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Steve Duke takes over the reins at Pest Management Science

Steve Duke - photo Daniel Sambraus/Science Photo Library

23 Jan 2012

The journal has gone from an awkward online submission and review processes to a streamlined system, he tells Members' News

What does your current job involve?
I lead a group of USDA scientists whose primary research focus is natural product-related pest management. This involves both the discovery of pest management uses for new and known natural compounds and the genetic manipulation of the production of these compounds in crops.

How did you decide you wanted a career in science?
My identical twin, Stanley, and I had an interest in science as children but were more interested in art. After a successful undergraduate year as art majors, there was pressure from our parents to focus on something more practical. We took the required undergraduate biology course and became hooked. We went our separate ways for our doctorates but we both became plant physiologists. I like to think there is some art in our work.

What have been the major milestones in your career?
I am one of those people who have plodded along at a fairly constant pace with considerable help from outstanding colleagues and postdoctoral scientists. I am probably best known for my work on the mode of action of protoporphyrinogen oxidase-inhibiting herbicides. Ours was one of three labs that cracked this nut almost simultaneously. My most-cited publication is a text book on mode of action of herbicides co-written with two colleagues.

More recently, the publications that have received the most attention have been those on glyphosate (the most important herbicide in history) effects on transgenic, glyphosate-resistant crops and reviews on glyphosate-related topics. Moving from a lab that was only involved in weed management to my current position fifteen years ago was also a major milestone, opening my career to a wider range of research topics.

What have you enjoyed most about your involvement with PMSci?
The collegial interactions with an outstanding group of editors have been quite rewarding. But, seeing the increasing quality and success of the journal since 1995 has given me the most pleasure.

What do you see as being the biggest challenge of becoming the editor-in-chief?
Scientific publishing is becoming more competitive, with pressure to continually improve the impact factor and to attract the best papers. We've been quite successful, but improvement will be a challenge.

How has the practice of journal publishing changed in your time?
We have gone from very awkward online submission and review processes to a usually quite streamlined one. This has made the possibility of having a paper submitted, reviewed, revised, accepted, and published online in only a few weeks quite feasible. I still publish in several other journals, so I can see how they operate first hand.

The biggest hurdles have become the human factors - getting quality reviewing and editing done in a timely fashion. We, and other successful journals, have gone to rejection without review of especially weak papers by editors in order to reduce reviewer burnout. With our ever-increasing submission rate, I expect we'll have to increase the proportion of papers handled in this way.

How has the science changed over that period of time?
We now have more powerful tools to answer many of the scientific questions. The availability of robust molecular biology tools in particular has significantly altered how we go about answering many scientific questions. Due to the extreme success of crops with transgenes for pest management, transgenic crops have become the focus of a considerable amount of current research.

Also, interdisciplinary research seems to be more common now, as many of the significant questions cannot be answered without such an approach, but, conclusively, answering an important scientific question is still the overriding measure of a good paper.

What challenges and opportunities lie ahead?
We're competing with journals that attract quality papers and have short turnaround in their handling and publication of papers. So, we must improve the quality of what we publish, while reducing the time between submission and publication online. These are not trivial objectives, but I think that we are well positioned to make significant progress on both fronts.

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