Special Issues at JEB

Luke Hol­man, Com­mis­sion­ing Edit­or of JEB and Asso­ci­ate Pro­fess­or at Edin­burgh Napi­er University

What is a Special Issue?

Spe­cial Issues (SIs) at JEB com­prise around 12 papers centred on a com­mon theme, such as a research top­ic or meth­od­o­lo­gic­al frame­work. For example, we have recently pub­lished SIs titled Genet­ics and gen­om­ics of adapt­a­tion and Assort­at­ive mat­ing for quant­it­at­ive traits: mech­an­isms, estim­a­tion and evol­u­tion­ary con­sequences

Spe­cial Issues are stan­dalone fea­tures and will nor­mally replace the stand­ard issue in the month of their pub­lic­a­tion. SIs are con­ceived and led by Guest Edit­ors — typ­ic­ally mem­bers of the evol­u­tion­ary bio­logy research com­munity who are not mem­bers of the JEB edit­or­i­al board — whose role is explained below. 

An SI begins with an Edit­or­i­al writ­ten by the Guest Edit­ors, which intro­duces the SI (e.g. what are its aims and scope and what motiv­ated it). The Edit­or­i­al may also intro­duce each paper fea­tured in the SI, review the field, or fea­ture new primary research. The remainder of the SI com­prises papers present­ing new data or insights into the SI’s top­ic, which are writ­ten by vari­ous authors, many of whom were invited by the Guest Editors.

Spe­cial Issues fea­ture their own cov­er image selec­ted by the Guest Edit­ors and, for example, can be study spe­cies, field work pho­to­graphs or even art­work such as the piece by Tara Okon that fea­tured in our ‘Assort­at­ive Mat­ing’ SI .

What is the role of the Guest Editors?

In short, the Guest Edit­ors’ role is to choose the top­ic of the SI, find authors who can con­trib­ute inter­est­ing and rel­ev­ant papers to the SI by the dead­line, and provide a small amount of guid­ance as these authors pre­pare their manu­scripts. Guest Edit­ors should ensure that the SI con­tains a good mix­ture of com­ple­ment­ary papers, without excess­ive duplic­a­tion of effort, and are (with JEB’s help) respons­ible for the peer review pro­cess for these manu­scripts. It usu­ally takes Guest Edit­ors 9–12 months to com­pile an SI, start­ing from their first requests for papers.

Our pre­vi­ous Guest Edit­ors have indic­ated that they greatly enjoyed the exper­i­ence of con­ven­ing an SI. Many of these edit­ors have been Early Career Research­ers, who told us that they val­ued the insight into the pub­lish­ing pro­cess and greatly expan­ded their sci­entif­ic net­works by inter­act­ing with lots of poten­tial authors, review­ers and readers. 

SIs typ­ic­ally have two or three Guest Edit­ors, who begin by con­ceiv­ing the scope and title of the SI, then identi­fy­ing authors who might con­trib­ute to the SI. The edit­ors then com­mu­nic­ate with these authors and secure com­mit­ments to con­trib­ute papers, and draw­ing up a pro­vi­sion­al table of con­tents for the SI. In prac­tice, it is very likely that some of the authors invited will not be able to provide their papers by the dead­line, and so it is good prac­tice to secure enough com­mit­ments for 15–18 papers (i.e. more than the usu­al ~12). It is simple to accom­mod­ate an excess of papers, but more dif­fi­cult to deal with a short­fall. Some Guest Edit­ors gath­er these com­mit­ments entirely through invit­a­tions, e.g. by con­tact­ing experts in their field or util­ising things like ESEB con­fer­ence sym­po­sia or Spe­cial Top­ic Net­works. Oth­ers find some of the con­tri­bu­tions by pub­lish­ing a ‘Call for papers’ for the SI on the JEB web­site, and pro­mot­ing it via social media and mail­ing lists.

Authors sub­mit their papers to the SI using the usu­al JEB sub­mis­sion portal, and the Guest Editor(s) then handle the peer review pro­cess via their newly-cre­ated Guest Edit­or account on Schol­arOne. Spe­cific­ally, Guest Edit­ors are asked to secure peer review from qual­i­fied and impar­tial review­ers and to write up their edit­or­i­al decision (based on the reviews plus their own judge­ment) regard­ing the suit­ab­il­ity of the manu­script for pub­lic­a­tion in JEB, and in the SI spe­cific­ally. They then pass their edit­or­i­al decision to a mem­ber of the JEB edit­or­i­al board, who veri­fies that the peer review pro­cess and edit­or­i­al decision let­ter reflects JEB’s stand­ards, before affirm­ing the Guest Editor’s decision. Guest Edit­ors will have the full sup­port of our Man­aging Edit­or in the use of the sys­tem and keep­ing everything on track with the peer review process.

Accep­ted manu­scripts destined for pub­lic­a­tion in the SI will be pub­lished online as soon as they are ready, so that no author is kept wait­ing for the release of their paper. Once all SI papers are pub­lished online, and the Guest Edit­ors’ Edit­or­i­al is ready, JEB will com­pile the Spe­cial Issue.

Advice for those thinking of producing a JEB Special Issue

First and fore­most, the Spe­cial Issue should focus on an import­ant and inter­est­ing top­ic in evol­u­tion­ary bio­logy. Secondly, it is import­ant to select a top­ic that can fill a Spe­cial Issue, since the most chal­len­ging task for Guest Edit­ors is secur­ing enough high-qual­ity papers on the right top­ic with­in a spe­cified time­frame. In our exper­i­ence, a Call for Papers can­not be relied upon to pro­duce many suit­able papers, and we strongly encour­age pro­spect­ive Guest Edit­ors not to rely heav­ily on a Call to make up the num­bers. We encour­age Guest Edit­ors to reach out bey­ond their imme­di­ate net­work (e.g. by read­ing broadly to identi­fy suit­able authors); although SIs often grow out of research con­fer­ences, they should not be viewed as con­fer­ence pro­ceed­ings. Guest Edit­ors should exam­ine their invit­a­tion prac­tices and take steps to ensure that authors from under­rep­res­en­ted groups (e.g. women and authors from the Glob­al South) are not excluded. 

Are you interested?

Excel­lent! In the first instance, you should con­tact us (jeb.office@eseb.org). We wel­come inform­al enquir­ies, though we will even­tu­ally ask you to provide the fol­low­ing information:

  • A title and a short sum­mary of the top­ic and its background
  • An explan­a­tion of why a SI is timely, how it would advance know­ledge, and a list of any wider benefits
  • a list of poten­tial con­trib­ut­ors and sub­ject areas/paper titles, identi­fy­ing any papers where con­trib­ut­ors have already agreed to be involved

At times, we receive more applic­a­tions for Spe­cial Issues than we have space for in the pro­duc­tion sched­ule, and in these cases the edit­or­i­al board will apply an intern­al selec­tion pro­cess to the applic­a­tions. We will pri­or­it­ise Spe­cial Issue pro­pos­als with an important/timely top­ic, which have a high prob­ab­il­ity of attract­ing suf­fi­ciently many suit­able papers before the deadline. 

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