BJKS Podcast

56. Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: scientific editing, behavioural sciences at Nature, and how to improve submissions

May 21, 2022
56. Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: scientific editing, behavioural sciences at Nature, and how to improve submissions
BJKS Podcast
More Info
BJKS Podcast
56. Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: scientific editing, behavioural sciences at Nature, and how to improve submissions
May 21, 2022

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland is senior editor at Nature, where she edits submissions in the behavioural sciences and cognitive neuroscience. In this conversation, we talk about how she became an editor, what editors do all day, how to improve your submissions, the future of publishing at Nature, the harp, and much more.

BJKS Podcast is a podcast about neuroscience, psychology, and anything vaguely related, hosted by Benjamin James Kuper-Smith. In 2022, episodes will appear irregularly, roughly twice per month. You can find the podcast on all podcasting platforms (e.g., Spotify, Apple/Google Podcasts, etc.). 

0:00:00: Introduction
0:05:51: How Mary Elizabeth started playing the harp
0:11:19: Harp music recommendations
0:13:09: How Mary Elizabeth became senior editor at Nature
0:18:11: What do editors do all day?
0:31:04: What's the difference between Nature, Nature Communications, and Scientific Reports?
0:38:53: How representative do samples need to be for Nature?
0:44:12: What exactly is a cover letter for?
0:50:43: Common errors in submissions
0:56:11: Why do the official PDFs of papers have unidentifiable names?
0:59:11: Do we still need journals?
1:04:07: Will Nature offer Registered Reports?

Podcast links

Mary Elizabeth's links

Ben's links

References and links

Harp music
Carlos Salzedo:
playing his composition Scintillation:
Lucile Lawrence (her teacher):

An example of Kora music:

Episode with Hugo Spiers:
Episode with Michael Hornberger:

Talk Mary Elizabeth gave that I found on YouTube:

Papers mentioned
Aiken, E., Bellue, S., Karlan, D. et al. Machine learning and phone data can improve targeting of humanitarian aid. Nature (2022).
Camerer, C. F., Dreber, A., Holzmeister, F., Ho, T. H., Huber, J., Johannesson, M., ... & Wu, H. (2018). Evaluating the replicability of social science experiments in Nature and Science between 2010 and 2015. Nature Human Behaviour.
Coutrot, A., Manley, E., Goodroe, S. et al. Entropy of city street networks linked to future spatial navigation ability. Nature (2022).
Douaud, G., Lee, S., Alfaro-Almagro, F. et al. SARS-CoV-2 is associated with changes in brain structure in UK Biobank. Nature (2022).

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland is senior editor at Nature, where she edits submissions in the behavioural sciences and cognitive neuroscience. In this conversation, we talk about how she became an editor, what editors do all day, how to improve your submissions, the future of publishing at Nature, the harp, and much more.

BJKS Podcast is a podcast about neuroscience, psychology, and anything vaguely related, hosted by Benjamin James Kuper-Smith. In 2022, episodes will appear irregularly, roughly twice per month. You can find the podcast on all podcasting platforms (e.g., Spotify, Apple/Google Podcasts, etc.). 

0:00:00: Introduction
0:05:51: How Mary Elizabeth started playing the harp
0:11:19: Harp music recommendations
0:13:09: How Mary Elizabeth became senior editor at Nature
0:18:11: What do editors do all day?
0:31:04: What's the difference between Nature, Nature Communications, and Scientific Reports?
0:38:53: How representative do samples need to be for Nature?
0:44:12: What exactly is a cover letter for?
0:50:43: Common errors in submissions
0:56:11: Why do the official PDFs of papers have unidentifiable names?
0:59:11: Do we still need journals?
1:04:07: Will Nature offer Registered Reports?

Podcast links

Mary Elizabeth's links

Ben's links

References and links

Harp music
Carlos Salzedo:
playing his composition Scintillation:
Lucile Lawrence (her teacher):

An example of Kora music:

Episode with Hugo Spiers:
Episode with Michael Hornberger:

Talk Mary Elizabeth gave that I found on YouTube:

Papers mentioned
Aiken, E., Bellue, S., Karlan, D. et al. Machine learning and phone data can improve targeting of humanitarian aid. Nature (2022).
Camerer, C. F., Dreber, A., Holzmeister, F., Ho, T. H., Huber, J., Johannesson, M., ... & Wu, H. (2018). Evaluating the replicability of social science experiments in Nature and Science between 2010 and 2015. Nature Human Behaviour.
Coutrot, A., Manley, E., Goodroe, S. et al. Entropy of city street networks linked to future spatial navigation ability. Nature (2022).
Douaud, G., Lee, S., Alfaro-Almagro, F. et al. SARS-CoV-2 is associated with changes in brain structure in UK Biobank. Nature (2022).

(This is an automated transcript that will contain lots of errors)

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: [00:00:00] Hi, this is Ben I don't really do introductions for this podcast, but in this case I felt there were probably two things that were worth adding before the conversation. So this is a conversation with Mary Elizabeth Sutherland, who is senior editor at nature and deals kind of with cognitive neuroscience, psychology, that kind of stuff. 

So we talk about kind of what it's like being in editor and all these kind of things. And at the end, I asked whether there's anything she'd like to add. And she mentioned that it's probably a good idea to mention that she's not speaking as a representative of nature or the major publishing group or whatever, but that she's speaking as an individual based on her experiences at those places. 

And yeah, I thought it was probably just a decent idea just to put that in the beginning rather than have it as the very last minute of the podcast. The second part that I'd like to add before we start is that. So usually when I start recording the podcast, I have a minute or two in [00:01:00] which I can just chat with the guests about something random. 

And then I delete that in the edit and just start with the first question. And in this case, I've found to do the same thing, and it just had a kind of random question about parental connection. Couldn't hurt me that I wasn't aware of whilst I contacted her. And we ended up actually talking a little bit about a study by Hugo Spears that Mary Elizabeth edited and that appeared in nature. 

If you also go. So again, initially I planned to just delete that as usual, but then we kind of came back a few times to this study by Hugo Spears and use it as an example. And I realized that we never actually kind of explained what the study is, even in the slightest and because we both knew what it was. 

So I thought I'd just spend 30 seconds to a minute explaining what that study is. So the study we're referring to came out this year in nature, it's linked in the description. First author is Antoine CourtCall. So the very brief summary is you guys be as I'm I got this mobile game called [00:02:00] see here request. 

It's a game in which you navigate in this virtual world. And while it's a fun game just to play, it actually provides scientifically valuable data. So it's not only a game, but it's also a cognitive task that you can use. And so this game was a wildly popular. It, I think had more than 4 million downloads or something like that from all over the world, all ages. 

Everything. And because they had such a rich data set in terms of just the demographics of people who did it and whether from what they did in this pit. I mean, there's lots of papers that came out of that will continue to come out of this in the future. But the specific study looks at the kind of entropy complexity of this street network in which you grew up and links that to performance in the game. 

Uh, I think that's what I'm going to say here, if you're interested. So I've linked the article in the description, and I have an entire episode with Miguel. Hornberger about Sierra quest. And I have an [00:03:00] episode with you guys based where we spend about half of the episode. Also talk to me, see your request. 

So if you're interested in that, I've also got links for those in the description. Anyway, those were just the two small points I wanted to make before we start. And here is now my conversation with Mary Elizabeth. So. 

