With pre-print services, data sharing, open access, and the internet rapidly changing the journal publication landscape, Toxicological Sciences Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey M. Peters provides co-hosts Anne Chappelle and David Faulkner with perspective on how journals are adapting to the times. Dr. Peters also details how new training and guidance programs at ToxSci are aiming to enhance submissions and peer reviews.
About the Guest
Jeffrey M. Peters, PhD, is a Distinguished Professor of molecular toxicology and carcinogenesis in the College of Agricultural Sciences and the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences at the Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). He also serves as Deputy Director of the Penn State Cancer Institute, where his role is to catalyze collaborations among cancer researchers across Penn State’s colleges and campuses.
Dr. Peters has served on many editorial boards, including that of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, and he is the Editor-in-Chief of Toxicological Sciences, the official journal of the Society of Toxicology (SOT).
Dr. Peters joined Penn State in 2000 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland. He holds a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and a doctorate in nutrition science, both from the University of California Davis. Dr. Peters also completed postdoctoral fellowships in the Department of Cell Biology and Human Anatomy and the Institute of Toxicology and Environmental Health at UC-Davis.
Dr. Peters holds long-standing NCI funding for his research program related to cancer and lipid metabolism. His laboratory studies the role of the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) in the regulation of homeostasis, toxicology, and carcinogenesis. PPARs are members of the nuclear receptor superfamily and are critical modulators of environmental and dietary stimuli. The lab is particularly interested in delineating how natural compounds found in dietary constituents can activate PPARs, with the goal of identifying new molecules/proteins that can be targeted with existing approaches to improve the efficacy of chemoprevention and chemotherapy. These studies will likely lead to the identification of specific macronutrients that will effectively activate PPARs so that dietary formulations of agricultural products can be developed that will improve human and animal health and prevent serious diseases.
Dr. Peters also is the Associate Director of the Center for Molecular Toxicology and Carcinogenesis at Penn State and was previously the co-leader of the Cancer Institute’s Mechanisms of Carcinogenesis research program.
The viewpoints and information presented in Adverse Reactions represent those of the participating individuals. Although the Society of Toxicology holds the copyright to the production, it does not vet or review the information presented, nor does presenting and distributing the Adverse Reactions podcast represent any proposal or endorsement of any position by the Society.
David Faulkner: Welcome to Adverse Reactions. I'm David Faulkner
Anne Chappelle: And I'm Anne Chappelle.
David Faulkner: I'm a toxicologist and a risk assessor.
Anne Chappelle: I'm also a toxicologist, and I was once on the cover of Mutation Research. Actually, it was just a photo micrograph.
David Faulkner: But you made it.
Anne Chappelle: I did. I did.
David Faulkner: And on this show, we explore the stories behind the science.
Anne Chappelle: This is where we talk to toxicology experts from around the country and around the globe that use the field of toxicology to advance public health and also to protect the environment.
David Faulkner: This episode of Adverse Reactions, "All the Tox That's Fit to Print . . . or Present . . . or Blog."
Jeffrey Peters: With respect to peer reviewing, I mean, when you're asked, if you want to advance in your career, you best accept those invitations. You should be so lucky to get them.
Anne Chappelle: With our guest Jeff Peters, Editor-in-Chief of Toxicological Sciences, the official journal of the Society of Toxicology.
Jeffrey Peters: And that's my problem with preprints: that the information is disseminated before it's peer reviewed. And I don't care if you're trying to cover your tracks so that you're the first one to get that. That means not as much to me as it does to make sure that the information is correct.
Anne Chappelle: Jeff, thanks for being with us. Tell me about the Toxicological Sciences journal.
Jeffrey Peters: It's been around for a while. It's an official journal of Society to Toxicology. I've always viewed it in high regard, even when I was a postdoc. I still do. It's a very good journal. I think that the journal itself represents the Society, so articles in there should represent Society members, as well as other toxicologists throughout the world that want to publish their best research. And that's what we're looking for: impactful science that's going to move the field of toxicology forward.
I think that as it sits right now, it's clearly one of the best journals in the field, and in my opinion, it is the best journal in the field. I'm slightly biased there.
