The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) delivers scientific advice to policy makers and legislators in the European Commission and national authorities to protect consumers. It publishes more than 600 scientific assessments per annum on food safety and related issues in the EFSA Journal – EFSA’s flagship publication – and Supporting Publications. The agency has a number of core organisational values which frame its publishing activities: rapid dissemination of scientific advice to a wide range of stakeholders, quality-assured processes, attracting and retaining leading expertise, and open access to information.
Arthur Healy heads up EFSA’s scientific publishing programme. He has worked in publishing for most of his career after studies in human nutrition and medicine at University College Cork. He has spearheaded the recent development of the EFSA Journal which has seen it blossom from a DIY publication on EFSA’s website to becoming one of the most accessed journals on Wiley Online Library since its launch there in mid-2016. EuroScientist caught up with him to better understand EFSA’s publishing programme.
Publishing a scientific journal is unusual in itself for an EU agency but outsourcing it to a commercial publisher is probably unique. Why did EFSA decide to follow this path?
We wanted to provide a platform for European risk assessment that does justice to EFSA’s standing in the scientific community and is influential among the global risk assessment community. In its previous incarnation, the journal had little impact or visibility and EFSA’s assessments were not integrated into the standard scientific information flows. Editorial quality was also an important consideration. The extra scrutiny that professional publishing with Wiley brings has improved the consistency of our work and our new publishing process is now an integral part of EFSA’s quality management programme.
As always, efficient use of resources is crucial and that’s working well for us: Wiley has progressively reduced the editorial burden on our science units and we are reaping the benefits of digitising our workflows and introducing tools like ORCID, ScholarOne Manuscripts, CrossCheck etc.
What are the challenges in publishing the EFSA Journal?
First of all, timeliness is critical. Our assessments have important public health implications and we are obliged to make our advice publicly available without delay. When policy makers need the information to protect European citizens, they cannot be left waiting. Many of EFSA’s outputs are several hundred pages long and have a unique structure, far removed from research articles. While scientific accuracy is paramount, balancing timeliness and accessibility can be challenging especially for larger documents. Secondly, our assessments are collaborative efforts with many authors and inputs, so achieving coherence can be difficult.
Calls for open access are getting louder at EU level: how is EFSA contributing?
All our scientific publications are freely available – we want our user community to use and reuse the content as much as possible. We publish under a Creative Commons (CC BY-ND) attribute license which is very liberal and we are making more and more data available via the EFSA Knowledge Junction which is on Zenodo, the open access repository run by CERN. From an institutional perspective, EFSA is well embedded in the open science and open data movements at European level.
Introducing new technology and workflows isn’t easy, what were the key challenges?
EFSA is fortunate in that most of its scientists are already familiar with scientific publishing. Having said that, some adaptation to new tools and workflows was necessary. Once our scientists began to see the improved presentation and impact of their work, it was easier. Most of them are still talking to me, I think!
What benefits are you seeing from this transformation?
Last year we had almost two million downloads of articles from Wiley Online Library (WOL) and there is a 30% year-on-year growth since 2016. The number of citations is following a similar trajectory due mainly to the increased visibility of our work and its integration into referencing networks such as CrossRef, PubMed, CAS etc. We are also using Altmetric to track the online impact and the pattern is very encouraging.
What other changes have been introduced?
In 2017, we revamped our authorship rules to make them more transparent and to ensure that the contributions of the 1000+ scientists who contribute to our work every year are properly recognised. This makes EFSA a more attractive organisation to work with, a key corporate objective. More recently, we have revised the Editorial Advisory Board to ensure that it reflects the evolving environment in which EFSA operates: open data, citizen science etc.
What’s the next step on this journey?
One of the key areas we are tackling is collaborative authorship. EFSA’s assessments are multi-authored with inputs from experts right across Europe. Our scientific staff is challenged with integrating all those inputs into a single document. The benefits of a collaborative, Cloud-based system with a single master document are obvious. Many commercial players are trying to fill that space however a solution that is practicable for EFSA remains elusive.
What would your advice be to other organisations considering outsourcing a scientific publication?
Be clear on your priorities and select your publisher carefully. Be patient – establishing the reputation of a scientific journal is not achieved overnight. Keep your standards consistently high, have confidence in what you are doing and you will get there.
Any final comments?
Just a lot of gratitude towards colleagues at Wiley, the EU Publications Office and, last but not least, EFSA colleagues for embarking on this journey with us.