Uh, by the way, one question just briefly, whether you were aware of this. So I always mentioned like who my PhD supervisor is just to people. If they're interested, can have like a brief look to get a bit of a context. Did you remember that you edited and manuscript of once at nature communications you did. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: communications. Yes. Yes.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Okay. Because I, you know, I just saw a talk of yours. Uh, I don't know. This is the funny thing. I have no idea how I found out about you or whatever. It's just somehow I ended up watching a talk of yours on YouTube, and then I thought, oh, that was pretty cool. I should invite her to speak on the podcast. 

And then I, uh, you know, told my supervisor and he's like, oh yeah, she, she [00:04:00] edited the initial communications favor. And he actually, uh, I mean, I guess they go publish. So of course he liked the track to the job he did, but he said he really liked that you kind of focused on like, what was, what you thought was important about the reviews and that kind of stuff. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Good. I'm always glad when I can be helpful. It's funny. Cause I thought that you had come across the YouTube video because, of that link. So I thought that, you know, maybe you had asked about, I don't know, or maybe you had some kind of thing about, you know, alternative academic careers and then, know, your PI was like, Hey, I, you know, I've had experience with this person or something like that.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, no, no, it was, it was, I probably saw something you'd tweet. Oh, you know what it is. Uh, I interviewed Hugo Spears about two months ago. And so that was before. So if you go, um, uh, his last author on a nature paper that you edited, I'm assuming.  

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Exactly.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: and so this was, I interviewed him before the paper came out and he kind of only like vaguely hinted to some [00:05:00] stuff during the conversation then asked her what she said, like, yeah, we've got this thing, like at nature and him looking pretty good. 

And probably he retweeted something. You tweeted about it, something like that. It's probably something like. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: It's funny though, because I actually met Hugo also while I was an editor at nature communications where I handled his papers then I was in London and went to visit him at UCL. So it's funny because that connection is also coming from,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: nature communications, feel like it was around the time that I had Chris stuff's paper too, but  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. Yeah, but I had, I mean, this was also before I met Kostoff so I had no idea who the editor was and that kind of stuff.  

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: right.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Anyway, um, so I guess, uh, you know, we want to talk, or I'd like to talk about the job of an editor and what you do, and kind of, especially how to make the life of an editor easier. 

Um, maybe make your submissions a bit better, um, and all this kind of stuff. But before we start talking, talk about that, we have to talk about the most natural topic to talk about when talking about editing and that is the hop [00:06:00] and instrument that you I'm assuming still play, or at least play it for long. 

Yeah. So it's funny. I was just, uh, you know, I was like, look on Google and YouTube, but I can find about people and I found quite a lot about the half. And you, uh, you gave her a concert of hundreds F major concert or something like that  

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Yup. Yup.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: at Miguel. Uh, so I'm just curious, like, how did you, uh, how did, how did you stop playing the harp and why the half and 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: The hope story makes a lot more sense than the editor story. I would say,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: good. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: my father is a musician, so that sets the stage literally. he, so when I was born, he was at the Canadian opera company in Toronto. I was born in Toronto he used to take me. So I used to listen to music as a young child, and then he would take me to rehearsals. the best part of that was during the break. I got to sit next to various instruments and really see how they worked. for me, the harp was just love. You know, I got to sit there. I remember she put phone books, so I could actually like [00:07:00] reach the strings and. Yeah, I got to play the harp and I love the heart. 

And so I said, daddy, I want to play the heart. But he was like, oh no, why did I bring you to this rehearsal? No, I mean, he didn't say that out loud, but I could imagine, you know, he thinks, oh goodness, like this is the instrument that she chooses. Um, but since I was so young, right, he wanted to make sure he and my mother wanted to make sure that I was really serious about it. 

So they said, well, you know, let's, let's think about it. And I kept it up for long enough that they got me a little counselor. So that's like a little lap harp. And I played that for long enough and still cared. And then I got the Celtic harp. So that's, know what I call the baby harp. And then finally I graduated to the big harp. 

So yeah, I've, I've been playing harp all of my life. I mean, not all of my life, but  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I can imagine you'll follow this kind of, yeah. This kind of like, oh, why the help? Because I did, I mean, I did lots of music and uh, I mean I played trumpet and double bass in orchestra, some like piano. Um, [00:08:00] but the so double bass is annoying to move, but it's kind of fine. You can carry it on your back kind of thing. 

But, you know, once I had to help carry a hop from like transported from a to B and it's just, I guess, like pianos are so annoying that every place has to have one, but hops are kind of in this in-between where they're kind of a reverse, annoying. They don't have them just standing around. So you have to have your own one. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Exactly. And as a parent, you can imagine. So not only do you invest in the heart, but then my parents, when I got the full-sized harp, they had to buy a new car to fit the harp.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: you know, it's like not only do you have the expensive musical instrument, but you have to then upgrade your car to move said, musical instrument. 

If you want the child to actually be able to play it of the living room.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: How does that, so, I mean, I, I guess I know basically nothing about the hub. Um, even though I spent so much time in orchestras, I guess the hope was always the other side of the room, but there's like different sizes hubs, right? Isn't there like a really big one or [00:09:00] something. And then like a big concert hop or something. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Yeah. So, so there is like, you know, a Celtic harp, which is one that does not play all of the notes by that. I mean, the Celtic harp in order to change a tone, right? Like black keys on the piano, you have to move a lever with one hand. So that means you have to stop playing with whatever hand and a lever. that lever can only raise the string a half-step. So the Celtic harp that I have, I tune in the key of E flat so that I can have some flats some sharps. Right. But I can't have all, like my E flat string can only be an E flats and unnatural. My F string can only be an F and an F sharp. The pedal harp, which is what's used in orchestra has pedals to do. So for each string, you have a pedal that has three notches, um, flat, natural, and sharp. So you can get all of the different tones. The pedal harps do have different sizes, but [00:10:00] not so much. Um, there is one like, you know, there's different models and the models are different sizes, but it's not like or a cello where you have like really baby ones that scale up, they are generally just all big, so you can have slightly smaller, but it's the big difference in size is sort of the type of harp. 

So I started on the Celtic harp, which is fine because you don't, you know, when you're learning, you don't need really all of the different options, right. You're still learning how to read music, the theory, et cetera. And then when you graduate to music, then you get the harp. So the harp that I have is the hope that I got when I was.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. Okay. And yeah, it's funny. I actually almost started, I don't know. Do you know of the Corker? I don't know whether it's correct pronunciation. It's basically, I somehow, I don't know how I find out about this again. Uh, but someone came across it and it's basically, they call it the west African hub. So it's you kind of. 

I think you kind of, [00:11:00] it's kind of like in between your legs a bit, a little bit like a cello. Not exactly, but it's a bit like that. And then you have fall few, I think it's like 20 strings or something like that. And you play that. I don't really wants to play it, but the problem is not that many teachers around and one day I'll be in a big city and again, and then I'll, then I'll try and fake that. 


Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: would be.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah. Uh, so, uh, last question about the hub. So we can talk about the editing, some recommendations. How do I, so I typed hop into Spotify and it seemed to be a lot of, it was, uh, transcriptions of piano pieces by w CEOs that you, whatever, what's some kind of like good hop music to get into it and maybe, or some good performance or something like that. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Yeah. 

so I I'm I'm particularly biased. So my teacher, Lucy, uh, Lawrence was married to Carlos Salsedo. Carlos sells was a big name in the harp world, um, you know, from, from back in the day. I really enjoy his performances, um, because they are slightly older, the recording quality mirrors, that fact, um, but I [00:12:00] really liked. Carlos sells Ito's work. Um, and of course, Lucille Lawrence, my teacher, um, Carlos Salsedo as a harpist, also wrote lot for the harp. So I really enjoy his pieces. One piece that I enjoy a lot, just because it's fun is called scintillation it's it's by Carlos Salsedo. the reason that I like it is that it really makes use of all of these heartbeat tropes, you know, like the glissandos and like all of makes use of a lot of the fun sounds that the can can do. Um, as opposed to just being this like elevator music type background, you know, beautiful  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Calming. Yeah. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: So I really enjoy scintillation cause it's just such a fun piece. So, and I would, I would recommend listening to the version of it with Carlos Saucedo playing it because, know, he's wrote it. 

So it's kind of Cool. Cause it's, it's his thing. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Cool. Yeah. I'll uh, put, if I can find a link to that in the description and for new listeners, I always put links [00:13:00] to usually research papers. We talk about, uh, but I guess in this case, a YouTube or Spotify links or whatever, if you want to check that out. Okay. One reason I also wanted to bring up the harp is just because I guess I wanted to kind of, uh, yeah. 

Kind of trace how you became an editor. And from what I understand, you did a PhD in, let's say Contra and your sense of music roughly,  

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Yep.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: um, and also performed, I think still at the same time, uh, So, how did you, yeah, basically, how did you go from that to, uh, your current position today, which is, um, let me get this correct. 

Is it editor of behavioral sciences at nature or? 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Yeah. I think technically my is senior editor, but, um, what I do is I handle, I'm a senior editor at nature and I handle papers in cognitive neuroscience, the behavioral sciences and social sciences generally. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. So how did you go from, from hops to [00:14:00] the. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Right. I started off really caring about the harp, but as I said, my dad was a musician and I watched him lose his love of music a little bit as It became work. Right. it's not to say that he didn't love it. Music anymore, it became work. And his, what used to be the thing that he loved the most then became a source of stress and difficulty. 

And I never wanted to lose music in that way. So when I went, starting at undergrad, when I went to college, I started not just doing music, but doing music and science simultaneously in order to just sure that I had other options open. And so doing that, I came across this field of music cognition, and I thought, oh, that's really cool because this basically answers the question of why can't I lose music. 

So why is it that I don't want to lose music? Why is it that this is so important? is it? You know, what is it doing in my brain? What, what makes it so, so key? So I thought, oh, this [00:15:00] is, this seems like a cool question. Something I want to study and look at this. There are a whole bunch of other people who do. So that's how I got into the PhD. And the great thing about my PhD, was that it was in Robert's Satori's lab and everybody in his lab played music in some, in some sense, right. it makes sense because if you're going to be a good music, cognitive neuroscientist, you need to understand the music to understand what questions you can use it for to understand the brain. 

Right? Because the cool thing about music is that it has intellectual part of, you know, the syntax of music, learning music. So you have learning and memory, have the emotional aspect, there's all sorts of things. You know, you have the motor control aspect, there's all sorts of cool things that you can, you can use it for to get to the brain, but to do that well, you need to understand the music because if you don't know how singing works, then you can't do a good. Experiment to understand, you know, how, how is it that we learn how to control our vocal chords? How does that [00:16:00] fit, you know, to our understanding motor control, if you don't understand. Yeah. So anyway, was how I ended up doing that in the PhD and I played all the way through. So I basically always did and science, but interestingly, after having having left of pursuing music professionally and going into science, never really questioned science as a career. 

You know, it and it was interesting. Um, and I always thought it was interesting, but I was never particularly passionate about it. You know, it was just, it was cool. It was, it was fun. You could ask cool questions. You could get answers. Like it was great. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: It also seems like it was a way to do music without losing interest in it, right. To some extent. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Exactly. So I sort of followed the track, you know, I had a good mentor, so he taught me how to look for a postdoc. So when you're a PhD, so I finished the PhD and I got a post-doc. I had a good postdoc mentor who said, you know, you have to be giving job talks because the whole point of being a postdoc is not to be a post-doc [00:17:00] you know, you don't want to stay. 

And so I just, you know, followed along then it was only when I actually got my first job as a professor that I stopped to think like, do I actually want to do this for the rest of my life? And I was like,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: no, not at all. This is not what I wanna do. Um, and I, I honestly hadn't stopped to reflect. It was more just, you know, I was doing it and it was interesting and why not? So then I got this position in Chilay actually, and I was at a conference really soon after just getting it, like, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So this is the professorship pool.  

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Yep. And I went to a conference and I met up with a friend of mine who at, from Robert's lab. So from the same lab and she was an editor at nature neuroscience, and she was asking me, you know, how is it to be a professor? And I was like, you know, it's really not my thing. then she was telling me about what she did as an editor. And I was like, oh, wow, that really sounds like my [00:18:00] thing. And then she said, well, you know, there's a job that just came up at nature communications. that was, that was the beginning of the end. And I've, you know, I've been within the nature of family versus.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. So, yeah, I mean, I guess one question, uh, I want to ask at some point, so I guess we might as well do it now. What does an editor do all day then? Because, uh, to me, it's sometimes I imagine it's you get submissions. He read them, you spend a lot of time trying to get reviewers to agree, to do a review for your favor, uh, reading over the review. 

Is that the basic, the most of what you do or is it just the part that the scientists see? And there's actually lots of other stuff. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: No, that is, that is indeed the bulk of what we do. So most of our time is spent with the papers that we actually handle. So, as you said, every submission that comes in is assigned. Depending on the journal. I'm not going to talk about nature. It's assigned based on your expertise. So I [00:19:00] get the papers and human and cognitive neuroscience. 

I get the papers and behavioral science. I get the papers and social sciences. We read them, we discuss them when necessary with our editorial colleagues. We make a decision, you know, is this going to go out for review or not? So basically that part is like a mini review. You know, if you complete a review for a journal, we basically do our own mini review. 

So we write up our notes on our paper, which starts with a little summary, you know, what, what is this paper about? And then our opinions on it, you know, where the strengths and the weaknesses, difference between our notes usually, and what a reviewer will do is that we don't have the technical expertise anymore. 

So, you know, I can't go and say like, oh, how you ran this or this particular analysis, because I'm not doing all of the analysis anymore. So I'm not as on top of it, but I can see. You know, the strength of evidence, how strong is the evidence? I can get that from looking at the graphs and the statistics, et cetera, et cetera. that's basically a [00:20:00] mini review. Um, then we send the paper out to review. So yes, that takes a lot of time. Um, we synthesize, we try to synthesize the reviewer's report. So to highlight the parts that are most important for a revision, or if we cannot, um, consider a vision, explain why, you know, and repeat to repeat until you finally get to hopefully, um, an acceptance principle. And at that stage, we do more of what people usually consider editors doing, which is we provide more suggestions for actually how the papers written. depends a lot on the editor and the field. So I tend to provide more suggestions and am more in the revision, final revision process. Um, but I think that's also because. The papers I handle are coming from areas that have not historically been well-represented in nature. So the papers are in quite a different format from the beginning. whereas some of my colleagues, since their communities are very familiar with the [00:21:00] nature format, their papers are really structured that way already. Um, and so that's where I sort of say, you know, you might want to highlight this or put this in the supplemental or supplementary information. So it's not like I'm lying netting, editing the English, but rather the content saying like, this is, you know, how we need to get this story streamlined so that it appeals to a broad audience. These are the supplemental facts that can be put elsewhere, et cetera.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Hmm, is that you, you mentioned something that I also. Uh, noticed a while ago. And until then hadn't realized just how strong it was. So, um, I mean, you just mentioned that from some other disciplines, they might be more represented in nature. So I, you know, I happen to have read quite a lot of nature papers in the things I do because a lot of just game theory. 