David Faulkner: Of course. Of course.
Anne Chappelle: Do you base that on your impact factor? Because impact factor can be tricky.
Jeffrey Peters: I'm not going to get into a huge discussion about impact factor. Impact factor is clearly important. It's something that we think about, but I think it's a metric that's dynamic in nature and moving right now. I don't think it's going to be the end-all for all journals, but I think it's important for us to be cognizant of what it is and cognizant of how it's derived. And that is going to influence us in what is published.
David Faulkner: What do you think the role is for journals in the future? Because things are definitely changing. The pace of the publishing industry is changing. You've got all these preprint servers and just the way that information is shared is changing rapidly because of the internet.
Jeffrey Peters: If you think of journals the way I do, journals were never online back in the day; we had to go to the library. So, now they're online and canned or printed in some cases. When you ask in the future with data sharing, for example, where is that going? The answer is that we promote data sharing. We encourage it strongly, but we can't really require it at this point.
I think once institutional places that fund science that may require this kind of thing, we might find sharing of data a little bit more. The NIH, National Institutes of Health, has come down with some guidelines about that, and I think they're going to be implemented in the near future, and we're aware of those. They have not finalized those plans. I think that they're still kind of working through that, from "you can have all my data" to "you can't." You're going to have to find somewhere in between. I think people need to be aware that there is an issue with that, and it really deals with reproducibility, and that's really the big issue.
David Faulkner: So that actually brings me to a tricky question of publishing negative results. In the field of toxicology, knowing what some things don't do can be just as important in a lot of ways. It's hard to persuade a lot of publishers to say, you know, look, I looked at all these chemicals and they didn't do anything in this assay. How do we deal with that as a profession? Because I think that those are really important things.
Jeffrey Peters: I totally agree. If you look at my CV, you'll find probably about 15 papers that are negative in nature—all fully negative in nature—and I think they're great papers. They've been cited a lot. That being said, I probably wouldn't publish them in ToxSci. I mean, I'm not trying to say that a negative paper wouldn't get published or couldn't; it probably could, but it would have to be impactful. I mean, to say that you screen chemicals and say it didn't do something, that would be important if we were concerned about them doing something. So, you have to take it into context. You can't just make a blanket policy and say, we will or will not publish negative data. I'm open-minded to anything as long as it's impactful.
David Faulkner: It seems like it's a balancing act to make sure that there's enough variety and interesting things going into the journal. What do you think about in terms of molecular versus more population-level-type things, getting into industrial versus ecological? Is there any kind of consideration of these things as you're putting together an issue?
Jeffrey Peters: So, there were two questions, I think. One, the balancing act issue, and that is completely out of my control. It's what's submitted, and it's what the Editorial Board and the Associate Editors decide along with me. So, we have no clue what's coming in in any given year, month, week, whatever; it's just what comes in.
In terms of interests, our interests are diverse, and we expanded the categories and the areas that were covered. We definitely include population issues. We're very interested in population sciences. We're interested in exposures. We're interested in molecular. We're interested in everything.
There's no specific region or category, I would say, that we're looking for per se. It just has to be something that's of interest. And quite frankly, the easiest way to capture that is writing a good cover letter or writing a really good abstract and including a really good impact statement that we require. That's your opening monologue, and a lot of people don't take the time to actually give us that impact statement and craft it the way they should. Something to think about, especially for junior investigators.
Anne Chappelle: That is a really good point because you're the only one that knows how important your research is, and it's hard to extrapolate that sometimes across different disciplines. The SOT in their Strategic Plan has an active program to try to have more translational research. And so how do we increase our impact and our interaction with clinical physicians? How do you help grow and make the journal more inclusive?
Jeffrey Peters: We're trying to be open-minded in the sense that we want to be inclusive to the members to cover all categories that people are studying. So that's important to do that. But the translational component, I mean, that's tricky. I'm Deputy Director of a cancer institute, and obviously, we want to take our basic findings into the clinic. That's a very important part. NCI measures that by the number of clinical trials we start. That's not what ToxSci is about. I don't think I've ever even seen a clinical trial come into the journal in the entire time I've been as an Editor-in-Chief yet. I have seen papers that you might call translational in nature because they're looking at trying to translate findings into regulatory issues or things like that. So that comes down the pipeline and that we're interested in, definitely.
