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Nandita Quaderi – editor-in-chief of the Web of Science – champions objectivity, selectivity, and data integrity

Tell us a little about your background and qualifications?

I trained as a scientist, was awarded my degree in Chemistry from Oxford and a PhD in Molecular Genetics from Imperial College, London. 

I then completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the Telethon Institute for Genetics and Medicine in Milan, Italy, where I cloned a gene, MID1,  which causes a rare birth defect called Opitz syndrome. I went on establish my own research group, sponsored by the Wellcome Trust, to study the role of MID1 during embryonic development within the MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology at Kings College, London. 

Towards the end of my five-year fellowship, I began to realise that although I found the intellectual challenge of working in academia extremely rewarding, the limitations on available funding meant it was unlikely that I would be able to realise my personal ambitions. I started investigating options outside the lab that would allow me to remain connected with the research community, and was hearing more and more about an exciting new development called open access (OA) publishing. 

I joined BMC, a pioneer of OA, as an acquisitions editor in 2005. These were still the early days of OA and there was a lot of work to be done to counter the misconceptions and mistrust regarding OA. I progressed to Editorial Director, and from there I moved to Nature Research, taking responsibility for the portfolio of OA journals. 

And how did this lead to your current role?

I have relied on the Web of Science (as it is now and in its previous incarnations) from my first day as a PhD student to my last day as publishing director at Nature Research. I jumped at the opportunity to take on the role of editor-in-chief. I have overall responsibility for the editorial decisions made by the team of Web of Science editors and for our editorial strategy and polices. I also play a key role in the newly revitalised Institute for Scientific Information, the ‘university’ of the Web of Science Group, which informs and supports best practice, analysis and interpretation of research trends and performance. 

In the digital era, the amount of information we are exposed to is enormous – this includes the rapidly expanding number of scholarly publications and published research articles. Researchers are suffering from information overload and need a place where they know the content has been rigorously assessed, can be trusted and is comprehensive and well-organised. The importance of an authoritative, selective resource such as the Web of Science Core Collection is becoming ever greater, and so is our responsibility for providing certainty and making the ‘right’ decisions.  

The Web of Science Group (which is part of Clarivate Analytics) provides the tools and resources researchers, publishers, institutions and research funders need to monitor, measure, and make an impact in the world of research. It covers 155 million records, 34,000 journals and 1.6 billion cited references. We offer over a century of curated, essential, accurate, consistent data indexing, and we make research connect. I could see no better place to improve the research intelligence currently available for the entire academic community. 

Originally conceived by Eugene Garfield, the Web of Science has evolved over decades in response to technological advances and changes in the publishing landscape, but there are now opportunities for more substantial change in what we offer and how we interact with our customers. 

The Web of Science was once the only player in its field. Now there are a few more competitors, as everyone jumps on the importance of data. How do you stay competitive? 

We are unashamedly selective but remain fair and objective. Editorial decisions are made by our global team of in-house editors who have no affiliations to publishing houses or research institutes and so there is no bias or conflict of interest in their decision making. Each editor is responsible for specific subject categories and has a deep, nuanced knowledge of all the journals in their field. This contrasts with competitors who rely on algorithms or delegating aspects of editorial decision-making to the research community.

Although we are selective in choosing which titles we include, we are comprehensive in our indexing of these titles and provide end-to-end coverage of scholarly content for every journal, book and conference proceeding selected for inclusion in the Web of Science Core Collection. 

We know that hugely important decisions are made on the basis of our data, and we offer certainty – as much as you can in the ever-changing fields of science and discovery. We continuously curate and expand our collection – journals are subject to regular re-evaluations to check whether they still meet our selection criteria, and whether they are indexed within the appropriate collection.

The Journal Citation Reports and annual release of the Journal Impact Factors is one of the biggest events in the year for the academic community. Why is it so important?

The citation data, impact and influence metrics, and indicators contained within the Journal Citation Reports are a vital resource for the entire research community: publishers, librarians, funders, institutions and individual academics. Librarians use it to understand which journals are the most important to their institutions and researchers’ success and work, and which journals to subscribe to. Publishers use the JCR to understand how their journals are performing, and to benchmark them against others in their discipline.  The JCR is used by researchers as a definitive list and guide to discover and select the most appropriate journals in the sciences and social sciences.   Last year, we incorporated new analyses that offer richer, more detailed information to enhance users’ understanding of journal performance, which has proved popular. 

But I have first-hand experience, from when I was a researcher, of the Journal Impact Factor being used inappropriately, and being judged on the journals I published in, rather than the discoveries I made. It can be incredibly frustrating to be referred to as the person that published in Journal X rather than the person that discovered Y. 

You mentioned the opportunity for substantial change. Can you tell us anything more about that?

I joined Web of Science Group in February 2018 and our priority last year was to introduce more transparency to our selection process and to provide more clarity around the difference between three long-standing journal indices SCIE (sciences), SSCI (social sciences) AHCI (arts & humanities) and ESCI, which we launched in 2015 and covers all subject areas. This was in response to feedback from the community that our journal selection process was a ‘black box’ and confusion regarding ESCI. 

We have a single evaluation process that consists of 28 criteria; 24 quality criteria, and 4 impact criteria. The quality criteria are designed to select for evidence of editorial rigour and publishing best practice and journals that pass these criteria enter ESCI. The impact criteria are designed to select for the most influential journals in their field, using citation performance as a primary indicator of influence. Journals that pass the additional impact criteria enter SCIE, SSCI or AHCI depending on their discipline. 

In order to innovate and expand, we have to build our team and invest in our technical infrastructure. This year, we’re appointing our first China-based editors to enhance our coverage of content from this rapidly-growing research community and have created two new roles; Head of Editorial Integrity and Head of Editorial Outreach. We are building a new evaluation platform to help the editors work more efficiently and a new portal where publishers can submit and track journal evaluations. All of this – and much more I can’t talk about yet! – will lead to huge improvements for our customers.

What is your experience as a BAME woman in the sometimes-conservative industries of academia and research publishing? 

I’m from a Bangladeshi background and at industry events I am often the only brown person in the room, or the only senior woman. I don’t think this is unusual, but neither should we accept it. One of the reasons I was drawn to the Web of Science Group is their record of promoting and recruiting women into senior roles. Both my boss, and my boss’ boss, are women. 

In all my roles I have worked to build environments where diversity, equality, and gender parity are championed and valued. At the Web of Science Group, I have been honoured to facilitate insightful discussions for International Women’s Day, taking parts in events to encourage women in STEM. I am part of the Women@Clarivate group, an initiative to help women across our parent company grow in their careers. 

Much like innovation in technology, or ensuring editorial quality – diversity is a topic on which we cannot afford to stand still. 

Interview by Tim Gillett