So a lot of evolutionary game theory is in there. So for me it always seemed like, oh yeah, like these, you know, it's well-represented or whatever, until I, then one of our colleagues got sent in [00:22:00] H every week. And then, so it was right next to my desk. Basically. I just looked through it and only then did I realize like, oh, this is like, at least it felt like at 80% of physics and chemistry. 

Um, and it was really like every, I dunno, fourth episode, that would be like, what ma I dunno. Yeah. But like, you know, it would be very rare if there was an episode, episode, um, issue. Thank you. It was very rare if there was an issue where there was more than one article that was even vaguely related to what it was. 

Yeah, I'm just curious. Why is that? And, um, yeah, I guess how, I mean, yeah, you said you kind of want to have a, I think you tweeted a few days ago, you, you will want to have more, you know, behavioral studies and especially also studies with a kind of real world application. How do you, how do you also go about doing that? 

Because you know, you're not writing the papers and sending them to them  

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: That's that's a really good question. And it follows really well. Um, so the other thing that I spend a lot of time doing is outreach. Um, [00:23:00] so back in the day when I didn't work from home, which was right, a bit over two years ago, we would actually go out and do site visits. So that's where we contact people who are doing cool research that we want to hear more about. 

And we go and we visit, and we say, tell, tell us about your research and sort of do a version of academic speed dating, where they tell us about the research. We tell them. 

how we think as editors, and there's a sort of a back and forth dialogue so that they understand what we're looking for. And we understand the. We also go to conferences because again, get whatever we get. So whatever papers are coming in, we get, that's not necessarily representative of the world. Those that's representative of the people who submit to us. It's important for us to go to conferences, to see what the communities are doing, to see the places that we're not representing and how, what we can do to attract those papers, um, and how we can grow in those ways. So there is a [00:24:00] lot of outreach and then there's of course desk outreach, right? Where, where you just send emails. So that's what I do mostly now. So when I see a cool paper, I'll write to the authors and say, this is a really cool paper. If you didn't know, nature considers these papers. So if you ever have any questions, you know, drop me a line and I'd be happy to chat. Um, right. And then there's tweeting where we say like, Hey, this is a paper we published. We want more. So, you know, That's another aspect of the job is trying to on top of the field at large, not just our submissions and, and to increase the representation. Um, there's one other thing that we can do for that. 

So there's, there are reviews and perspectives, reviews, right? Being the standard review of the article, the perspective a synthesis of the literature, but to have a particular opinion. And so something else that we do is we think about what types of reviews and perspectives or we think about, um, that are of interest [00:25:00] and we commission reviews and perspective. 

So that means we actually do go out and we say, Hey, is something we're interested in. Would you be willing to write us a reviewer perspective, these still go through peer review. But basically that means, know, that they will go to peer review and with reviews and perspectives, they can, of course be rejected after peer review, but because it's not, there is no such thing as a fetal fluff. In the, the data and the design, usually can make it through. So that's another way that we to attract fields because then once that reviewer perspective is published, then people will see it and say, oh, well, nature published this, then there they're interested.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. No idea that yeah. Journals did that, that directly also contacting. I mean, I guess I knew that like, sometimes you have invited reviews, that kind of stuff, but yeah, I had no idea did that. I mean, do you sometimes see a pre-print and go like, Hey guys, do you want to submit to nature? Or is that because really? 


Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: So actually, I don't know if [00:26:00] you saw we published a paper from the UK biobank on the changes to the human brain after being infected  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, I didn't read it, but I saw it came out like a month ago or something or two. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: so that one, that one I, I saw in med archive and I wrote to the authors and I said, if you haven't submitted it, please submit this.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: And they probably said, okay, we'll do that. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Yup. So, so that's, that's an example of Yeah. That type of outreach. I guess that would be called outreach, right? I don't know.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah. That must be a pretty cool. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Yeah, Yeah. I hope so. I hope so. So this was great. Um, so yeah, we ended up up publishing it, but yeah, that is the thing. So there are, there are times when I see a free print and I'll say, yeah, that's one, basically. I say I've read the pre-print and we will send it out to review if you submit to us. Cause I can make the editorial judgment. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, I guess one question I still had about, uh, your kind of journey as an editor is what exactly is kind of the difference [00:27:00] between being at nature, communications, nature, human behavior. And now at nature, like for you, like why did you make the switch? Was it a more senior position or was it you wanted to be more? 

I don't know. Yeah. I'm just curious, like kind of why, uh, yeah. What the difference is between being an editor, et cetera, nature communications and instrument behavior. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Uh, it's a funny question because our HR asked me the same question cause they're like, but you're, you're staying in the same role. What's wrong. like, nothing's wrong? Nothing's wrong. They're just 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Um, there are a few differences. Um, There, there is a difference in terms of the amount of freedom and flexibility you have, and there's a difference in terms of what you cover. 

And there's a difference in terms of, um, the impact that you have. I would say those are the things. So when I started at nature communications, I really enjoyed it. I had a great time at nature communications. Um, [00:28:00] but in that case, it was really, role was really publishing primary research. There was some reviews, perspective comments, it was really going for primary research and publishing much more of it, which meant though, as you've heard, like, I am very engaged in all of the papers I've handled. that there was just sort of less time that I could spend, because I was publishing a lot. Nature human behavior. I moved because in what we call the research journal. So that's not nature communications, but anything else that's like nature something. So in nature, human behavior in nature, neuroscience, nature, genetics, nature medicine in those journals, the editors also cover what we call front half and that's the more journalistic content. 

So all of a sudden you start to be able to write editorials, write research, highlights, deal with comments, worldviews, you get to do special issues of the journal. a lot more, let's say of your personal. [00:29:00] Your personal strategy or interest that goes, and you develop a lot more skills. So at nature communications, they they've expanded, but because they are this huge multidisciplinary journal, you don't have, you know, a special issue on something. 

You can put together a collection, but like everybody is publishing everything. Um, so there's just less room for all of these things that nature human behavior, because we were going for this specific audience, you could really pursue a topic you were interested in. So when I was there, I worked on a paper was looking at the reproducibility of experiments in science and nature. And that was really cool because what I did in that, so right. We worked with the authors on the paper, but then from each of the authors whose experiments didn't replicate, we commissioned comments. Um, on their opinion as to why it didn't replicate. And that was really eye-opening to me to understand more about replication, to understand, [00:30:00] what may have changed, what we are, how much replication depends on how we define it, et cetera. 

So I thought that that was really cool. So basically we put together a collection, I wrote an editorial about it. We, um, somebody else write an opinion piece. Um, we had, you know, all of these comments, we put all of these things together. So that was something that, for example, wasn't possible at nature communication. 

So I felt at nature human behavior. 

I was really able to, Yeah. 

Learn more about handling these more opinion-based comment format, together these types of projects within journal. You also get to choose the cover. know, there's like, there's just lots more involvement and you feel like you are putting out a product as a team instead of just contributing papers to this like larger.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. Yeah, it's funny. I didn't know that. I didn't know that you also did that. It seems like I've read quite a few things. You've edited it without realizing it, because I read that article and I think one of the responses [00:31:00] and, uh, yeah. Okay. Okay. Here's a kind of city question, but I'm still not entirely sure what niche communications exactly is. 

