By: Katharine Cimmino, Editor-in-Chief & Bharat Kirthivasan, Co-Copy Editor
Frank A. Barile Ph.D. is a Professor of Clinical and Applied Toxicology at St. John’s University. He is also a St. John’s University alumnus, having received a B.S. in Pharmaceutical Science, an M.S. in Toxicology, and a Ph.D. in Pharmacology. At St. John’s University, Dr. Barile teaches several undergraduate courses including Drugs and Disease Neurology, Drugs and Disease Cancer Chemotherapy, Pharmacotoxicology, Clinical Immunology, Anatomy and Physiology and graduate advanced topics in Clinical Toxicology and Cell Culture Methods. Besides being a professor, Dr. Barile is also a published author and participant in many editorial boards. Most notably, he is the Editor-in-Chief of Toxicology in Vitro. Toxicology in Vitro publishes original research on the use of in vitro systems to understand the toxicology of chemicals. Dr. Barile joined St. John’s University back in 2000 for the research experiences as well as for teaching pharmacy and toxicology students. He commented that the nice thing about working at St. John’s University is the opportunities that a private university has to offer. He said, “One can still do research even if you don’t acquire a ton of grant money. Actually here at St. John’s you are rewarded for research and rewarded for publishing material.
Q: Dr. Barile has been on the editorial board of Toxicology in Vitro for about six years now. What is the difference between being the Editor-in-Chief and working as another member of the editorial board?
A: The position holds tremendous responsibility and is very rewarding. I make the final decisions on all manuscripts that are submitted. I get about 10-15 manuscripts a week. It really is a lot. On this journal there are three Editors-in-Chiefs. One is responsible for any manuscripts submitted from North America. Another is responsible for all research submitted from the European Union. I am responsible for the rest of the world. Out of all the submissions I get the most. The submissions that come to me make up about 60-70% of all submissions. Many come from China, India, Southeast Asia, and Africa.
Q: Being a part of such a global publication, one of the biggest issues is the language barrier. Writing for most people is a difficult endeavor; writing in a foreign language can cause some communication issues between the author and the readers. Do you see any of these problems in manuscripts that are submitted to you?
A: Honestly, there is a lot. Most of the problems are with the English language. If you are going to publish scientifically then the wording has to be perfect and specific. I find that with many foreign writers, the authors will have the manuscripts proofread. The funny thing is that these services only check the grammar and the syntax. It will not check or review as far as the message is concerned. Sometimes I get articles that don’t make sense yet they are grammatically correct. I have to go through every paper. If I can’t get through the abstract I reject it. As an editor I triage each manuscript. If I can determine that it is worthwhile then I send it to reviewers.
Q: In essence, as the editor-in-chief of Toxicology in Vitro, you are the first read of each manuscript. This is a different approach to how some other publications work. Exactly how do you go about approving a manuscript?
A: When I receive a manuscript, after I read it, I can make the decision to send it to another editorial board member or I can send it to a reviewer. If I know of an editorial board member that has specialized in that area, I will send it directly to them. But getting something published really depends on a series of reviewers. If I think it can go to the next step, I will give the manuscript to an editorial member; they will review it and send comments back to me. There are four different ways an editorial board member can classify a manuscript: accept with no changes (this is extremely rare); minor revisions; major revisions, or rejections. More than one reviewer will read each manuscript. I accumulate 3-4 sets of comments and then decide on how to proceed.
Q: As one can see, each manuscript goes through several reads and reviewers. How do you navigate any conflict that arises?
A: That is really my job. I spend 20-30 minutes on each manuscript. So you can imagine if I get 10 manuscripts that I spend about 5-6 hours minimum each week. Not only do I check it, but I have a program that will “check relevant manuscripts” and it will search on medline any key words. Just like Google, it comes up with 1000s of hits and like “turn-it-in” it will come back with a percentage. If anything is over 50-60% then I have to examine it for plagiarism. However, there is a lot of overlap. Often people conduct experiments and just change something slightly. We do catch people though who try and double-dip. For instance, I got this one article that was discussing the effect of coal tar on lung cells. I conducted a search and got the same exact article and same exact authors, the only thing that was changed was the title. I found out that it was published in a Chinese journal. I was honestly surprised that it even came up because most of the local journals do not. Not only did I reject the article, I also contacted the author and my publisher.
Q: Peer review is blind to the extent that the author has no idea who is reviewing it, yet the reviewer can see all of the author’s credentials and affiliations. How much does this bias a reviewer’s opinion?