David Faulkner: I was doing a talk last week. One of the questions that I got was, how do you improve your writing? The question was, how important is writing if I'm a scientist? I'm a scientist; why do I need to know how to write? And I said, oh, it's one of the most important things you can do as a scientist is be a good writer. And then the immediate follow-up was, how do I do that? I'm curious if you have any advice for people who are trying to put together their first manuscript and they're not really sure what to do.
Jeffrey Peters: Sure. I mean, the easiest thing to think about when you're new is just go back to when you were in lab and in college and think, how did you write up your lab report? Same way. You're just giving him an introduction, telling him why you're doing the study, giving him a rationale. Two of the biggest things that I see that are missing in a lot of things in ToxSci are the dose and route of exposure. A lot of people do high-dose toxicology that doesn't mean anything, because you want real-life exposures and people don't model that. And if you don't justify that in your introduction, it's not going to fare well for you.
That's probably one of the most critical things; it's the dose that makes the poison. That's the mantra that, you know, we all say as toxicologists. Yet when the paper is submitted, they don't focus on that. So, advice for writers: practice, practice, practice. Write them up like lab reports to start it. Take your poster that you presented at SOT the one year—that's going to be your backbone for your paper—and build on that.
Work with your mentor on a regular basis; go and see him or her. I mean, my encouragement to my students and postdocs is to write as you work, to prepare the paper before you start, to write the introduction before you start the experiments to understand what you're doing before you do it. And all those things will help you write better because when you get down and you're done and your data's there, you need to tell everybody else what it means. That takes practice. And conciseness is important. Most studies can be summed up in three to five paragraphs, and you don't need to write 10.
Anne Chappelle: That is a skill. How much of that is mentoring though, really, and say, you know, so maybe your lab doesn't have somebody who's pushing you to publish or recognize that? I mean, how do you find people to help you?
Jeffrey Peters: So, we've got training that's been coming on board for the Editorial Board as well as the Associate Editors, but we're trying to implement training eventually get down to the authors. Just like you're saying, we want to encourage and help. That being said, you're going to have to do the good science and do the good writing. That takes good mentoring. You have to get a good mentor. I mean, you really do. I got Frank Gonzales; the guy turned me into a hammerhead. I mean, he did. I left his lab. I could have picked any job I wanted because he trained me so well and I knew exactly what to do. And he was getting invitations to get papers reviewed. Because he was getting invitations couldn't accept them, I could review for him, and that's how I got into the door that way. So, coupled with the fact that I was, you know, multitasking 10 to 12 projects at a time, just working my tail off, and that's how you get ahead.
David Faulkner: Yeah, absolutely. I am already reflecting on things that I've done in the past and thinking, I really wish I'd had some of this information back when I was a PhD student, because I probably would have done stuff differently.
I remember distinctly, I was getting passed a lot of papers to review from my PhD advisor. I got an invitation from a journal to do more peer-review stuff, and they would occasionally send me papers. And for a while, I was like, yeah, I'll do this. But then it got to the point where I was getting towards the end of my PhD and I was trying to write up my dissertation and I just didn't have time.
And so I sent an email, I just can't do this for a while, and so then they took me off the peer-review list and I never heard back from them. And now I'm thinking, maybe there's another way I could have handled that.
Anne Chappelle: If you want to peer review for ToxSci, do you email one of the editors?
Jeffrey Peters: You could try that. What we do is we send out an email to the Associate Editors and ask them for suggestions. So yes, they can send emails. I do compile a list and look at them at the end of the year, and it's a need-based thing.
Anne Chappelle: And I like hearing that you're working on some training for authors, but I also like the idea of the training for the Associate Editors and up to the Deputy Editors because this is a great way to really contribute to the Society, contribute to science overall, but it isn't always clear the path and the skill set that you need to be able to be a very effective editor, as well as it all depends on the journal, too, because you see all different kinds of quality of journals and the way that they're run. It's almost to me like when they're looking for a new editor, it's like Match.com. You know, that you have this little profile, and swipe left or swipe right. Oh, there's no way I want this person as an editor.