Um, so that kind of what's the, maybe other than maybe we can do this by contrast kind of what's the difference between nature, nature, communications and scientific reports, because they all seem to me to be publishing research from oldest. Well more or less, what are the spins? Um, is it, is it just a ranking of prestigiousness or what's what exactly is the difference here between having an, a research article published in any of those. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Yeah, so sort of, um, prestigiousness. So let me start at the. Started at the bottom actually. So I start with scientific reports, scientific reports. look to publish and solid research. That means it has to be technically sound, but novelty doesn't matter at all. So, as long as the research is judged be correct, they will publish it It is also, as you said, it's really wide, um, in terms of [00:32:00] breadth that publishes, you know, it publishes all topics within, within the natural sciences, natural and physical sciences, their model of doing so though is different. So they have a chief editor and they have some in-house editors, but the majority of the work is done external academic editors. Once you get to the level of danger communications, have the same thing that it's an open access, broad journal, but now you have dedicated editors. So that means you have people like myself who are professional editors. Now who all have at least a PhD who are working on. The result is that you get, get, let's say hopefully speedier service and more consistent editorial bar. also have strategy and just much more crosstalk between the different disciplines. so for example, you know, let's take cognitive neuroscience. Let's say you have something that has, you know, a complex sort of graph theory [00:33:00] approach at nature communications. You have colleagues who are in physics, who are in math, who you can talk to about it So you can say, Hey, like I don't get them off. Could you please look at this paper and tell me what you think that's not something that you get at scientific reports, because it's just going to whoever, you know, whichever academics they choose. There's not this sort of crosstalk. there's also not the same type of strategy. 

So at nature communications, you will actually do an analysis of the literature to figure out areas you want to concentrate on, et cetera. So there's journals strategy in there. Yeah. So, so you have a much higher impact factor though. That is only one, you know, it's not something that we're supposed to talk about. 

It's not the end all be all, but the point is the, the articles tend to be a better quality meaning that they, they tend to be more rigorous, not just correct, but more rigorous and tell more of a story and have more of a scientific impact. So that's, you know, the difference between atrial communications in nature, uh, sorry, and [00:34:00] scientific reports then when you get up to the level of nature. 

Um, so there's one difference is that it's not open access. There is now an open access option, but it's a subscription-based journal that comes out every week in issues, also multidisciplinary, but publishes much less. So again, the idea is that you're publishing less that the papers themselves are stronger and there's a lot more editorial work that goes into those fewer papers that ended up getting published. So it's selectivity. Um, and then in nature, it's also the fact that like I was talking about with the difference between nature communications and nature, human behavior, having much more agency as an editor to put things together, you have that at nature as well. So for example, at nature, I did a special issue on computational social science. Um, so that is even though, you know, you are technically this big, huge, broad journal, because we are publishing much less. You can have [00:35:00] special issues that are really focusing on one of the topic and the cool thing there is that you're getting exposure to all of the different fields versus in nature human behavior, where you are just exposed to the people who care about human behavior. And that's where the change comes in terms of impact that I was mentioning before. then I guess, yeah, the handling is the same, right? It's professional editors who are handling it a lot of discussion, you know, a lot of back and forth with the referees. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So, is it more so it kind of Watts. What differentiates an article that would be rejected in nature, but accepts nature communications. Is it just a, it's not quite as exciting or something or, yeah, I mean, it's difficult to say in the abstract, but yeah. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Right. And I, I can't call people out whose, who papers have done that. Um,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: So there are, there are basically three things that can differ. So one is the scope of the question. nature tries to get [00:36:00] at the very broad questions that are going to appeal as much as possible across disciplines. So quite a broad question then there's nature. 

Communications is more specific. The first one is the question, right? Is it something that's going to interest? just people like let's take you go spheres, this paper right on navigation. That's really cool because you get into the whole nature nurture debate. You get into the people who care about, you know, navigation, get into the people who care about the brain, though they don't have brain data there, it's a really cool finding that has lots of followups. also have the street network entropy. So it goes all into complexity science, So you get people who are looking at networks and physics who are interested. So it's a very broad question. So that's, that's an example of the broad scope of the question. So it could, it could be more specific for nature communications 0.2 is the strength of evidence. that doesn't mean just, you know, the data, support [00:37:00] what you're saying. how much of the story you're telling. an example could be, let's say you observe something cool that somebody hasn't observed before. That could be enough furniture communications, but essentially, but at nature that wouldn't be enough. 

You would have to say why you're observing it or what, like what is driving it or what isn't driving it. That could be enough to what it means. again, it's the amount of the story that you're telling.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. So it's not just like having an effect, but explaining it also. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Yeah, exactly. So like how, how, I guess if you think of it as sort of like a brick, you know, to build a house, this is like the nature paper is supposed to be like the big foundational brick and then nature communications paper is a smaller, it's still, you know, contributing a big part of the house, but it's, a bit of a less, uh, foundational type of brick. 

So that's the difference. And then I guess the, the advance. Over over the [00:38:00] over previous work, right? How much of an advance it is? Um, though I have to say advance. I don't like the word because it means that it should be like novel I don't think that's always true. So we consider an evidence-based advance. 

So if you have a field where, you know, half of the say a and half of it's a B, but if you look at it, it's because everything has been based on small sample sizes and has issues. you finally do the experiment to come up with whether it's a or B, you know, it's not novel to say a or B, what's an awful list that you finally have the evidence to say what it is. So I say advance, that can also. 

be an advance, um, right. The, an evidence-based advance. Um, but again, it's the size of the advance, right? So if you, you know, demonstrate that this is true, whatever it is for English speaking people, maybe that's nature communications, but maybe you need a global population for any.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I was curious, I wanted to ask him at that point, because you said something along those lines, also in this, this talk that I watched [00:39:00] where he said, you know, you can't publish something in age and just have like a few college students and then say like, this is what humans or whatever. Right. So, I mean, I mean, the Hugo's study again is the place, the best example because they had a worldwide study of a sample of all sorts of people. 

Right. I'm just curious, like how represents it, does it have to be, I mean, does everything have to be representative sample in multiple countries or. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: No, it doesn't. I mean, what we look at, and this is true across levels, I guess, is that you have strong evidence to answer the question that you are posing. So in Hugo's paper, the question is, you know, how does the environment your navigational abilities? To make the answer to that question. 

Interesting. It has to be about humans generally. You know, if I tell you that like a specific school, you know, uh, specific people who went to this specific boarding school in this specific town had this, would be a less interest because you just, you, [00:40:00] don't know. the answer to that question to be interesting must be, must be a larger sample, but let's say your question is something specific about, you know, human cognition or the brain, and it's more about the function of a specific area in the brain doing something. And you have no reason to believe that there is a difference between like my brain, your brain and whoever else's brain in this particular way. Like you're getting more at the mechanism. don't need to have a big sample to answer that question. You don't need to have a representative sample from all different things. 

So again, it depends on what the question is, what would make the strongest answer. So it, it really depends. Um, and then the other thing, you know, that you mentioned before is that one of the other points that I like to, or. 

one of the areas that I'd like to champion is [00:41:00] are those research projects that have real real world impact. And the thing is that is different in different countries. So you don't necessarily expect the results per se, to generalize because there are just so many contextual factors, but showing the real world impact in a country of need is really important. if you read through the paper, there's also these sort of general scientific nuggets that can be gleaned. 

