I spent the last weekend in Berlin, attending a conference for editors organized by Elsevier. And I learnt quite a bit during two very busy days. As a newbie - I am handling editor for the journal "Reviews in Physics" since January this year - I did expect to learn a lot from the event; but I will admit that I decided to accept the invitation to attend the event more out of curiosity for a world that is at least in part new to me, rather than out of professional sense of duty.
The conference was held in the Berlin Marriott hotel, which is located in the heart of Berlin, between the Brandenburg gate and Potsdamerplatz. It was impeccably organized, I must say, with attention to detail and a lot of gadgetry. For instance, as I arrived I was quite happy to receive a box of business cards with the journal logo and my data - for the first time in my life I owned business cards, and I instantly understood how my life had been meaningless until then. Seriously, they are indeed useful: very often I meet somebody and it feels awkward to ask or give contact information unsolicited, but with a card it all becomes very natural.

I of course cannot report two days of talks in this post, but I will make an attempt at flashing some information. The discussion focused on the challenges of our work as editors, the ethical issues, the pros and cons of open access and the trends that the field of scientific publishing is experiencing. There were also sessions meant to train editors to use the new web tools that Elsevier has put in place to facilitate their work - in particular, keeping track of the tedious process of finding suitable reviewers for the papers; but as the editor of a low-bandwidth journal, where the challenge is not so much the one of finding good reviewers, but rather to find excellent authors, those sessions were not very interesting to me. 

Some interesting data come from a presentation by Andrew Plume, who works at Elsevier on scientometrics and market analysis. Here are some bits from his slides:

- every year, 2.5 million scientific articles are published in peer-reviewed journals
- 81% of authors agree or strongly agree that their career strongly depends on publishing those articles
- 47% of authors agree or strongly agree that they feel pressured to publish more articles rather than fewer, higher-quality articles
- collaborative work is on the rise, while the number of single-author papers is diminishing rapidly. Funnily, though, the throughput of the single researcher has kept constant for a long time to 0.56 articles per year, if we divide the total number of publications by the number of authors.
- The typical researcher takes 43' for each search and discovery for articles in the web; spends 7 hours per week searching and reading papers; 5.4 papers per week are read, and of these, 56% are deemed useful.

In another presentation the situation with open access was discussed in detail by Martin O'Malley. Open access publishing is on the rise - 12% per year - but also normal publishing is rising, although less (3% per year); so it is not granted that the former will replace the latter any time soon.
The reason why Open Access is not rising more, given the strong push in that direction also coming from the very funding agencies, is that the funds are not always there: only 33% of researchers have adequate funding to cover the costs they sustain by publishing in gold open access journals.
And the reason why researchers choose open access is mainly to make their scientific research available to all without barriers. Only 15% give as a reason the explicit demand of funding agencies or department heads.

Ethics were discussed at length both during the presentations (in the Q&A sessions) and at lunch and dinner. I was surprised to learn how common it is for editors to receive suggestions on reviewers by authors, with specified email addresses, and to discover those emails pointed back to the author through an alias! Frauds are only a minority - 5% of cases involve plagiarism, which seems a small number only until you reckon that dealing with these cases is a huge waste of time for editors.

The Elsevier staff was very helpful and answered a number of questions I asked during the conference (as usual, I tend to ask a lot of questions in these events). At one point I was also able to raise a laugh in the otherwise serious audience when, upon asked by the speaker in what ways could Elsevier help editors and what they could provide us with, I replied aloud "A Ferrari would be good".

All in all, it was a pleasant experience. The Saturday evening dinner was had on the top floor of the Reichstag, near the glass-and-steel structure on the top of the German parliament hall. The food was not exceptional there (I guess it was for German standards! Huh now flame me), but the view and the company at my table definitely were. So I look forward to the next occasion...