Jeffrey Peters: Yeah. You know, getting to be an Editorial Board, the whole thing is just kind of hard. It's something that people need to get themselves wrapped around. It kind of even starts with when we talked about impact factor to begin with. Because when you're young, you don't even realize what that means. You're publishing a paper in a journal and you're excited about it. You weren't thinking as much back then about what impact meant.
But as you mature, I went to NCI, and I learned really fast that this is what you do to get into a good journal. I mean, I was going into very high-impact journals, and I have papers I published in ToxSci because I thought it was super important. And I can tell you, it is important because it's been cited a bunch. When I crafted that paper, it was because I knew it was designed for that because I had the training. But it took time to get there. So, at the same time, when it comes to what it takes to be an editor, or an editor on the Editorial Board, to be an Associate Editor, it takes the training to understand, to be able to see through the weeds and pick up the paper and realize that this is a good paper, this is not, and this is why it is. And it's not because, you know, you're finding that they do this method wrong or something like that. It's really because what they did, the approach or whatever, was not—the dose wasn't justified, the route of exposure was incorrect, or that's already been done 50 years ago. You know what I mean? You have to have a very diverse Editorial Board to depend on and rely on that know the fields.
The training issue is something that's going to continue. That's my goal—with the Editorial Board, as well as the Associate Editors. And there's a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes to help them; they actually have tutorials available for them. So, when they're in there doing their reviews, they can click links and get answers to questions about issues they have about peer review.
David Faulkner: It's really interesting to hear you talk about the training process for becoming an editor, and part of that is just experiential. You just have to do with the work. You have to put in the hours.
Jeffrey Peters: Oh, yeah, definitely. You just don't do things unless they're thorough. One of my friends always tells me, and if he listens to this, he'll crack up, because he always tells me, you know, the best scientists are the ones that run the most controls.
Because every student, you tell them, you go, run a negative control and run a positive control, they don't want to do it. You know, they don't want to run the extra steps. But you say, listen, those are the ones they're going to tell you the right answer. Because if you don't have the positive and negative controls—with an s—you're not going to have good data. And that's the problem I find with most people: they don't plan ahead well enough.
David Faulkner: Yeah, especially with the race to publish, it's very tempting to just try to get to the exciting result that matches your hypothesis as quickly as possible.
Jeffrey Peters: Actually, that’s a good point. A term I do not like it all is when they say, prove a hypothesis. You test hypotheses. You either reject or accept the null. I mean, that's it.
David Faulkner: Yeah. I've described science is the process of me trying to prove myself wrong over and over again. And if I ever I fail to do that, then that's something worth writing up.
Jeffrey Peters: I constantly challenge everyone in my lab to do the same thing.
Anne Chappelle: So, I've gotten that dreaded letter before from my county that says, "you've been picked for jury duty." And I tend to look at that as the same as if you get a request to do a peer review. And I think that's the wrong approach. How do you think of people or how hard it is to find good peer reviewers and why people don't necessarily use that as an opportunity more often to improve their skills, to volunteer, in essence, for the Society, to improve?
Jeffrey Peters: With respect to peer reviewing, I mean, when you're asked, if you want to advance in your career, you best accept those invitations. You should be so lucky to get them.
Anne Chappelle: Exactly.
Jeffrey Peters: People don't understand that, but you should do it. And it is essential.
Anne Chappelle: If you had to give me, off the top of your head, your top three pet peeves being the editor of ToxSci?
Jeffrey Peters: Number one: impact statement. Number two: dose. Number three: route of exposure. That's it. I guess I'd go four and say a solid, rigorous approach.
Anne Chappelle: I am working on a manuscript right now. I will keep that in mind.
David Faulkner: Thinking about, again, changes in the publishing industry, what are your thoughts about open access and increasing accessibility?
Jeffrey Peters: It's something that we talk about every year and have for probably 15, 20 years now, it seems like. Open access, it's got its pluses and minuses. If you go to open access, that means that you're going to have to charge X amount of dollars, which is going to drive authors away and then suddenly you're depleting your resources there, so it's a catch-22. With a third-world country, you have a good science coming in and they want to publish it, but they can't afford to pay it; that's not fair. You know, you have to provide opportunities for that.