One of the examples is I recently published a paper by Josh Blumenstock, um, and colleagues that was using of, well, he was taking satellite, satellite images and cell phone data using a machine learning algorithm that had been trained on cell phone usage data. In Togo to basically allocate COVID-19 relief aid. 

So, you know, who, who was being targeted for relief aid. they compare that to what the government was doing before, which was [00:42:00] basically a coarse-grained approach that was just taking sort of neighborhood wealth estimates, and they show that they can really do much better at targeting specific areas. this is a very specific finding, right? It's during COVID. We don't know if it's going to work during another pandemic and we're not going to go wait for it, waiting for another one to find out it's in the country of Togo, not in all different countries, but it affected millions of people's lives. So there's the, the cool thing. 

But then also sort of a scientific insight there, which is the proof of concept that you can do this. And then to the idea that looking at, of course, grained level of zip code, you know, in research generally isn't sufficient. If you want to get the best possible results. there you have, have a bit of a scientific principle that you can say has brought impact because so many people use basically census [00:43:00] data, you know, to estimate wealth levels in their research. 

So there's a sort of a larger message in there, the main data and main advance is, you know, specific to a country and a context. again, it has that real world impact. So that is also something that we value quite strongly.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, I guess that also fits with the thing you mentioned earlier about, you know, it's, it's the big study that that's sort of difficult to pull off? Just not technically, exactly, but like from the organization, I'm assuming, and to be allowed to do it and all this kind of thing. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Right. Exactly. And, and then the hope is that the, you know, there's a scientific impact on the specific aspect, but then there's also this practical aspect, which we. Which we care about a lot as well. Right. But also getting the attention of policymakers and understanding that there are these approaches that can be used to be more effective in, in allocating relief aid, you know, and try it, try it in different [00:44:00] places. 

So different places in different contexts. Cause there is always the need for distribution of relief.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. Yeah, that's pretty cool. Um, I want to, I guess it's kind of like a two Ming kind of topic that you want to talk about at least briefly. Uh, one is the kind of, you know, how to improve your submissions and make the life of the editor easier. And the other's kind of, if we want to call it grandly the future of publishing and the kind of changes you want to see. 

Um, so just briefly to the, um, submissions that are making the life of the editor easier. One thing that I feel like is probably I, should we say, well, there's a big difference between how important it is and how much you actually read about it, where the difference is pretty dodgy for cover letters, because it feels like the first time I read a cover letters when I had to submit a paper and told my supervisor, wait, what do I put into the cover letter that he sent me like a few past examples of ones he had. 

Right. Whereas, you know, writing the paper, something I'd been, I've been reading papers for years. Um, but then it seems to me that the, [00:45:00] that it's difficult. I don't know how important the cover letter is. Whether it's something that editors that can make or break a submission or it's just like, whatever. 

Let me read the paper. Yeah. I'm just curious, like, it's such a generic question, but what does the cover letter for exactly, and to maybe make it slightly more specifically in this, this talk I saw, I think you said that for you at nature, because you have such a, because he gets so many different submissions from so many different topics, um, that for you, it really helps if the. 

Kind of put into context what the study does because you just can't know every single area that you're dealing with. Whereas someone at a much more niche journal, um, where the people might actually know the research area very well. Um, see what's a cover letter for. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Yeah. 

that's, that's a good question. And I think that that part that you alluded to is, is important. Like it's, it depends on the journal and the editor. What I see the cover letter is, is it's your chance to talk directly to the [00:46:00] editor. the paper you've composed is, you know, why. To convince the editor to send it out to review, but to, to convince the reviewers, you know, your potential reviewers and three to convince, you know, the whole audience whom you hope to reach. And it's done in a very formulaic way, right? Like scientific papers. They really follow a template, potentially different templates, according to different fields. But it's not like you don't have a lot of chance to really say in your own words, why the research is cool. You say it in the words that have science essentially, you don't use your own, your own words. The reason, what I like about the cover letter is it's your to speak directly to me to say like, why you like this research and why you think it would be a good fit for the journal. And that's useful because. Some papers are very hard to read and really understand what the main conclusions are. And [00:47:00] sometimes the cover letter can help pull those out. So you start to see, oh, like, this is really what the paper is showing. It's really hard to get to that just because sometimes papers get really lost in the details, right? People get really focused on, you know, this particular figure and then they get into all of the details and you forget how it fits into the main story. But if you're full, forced to write something in plain English, not scientific English, that explains what's so cool about it. Um, often that can help it come out. So for me, I like the cover letter for, I think, a cover letter. Safe be two things. One, it should be, you know, you talking to the editor to educate them about your field because you know more about your field than we do. 

Like we, we read fields. So it means that we're not as in depth. So, you know, educate us about your field and tell us why this paper is really cool. I also find it [00:48:00] helpful to see that you've thought about where you're submitting it, that you're not just submitting your paper to wherever with a standard cover letter, but you've actually thought about whether or not this is a fit. So, you know, saying, you know, we, we submit to nature because, or, you know, we think that this is XYZ. This seems to fulfill what we see published in nature. That's why, know, just something that gives us an idea that you, you're not just basically, you know, picking at random. Um, so those are the two things that I like in a cover letter. Um, again, though, the. The amount of information and what it serves, I think is different for different editors and probably within different publishing models. I've only worked in as a professional editor. I've never worked as an academic editor. Um, know, I had written papers and helped with reviews like in my career, but I hadn't served as an academic editor before I took this position. 

So I don't know how it is if you [00:49:00] are. If you're in that position, if a cover letter then is even more helpful, I can imagine it is you don't have as much time to go through the paper, um, and to look for reviewers. But yeah, for, for, for me, I, I would say those, those things, like your, your chance to talk directly to the editor and explain the paper and it's fit to the. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: And it doesn't matter if that information, you know, I mean, that's, that's going to overlap with the abstract quite a bit. Right. I mean, like from the first time I wrote, it's like, I'm gonna just not kind of repeating what I write in the app sector already, just with less detail. Um, but it's just a, maybe a slightly less formulaic, as you said, a less formulaic and kind of more personal way of saying like, this is the thing that's really cool, which you might not say like that. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Exactly. and often what I'll do is, uh, read through the cover letter quickly. First I read the paper and then I check if my notes, like when I, you know, usually in my notes, I'll like [00:50:00] start my evaluation by saying like the main contribution of this paper is, and I'll sort of like what I think the main contribution is. I'll check to see does that match the cover letter? And if it doesn't match it, I'll think, oh, I misread it? And I'll go back and see if I've missed something. Or conversely, if I think that the authors are, you know, The results, which also happens, that is also sort of my check. Am I getting the paper? Which, which I don't know, I find is helpful because sometimes, like I said, things, what you think is the main advance might actually be the main advance, but it's not highlighted in the way that. 

a naive reader will it.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah. I don't know whether this question is very similar to previous to the previous one I had, but kind of one thing I was just curious about like just common errors that people have when they submit a scientific articles, some things that you see over and over again, I guess again, you asked specific maybe somewhat specific to having worked at edgy communications, human behavior and nature [00:51:00] via just something where either the, yeah. 

That you see over and over again. I would like people not to do 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Right? So again, this is, yeah, this is based on my experience at the nature journals. attention to detail is important. We are human and as editors, we really try not to be biased by things, but if you have. Like really obvious, stupid mistakes in let's say the cover letter or the submission.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: like spelling or  

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: then imagine what,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: like spelling or what do you mean? Like what else do you pitch errors in this context? 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: the wrong, like if you, Yeah. 

if you, if you get the name wrong, so you misspell the editor's name, if you put the wrong journal, um, those sorts of things, like we try not to care right. 

