Objectivity, Selectivity and Data Integrity – an interview with Nandita Quaderi, Editor-in-Chief of the Web of Science Group

As Editor-in-Chief of the Web of Science, Dr Nandita Quaderi holds a unique and fascinating role in the industry. Here she tells us more about iterating on Dr Garfield’s legacy, the unique in-house editorial team and the importance of selectivity.

What’s your background?

I am a research scientist by training, with a degree in Chemistry from Oxford and a PhD in Molecular Genetics from Imperial College. I went on to do a post-doc in Italy then returned to London to establish my own research group at King’s College London. The focus of my lab was to understand the embryonic function of a gene I discovered to be responsible for a rare birth defect called Opitz Syndrome.

Although I loved academia, I eventually realized that I wouldn’t be able to fulfill my personal ambitions if I stayed there. I wanted a role that kept me close to the research community and took on an editorial position at BMC, a pioneer in the open access (OA) movement. After moving up the ranks at BMC, I moved to Nature Publishing Group (later Springer Nature) as Publishing Director, where I had responsibility for the portfolio of OA Nature Research journals.

What makes the Web of Science different?

The Web of Science is the original citation index and, I would argue, the best! It’s certainly been the one I’ve found indispensable throughout my time in academia and publishing.

The Science Citation Index, the precursor to the Web of Science, was created by Dr Eugene Garfield in 1964. We remain true to his legacy and continue to apply his principles of objectivity, selectivity and collection dynamics, but we also adapt and respond to technological advances and changes in the publishing landscape.

The evaluation process is carried out by a team of in-house editors. Each editor receives several months of intensive training to ensure that there is a common understanding of our internal datasets, policies and selection criteria to ensure our decisions are data-driven, consistent and fair. Editors focus on specific subject categories, enabling them to gain a deep, nuanced knowledge of journals in that field; they have no affiliations with publishing houses or research institutes, removing any potential conflicts of interest or bias. This contrasts with other products that primarily rely on algorithms or delegate aspects of their selection process to the research community.

You are the first Editor-in-Chief of the Web of Science. Can you tell me about how the new role fits into the organization?

I am honored to be the first person in this role; I have overall responsibility for setting editorial strategy, and for the policy and practices governing the selection process for the Web of Science.

As part of the job, I lead the editorial division of the newly revitalized Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), the ‘university’ of Web of Science Group.

Tell me about your editorial team.

My team of editors are the gate-keepers of the Web of Science – they decide which journals, books and conference proceedings go in, which stay in, and which are removed. They are based in Philadelphia, Barcelona and London and we’re planning to establish a team in Beijing. The editorial team contains a diverse range of backgrounds including PhDs, library/information science, bibliometrics and scholarly publishing – you can find profiles of the editorial leadership team on our new editorial website.

Can you talk me through the selection process for the Web of Science Core Collection?

Customers have previously commented that our selection process was a “black box” and could be painfully slow at times, and to be honest, I shared these views when I was a publisher. So when I joined last year, my top priority was to update the evaluation process – to improve efficiency and transparency without compromising on rigor –  to clarify the selection criteria, and to clearly explain the relationship between the different indices within the Web of Science Core Collection.

The Web of Science Core Collection contains four journal indices: Emerging Sources Citation Index; Science Citation Index Expanded; Social Sciences Citation Index and Arts & Humanities Citation Index. We use a single set of 28 criteria to evaluate journals – these are split into 24 quality criteria, designed to select for editorial rigor and best practice at the journal level, and four impact criteria, designed to select the most influential journals in their respective fields using citation activity as the primary indicator of impact. Journals that pass the 24 quality criteria enter ESCI. Journals that pass the four additional impact criteria enter SCIE, SSCI or AHCI depending on their subject area. We regularly re-evaluate the journals in our collection. Journals in ESCI that now fulfil the impact criteria are moved to SCIE, SSCI or AHCI. Journals in SCIE, SSCI or AHCI that no longer fulfil the impact criteria are moved to ESCI. Any journal that no longer meets our quality criteria is removed from the Web of Science Core Collection.

Further details of our evaluation process and selection criteria can be found on our editorial page.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the research community?

We’re living in an age of information overload. With the huge recent rise in publication output, it can be hard to know which sources to trust, find the most relevant literature or identify potential collaborators. We aim to address these issues by providing a trusted, comprehensive source of highly curated data that enables our customers to proceed with confidence in research discovery, collaboration and assessment.

The scholarly communication system is in transition, moving from the traditional subscription model to a future that has yet to be fully defined but will have a strong open research component. There is also a shift in the demographics and the nature of research output and the current system of incentives and rewards will need to evolve to reflect these changes. As an independent observer in this space, the Web of Science Group will seek to provide relevant and responsible metrics and indicators to support fair and transparent decision making.

Join Dr Quaderi to learn more about our robust evaluation and curation process, and what we are doing to improve the ease and transparency of submitting journals and tracking their evaluation progress at the Frankfurt Book Fair on Wednesday October 16, 3pm at the Academic & Business Information Stage (hall 4.2).