David Faulkner: As long as we're talking about interesting and uncomfortable elements of the publishing world at this point, I was wondering about preprint servers and what do you think about the emerging role of preprint servers?
I think we've definitely seen, especially with the pandemic and the way that preprint servers have played this outsize role in the way that people have gotten information and information has spread, we've definitely seen examples of where this model has been used to great effect, where excellent papers were able to get seen a little bit earlier.
Jeffrey Peters: I don't have a very strong opinion. I would never put one on myself. I was always taught, you keep your data, you put it in your poster, you can share it with your colleagues. Until it's published, it's in our lab. I mean, now, we're trying to be more transparent, so I'd be a little bit more open to that kind of a thing, but I wouldn't go to a preprint because it's not been peer reviewed. And quite frankly, I've seen many preprints that are incorrect. It gets it out of the bag, and once somebody says it, it's hard to forget it. And that's my problem with preprints: that the information is disseminated before it's peer reviewed. And I don't care if you're trying to cover your tracks so that you're the first one to get that. That means not as much to me as it does to make sure that the information is correct.
David Faulkner: It does raise an interesting question, I think, which is the process of peer review and publishing just takes time. When you have something, for example, like COVID-19, and you need to get information out soon, what is the balance of urgency and ensuring that everything goes to the proper channels? Because it seems like there's definitely a trade-off there.
Jeffrey Peters: If you have a final product—say it's got seven, eight figures, multi-panel figures, in there—if you send it to our journal and it's a good article and we look it over and send it out and maybe it comes back with revisions or whatever, you can get that thing published within a month and a half to two months. I mean, it would be online. So, I don't see that as being slow. I actually see that as being pretty fast.
Anne Chappelle: So, my last question: Why on earth would you take this job on top of all of the other stuff that you've got going on in your life?
Jeffrey Peters: Because I like to do things like this. I like to take the things and make them better. That's what I was trained to do. And so, when I came into it, I wouldn't have done this job unless I thought I could do it and make the journal better. I think I can make it better, and that's what I'm doing. It's not an easy position. I didn't take it lightly; I can tell you that.
David Faulkner: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. We really appreciate it. This has been a great conversation.
Jeffrey Peters: You're welcome. It was nice talking to you. Thank you for inviting me.
Anne Chappelle: So, I'm glad today that we were able to talk with Jeff.
David Faulkner: Another interview in the books.
Anne Chappelle: Apparently, it's not all the toxicology that's fit to print, but also to podcast.
David Faulkner: And now, the teaser.
Anne Chappelle: Next time on Adverse Reactions:
David Faulkner: "To Breathe a Little Easier and Why the Lungs Are the Sexiest Organ."
Anne Chappelle: We speak with Ilona Jaspers from the University of North Carolina.
Ilona Jaspers: In terms of the air that we breathe in on a daily basis, how much of the external environment that's surrounding us actually comes into contact with the body is much more important in the lung than it is for the skin.
Anne Chappelle: Thank you, all, for joining us for this episode of Adverse Reactions, presented by the Society of Toxicology.
David Faulkner: And thank you to Dave Leve at Ma3stro Studios.
Anne Chappelle: That's Ma3stro with a three, not an E.
David Faulkner: Who created and produced all the music for Adverse Reactions, including the theme song, "Decompose."
Anne Chappelle: The viewpoints and information presented in Adverse Reactions represent those of the participating individuals. Although the Society of Toxicology holds the copyright to this production, it has,
David Faulkner: definitely,
Anne Chappelle: not vetted or reviewed the information presented herein,
David Faulkner: nor does presenting and distributing this podcast represent any proposal or endorsement of any position by the Society.
Anne Chappelle: You can find out more information about the show at AdverseReactionsPodcast.com,
David Faulkner: and more information about the Society of Toxicology on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Anne Chappelle: I'm Anne Chappelle.
David Faulkner: And I'm David Faulkner. Hopefully, at least half of you make it back for the next episode.
Anne Chappelle: This podcast was approved by Anne's mom.