A: Some journals actually use a double blind [editing method] to prevent any sort of bias. Our journal does not. We try not to let any bias interfere but sometimes, no matter what you do, it comes through. There are many Chinese journals and universities that just don’t have as much funding. So you can see how far someone has completed an experiment and if you ask them to conduct more experiments or do anything further they respond that they just can’t afford it. Well honestly, that’s not my problem. In a situation like this, I may like the idea but if it isn’t developed enough I will not move the manuscript to the next step. Also the language barrier shows up. English is a difficult language to write in and if I can’t read it I won’t send it further. However, Elsevier does have a technical service that will try and work with the author or make suggestions in order to make a manuscript more readable. I send manuscripts out if I like the message but the English needs some work.
Q: Considering how much work you go through to review a manuscript, how much do you change the manuscript?
A: I don’t change it at all. If we have a problem we send it back to them. Our program is written so that we can’t change anything. If a reviewer wants to make a comment or add something, it will warn us that we are about to alter the manuscript. I personally don’t change anything, however, a reviewer can add comments. Some people may see this as a problem but it truly is a fantastic system. What we do is true peer-review. What is upsetting now is plagiarism. It is a huge problem now and it is so easy to detect. Years ago I would have to comb through volumes and manually search through the titles of everything published that week. Now with the click of a button I can see how much is the author’s own work. Honestly then it was too much to do.
Q: Why did you take a more prominent role in the Toxicology in Vitro?
A: I don’t like to work with animals. I made it a goal in my life and career to develop methods that are alternatives to animal testing. Now I have moved in a different direction and work with embryonic cells. I don’t like getting up in the morning knowing I have to kill a bunch of rats. I teach a graduate course in cell culture. I teach them a lot of methods and this is the only time I work with animals. You get one animal and it provides you with enough cells to conduct research for a lifetime. In the class though, I will extract the cells myself, but show the students the procedure.
Q: With research, there is often tension between in vitro and animal research. Does limiting your work to only one aspect cause any problems?
A: Sometimes it is harder to get grants. When you don’t do animal research it is frowned upon in the scientific community. What I often do is get a collaborator who works with the animals. I will conduct the research in vitro and I will have the collaborator do the same experiment in animals. The problem with grants is that you need to convince someone that not only is your research interesting but also that it is worthwhile… that they should part with a million dollars to conduct it. The most important thing is validation. More people now are conducting in vitro experiments. Animals are not as easy to work with or as reliable as people believe. In the scientific community, more people are coming around to using in vitro methods. Animals don’t match up to humans as closely, so there is a major problem. A whole life-time for a rat is 2 years, so how could that possibly be the same as a human.
Q: Besides working on several editorial boards, Dr. Barile is also a published author. His most recent publications include the textbook Clinical Toxicology: Principles and Mechanisms [2nd Edition], and the manuscripts “Effect of metals on β-actin and total protein synthesis in cultured human intestinal epithelial cells” and “Validating and troubleshooting ocular in vitro toxicology tests”. How often do you publish?
A: 2013 has been a good year for me. I have published 3 chapters and published the 2nd edition of the Principles of Toxicology Testing. With the textbook, they asked me to do another edition, so I know it was successful. With this book I didn’t want it to be too basic, but I wanted it to be useful. Besides students, I know that emergency rooms have read it and because of that I try to keep up-to-date. The pharmacy background is a great background to have. It is a clinical background. I like the pharmacotherapuetic aspect of most drugs so when I teach or write I tend to lean more towards discussing this component, but I am also interested in the research aspect of how a drug was developed.
Q: What is your writing process?
A: Writing publications is different from writing books. Books are much more creative and it is common knowledge. It is established knowledge. So in a book I can do more editorializing and giving more of my opinion. What I often open up with in my toxicology book is more my opinion. I can’t write this creatively in a research paper.
Q: How much do you believe it is for a scientist job to make the work more interesting and palatable?
A: You have to be careful; you don’t want to mislead people. Often when it is an editorial, I put it in the beginning. Everything else I reference. If you don’t see a reference then it is my words and my ideas. You mustn’t mislead anyone. For you guys with the Post it is important that people know when it is your opinion and when it is not. It is a very fine line and you must be careful not to cross it.
The Rho Chi Post was very fortunate to interview such a prominent member of the scientific community. We want to thank Dr. Barile for sharing his time and expertise with us.