To say whatever. But the thing is that when you that there's lack of attention to detail there you think, oh, did this spill across to the research? And even though I always try to put that out of my mind, it's hard not to [00:52:00] think like. Well, how, you know, it's hard, it's hard to erase having seen that. So, um, yeah, so, so for example, yeah, if you, for example, upload a paper that still has all of the track changes or the comments on it, or, you know, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: of things, it just makes you think, well, if you did that with this submission, like, what did you do when you were processing the data? Um, so it's just, yeah. Attention to detail, I think is the, is something that matters, even though we try, we try not to care about it. The other thing that I care most about is actually the amount of the amount of detail you provide in statistics and methods. I think a lot of people think nature papers are succinct, so you shouldn't provide all the information, but then impossible to evaluate the paper. So it's really important in submissions that you have the statistical details. You don't just say like, this is more than that because who knows what that means? So we. [00:53:00] Whenever possible that people don't use qualifying language, but rather they put the numbers. You know, you quantify when possible, because if you show me, you know, that is 10 and whatever is five, I can see what that difference is relative to the distribution. if you say this is more in, this is less, I have no idea. have no idea how big the difference is where it fits, you know, relative to the distribution, et cetera. But if you provide full statistical details, you know, descriptive, or if you're actually, you know, doing frequentist or non frequentist approaches anything, please include all of the details because them, I have no idea how strong the claim you're making is um, yes, statistical details. 

And the other thing is we accept a paper, we ask that the figures be uploaded separately, until acceptance, having inline figures is the best because otherwise you have to have multiple documents open. You know, to be able to see the pictures at the same time. Cause otherwise you scroll [00:54:00] down and then you lose your place and then you don't know where you are and it's a big pain. then you have to have like all of these documents open to flip, back and forth. Um, and it's a pain for the reviewers because they have to do it too. It's a pain for the editors. It's a pain for everybody. So inline figures is a really Like please keep your figures in line and just take them out. 

It's really easy to take them out. Just, you know, take them out at the end, but keep them in line in your submissions until you get to accept.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Good. Yeah. I mean, it should also be less work for the authors, right? Because you can just, at least I write. It didn't have the figures in there rather than having them in separate documents, 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, exactly. So inline figures are great. Yeah. And personally, I also like, also like numbered references. I find it much easier to follow a numbered references than named references.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: probably specific to the journal, so, right. Because some say you have to have this format or that. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: I feel like it's also reading it from, [00:55:00] from an editorial perspective. 

Imagine you're not in the field. And so you don't know the papers. And so you see like Abbott at all, 2015. not going to remember that. You'll remember the number one much more easily. So it's like, if I'm, if I'm trying to figure out like how something fits in the literature, I can't tell if you're referencing the same or different papers, if it's just like Abbott at all, 2015, blah-blah-blah at all. 

Like, cause, cause those aren't things that. 

I know and I just can't keep them in my head. are much easier to keep in your head so you can see like, oh, we're coming back to, you know, references 1, 2, 3 all the time. Like that's much easier to keep in your head if you don't know. So I think it is, it is definitely specific to the journal. 

We like those ones, but I also feel like for somebody who doesn't know the field, easier to sort of see. Where and how it fits in the literature if you're dealing with numbers, just because they're easier to remember a few numbers versus a bunch of names and a bunch [00:56:00] of dates.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Um, yeah, maybe as, as a kind of, uh, last topic we can talk. Yeah about the future, which is always easy to predict, but, okay. I have one question first, and this is a personal pet peeve I have of scientific articles. Um, and so this is the first question and second, uh, I hope this changes at some point, uh, unless there's a good reason not to. 

And that is, I remember I once uploaded a pre-print and I, the, the name of the document or something like final submission dot PDF, whatever. Right. And I was like, mortified that I gave it like a non meaningful name that it wasn't like, you know, Cooper Smith or something, you know, the year or something like that. 

And then, you know, on the same day, I don't know that, well, I don't know what journal it was, but let's say I had downloaded from nature. Um, a PDF from nature. The name will be something like S 3, 2, 8, 9, you know, and just like 20 different letters or something. Right. And that's sometimes I have in my downloads folder, you know, [00:57:00] All sorts of PDFs. 

I have no idea what they are, where they're from or anything like that. So one question is just like, why don't journals give their PDF some sort of name that you can recognize as someone who touted the paper? Um, the only thing I can tell basically as the publisher, because, you know, Elsevier has a format, nature has a format vs. 

So why is, why is that? that?  

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: So, uh, That. 

last part is you hit the nail on the head. There is a disconnect between editors and publishing. So our job is to engage with the scientific community and to evaluate scientific content and to hopefully help improve science. we accept, you know, the paper leaves our hands, never to be seen again, not really, but almost. Um, so that means I have no idea why downloads go is the downloads. Do I have no idea of the, what made them choose whatever formatting I. Like we play [00:58:00] no part in that. Um, so I can't, I don't know. I, in fact, I  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: who I could approach to ask. Like, it's that far removed, you know, I could ask the chief editor, I know that she doesn't know, but maybe she knows who potentially, but it's like so far away from anything that we do that I, I just, I don't even know where to begin maybe production. 

I don't know what is production do that like, I really don't know.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay.  

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: yeah,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Maybe that's what I'll do too. It looks like someone has to do some sort of investigative journalism here to find out if your name's that PDFs. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: exactly. And how all of that works. I mean, maybe the platform like, well, I really have no idea, but I agree. It's really annoying for me too. Cause I also download articles and I also can't find them. So I ended up just going online and searching. Cause like I have no idea what S3 5, 0 9 is.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Okay, good. Um, I'm not good. I don't know. I guess if you don't know it, that that's that's 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: something I [00:59:00] can't help with. I can yeah. Try to follow up, but I'm not really sure how.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: okay. Yeah. Um, so yeah, but more kind of important, uh, discussion about the future of publishing is, I mean, you already mentioned that you try and get certain subject areas into publishing more, but I'm curious also to hear about the kind of. You know, there's, there's lots of people who, who kind of really try and change scientific publishing and, you know, I mean, some fields, for example, I guess largely use preprints anyway, and like articles aren't even that important anymore. 

Um, then, uh, I talked to Chris chambers, um, who is very in favor of like saying like, let's, let's get rid of journals, or I don't know whether I was taking that too strong, but at least, um, he, um, at the end of our conversation seemed to say like, why do we even need like journals? We can just do it differently on separately. 

Uh, I guess maybe the first question is kind of like, yeah, do we need journals? And, uh, then secondly, kind of what kind of changes in terms of like, [01:00:00] I dunno, like for example, we'll register reports be at nature ever, or, uh, these kinds of questions, like different kinds of formats or making papers more interactive to put them in the 21st century or, yeah. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Um, yeah, so let's see. Sorry, what was the first thing  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. So that was a lot of questions. Um, and I have to remember it myself. Yeah. Kind of. Oh, what do journals ads that, where you wouldn't get without them kind of, yeah. Why, why would it  

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Okay.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: even in the future, why should they be journalists basically from your perspective? 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: My, my answer is a little bit of an analogy. Um, and this, this isn't something that I follow in real life, but like we have broadens for everything. Right. We have bronze for cars. We have friends for. For clothes, we have brands for everything that we consume. Um, and one of the reasons we have brands is because we believe that they provide some kind of stamp of prestige and or quality. 

