustices and trauma, and this recognition serves as a base, in part, of our overall efforts) in human genetics research and publishing. In practice this means we’re committed to developing and promoting programs that build equity among the scholars contributing their work as well as serving as editors and reviewers for both journals, and expanding content that provides context and commentary about issues of equity. With this in mind, the survey asks questions that we hope will help us better appreciate the perspectives of respondents and how their different perspectives influence their opinions about equity-building programs under consideration.

We recognize the effort involved in completing yet another survey. We will acknowledge your effort in three ways. First, those who complete the survey will be entered into a drawing for free registration at the ASHG 2021 Virtual Meeting. We realize, of course, that human geneticists are well aware of the laws of probability, so will be only minimally incentivized by this possibility of reward. More tangibly, we will report back to the community our findings at the completion of the survey, and, more importantly still, use the results to inform our efforts to continue to evolve both journals. We therefore hope to have a high rate of response to the survey to ensure that ASHG’s publication efforts remain not only at the center of the ASHG mission, but also continue to serve the human genetics community with high quality publications that help all of you to continue to advance the field.

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