Those [01:01:00] are the two main reasons and the reasons that we don't just have no brands is because you need some kind of help. When you go to the whatever store you want to go, and you see all of the different options of sweaters or of, you know, foodstuffs, restaurants, I mean, everything, we have some kind of system that helps us decide, is it worth, you know, do we want to spend more money for this thing? 

And if so, why? Um, in the case of scientific articles, it's, it's something similar. Um, it's the curation in a way. So I don't know, I get paid to read scientific articles for a living. So I read a lot of them. I read a lot more than any researcher because you have to be doing the research as well. Um, yet I touch, like I barely dent the scientific Corpus. 

There's so much science being published. if you didn't have journals and you just had this huge, like preprint server where everybody deposited it, how, how would you [01:02:00] ever find anything and know if it was good? You know, when I look at the amount of submissions I get, I mean, just the, the curation in a way is something that I think is very valuable, because like I said, there's just so much output. 

And then it's hard. Like, imagine you went to a store and like all of the sweaters in the world where they're like, wait, what would you do? It's so much easier if you have different stores that have different names. And then you're like, oh, know, this store fits me. Well, I like the quality. Like I'm going to this store. Um, Similar with journals, right? You say, okay, this journal publishes, like the things that I like, it's good quality. I'm going to sign up for their newsletter and stay informed here because you can't stay informed with everything. So, um, the, the curation and the prestige, um, and I guess for the same reason that, you know, we keep having brands and we keep having different stores, even if the different stores sell all of the same things, think the same thing will happen. The [01:03:00] same thing is true of, of journals. Like we still have so many, um, chains of stores that have like different tiers, similar to journals, right? Like isn't it. Gap has old Navy. They have gap, they have banana Republic. They all make clothes. of them, they all make the same kind of clothes, but they are different tiers of side clothes. 

Right. We support that. And we support different journals as well. So I, I don't know that I think is an important, an important service. And I think it would be very hard the amount of time you would have to spend to like parse the literature to get something meaningful. If it was just all a big dump would be difficult.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Well, I guess then you, I guess there has to be some sort of curation, otherwise it might be people who tweet a lot about it or people who, you know, whatever, I guess it's just going to be a different kind of format, um, curation. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Right. So then the thing is that if you're doing the curation, I mean, isn't that sort of what journals [01:04:00] are. They're just curating into a title of.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Um, and, uh, maybe as a final question. Oh, kind of, yeah. Kind of, how do you think about change? I mean, whether it's even necessary to change, like the format of a research paper, um, or, um, is that something that like people in nature think about? Do they consider whether they want to have registered reports? 

Is that something that other journalists can do or, yeah. How'd you, 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: So, yes. So yes, for, you know, for registered reports, I'd really like registered reports to come to nature. It's something that I'm working on. So, um, you know, we'll, we'll see how that goes. Um, it just takes a lot of work to do something like that. Um, you, 

know, and I'm busy reading papers at the same time.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: sorry, what is the work there? Just briefly because I have other, no, like  

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: work  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: from the outside, it seems like, well, I guess the editor has to do it slightly differently, but it's still getting a paper, sending it to reviewers. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: So [01:05:00] broadly it's changing in an institution. So if you want change, you have to convince people that the change is worthwhile. So you would have to first convince everybody that this is a worthwhile thing to consider registered reports. And then you'd have to think of all of the guidelines around it. So you would say, is this going to be for all the disciplines that nature covers, nature covers a lot more than most of the journals that consider registered reports, right? 

Which are primarily in like neuroscience psychology. So would this, you know, apply to all of the physical sciences chemists? Right. If not, where would you draw the line? How would you categorize your papers? Where would you say this is this isn't so you have to have all of this clear, then you have to figure out, you know, when your guide to authors, make it clear what you do and don't consider within the space of registered reports, right? 

There's all sorts of options. For example, are you going to consider a secondary data or is it just primary data? If you're considering registered reports on secondary data, how can you be sure that people haven't looked at the data [01:06:00] already lalala? So lots of, lots of things that need to be ironed out before you can even start to consider. 

So to convince the people, then you have to iron out all of the details, and then you have to do the implementation, which again goes into the publisher's hands. So that means that in the system they need to create, they, I see, I don't know who they is. They is some mysterious people have to something so that when you submit there's an option for you to say registered report. 

So. Whoever figures out the system has to be able to show that. And then that whole thing has to be different because with a registered report, right, you have an accepted principle then you have literally years before an acceptance. So it has to somehow be in like a different system that doesn't screw it up because that can't happen in that way. 

Anyway. So it has to go through all of those details. Yeah. So it's, it's a bunch of work and then you have to, you know, you have to have all of the letters together. So you have to make sure that you have your guide to [01:07:00] authors. You have to make sure that you have all of your letters to referees. You have to be sure that you have, you know, everything, everything clear, you have to have it in the system. 

So whatever the decision letters then have to be uploaded into the system so that you can trigger the proper decision letters. You have to explain to the referees. I mean, somebody has got to do all those letters. Somebody has got to upload them all. Somebody's got to make sure that the system works. So there's, there's quite a bit of work. 


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay, but it sounds like it's something that's in progress. Uh, even if it's a long progress, that's going to check off. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Right, right. Well, it's something that there's definitely interest in. So I'm, I'm, you know, I'm hopeful, I'm optimistic. Um, that it's something that, that will happen, but, you know, I can't say anything until, until it does because who knows. Um, but it is something that people are interested in.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah. That's cool to know. 

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: same goes for like, you know, different types of formats and different, cool things that we can do. 

There's definitely a lot of interest in it, you know, from the editor's [01:08:00] state. But as I said, we deal with science and there's a whole separate team of people who deal with the implementation. So there's all these things that we want to do, but you know, how it then gets implemented just is, is something that we don't know takes a lot of players. 

And so we can bring it up. And then, you know, slowly there is change. That comes to the, to the format, you know, it does change. You know, we, we now have extended data figures so we can have many more data figures. now have the option of, um, uploading, the raw data behind your figures that get. Integrated into that. So you can see the, the data, you know, there, there are more and more things. Um, and there's definitely a lot of things that we would like to see as editors. But again, there's just so many steps and most of our time is spent in the science. And would say the reason that we are editors is that we, like the science. 

So, [01:09:00] know, for me, I don't like the Like I don't like the nitty gritty of the practical parts of publishing. I like being an editor cause you're involved with the science. So also I'm just not drawn towards tasks that take, do things I do. do, you know, I am involved in a bunch of publishing related projects, but it's not, it's not the thing that makes me happy and makes me want to go to work. 

So, um,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, I guess I also just underestimated, like how much of a colossal bureaucracy almost, especially something like negative publishing group or spring, spring on nature or whatever it is. Um, it's yeah, it's probably a bit, it's a bit more complicated than just you get invited to script and then you say yes, no.  

Mary Elizabeth Sutherland: Right. Exactly.

How Mary Elizabeth started playing the harp
Harp music recommendations
How Mary Elizabeth became senior editor at Nature
What do editors do all day?
What's the difference between Nature, Nature Communications, and Scientific Reports?
How representative do samples need to be for Nature?
What exactly is a cover letter for?
Common errors in submissions
Why do the official PDFs of papers have unidentifiable names?
Do we still need journals?
Will Nature offer Registered Reports?