During Optics Letters’ 40th Anniversary year, Anthony J. Campillo, Editor-in-Chief from 2002–2007, describes how the Journal led him to become an active OSA volunteer, as well as how it evolved during his tenure.
© 2017 Optical Society of America
As Optics Letters celebrates its 40th Anniversary, I have looked back on my tenure as Editor-in-Chief from 2002–2007, which coincided with remarkable changes occurring in information technology. The internet suddenly made it easier for readers and authors around the globe to access the Journal. No longer were overseas authors burdened by snail mail, overnight delivery services, or facsimile machines. Now they could submit manuscripts and communicate with the journal office by email and the World Wide Web. This led to a doubling of submitted manuscripts from 1,200 per year to 2,400 per year during this period, as well as an increase in the Journal Impact Factor from less than 3.0 to nearly 4.0. It also presented editorial challenges requiring significant procedural and production changes.
The peer review and handling of 200 new manuscripts per month required a different approach than that used prior to 2002. Fortunately, the very cause of the sudden increase in submissions, the internet, provided its solution. OSA publications staff developed the necessary software and in 2004 introduced its All Digital System (ADS), a web-based system for electronic submissions, peer review, and record keeping (ADS was a predecessor of today’s Prism system). This new way to handle manuscripts greatly streamlined submission and peer review and reduced overall workload, requiring less administrative staff.
The increase in submissions also increased the demand for additional Topical Editors (TEs) and reviewers. Consequently, 15 new TEs were recruited, increasing their number from 10 to more than two dozen. An effort was also made to increase the percentage of TEs in Europe and Asia to 60% to better reflect the changing authorship demographics. These non-U.S.-based editors in turn helped provide access to a new pool of reviewers required for the growing peer review workload.
A significant challenge affecting all OSA journals, but impacting Optics Letters especially, was a time-to-publication (TTP) crisis arising from the increased peer review and production workload. The greater submission numbers had slowed publication times, at one point during my editorship reaching a median time of 270 days. When Optics Letters was launched in 1977, most journals had publication times of a year or more, and so the Journal’s four- to six-month TTP was considered a welcome improvement. However, with the introduction of online journals like Optics Express with publication times of less than 70 days, Optics Letters’ TTP put the Journal at a competitive disadvantage. Many authors, in particular those producing papers with high citation counts, were attracted to the rapid publication of Optics Express to gain a competitive edge.
OSA leadership formed a Rapid Action Committee, chaired by James R. Fienup (University of Rochester), to study the problem of publication delays and recommend solutions. Jim and his committee did an outstanding job by visiting facilities, talking to staff and vendors, systematically examining each step in peer review and production, and identifying many places where days could be saved and backlogs avoided. Scott Dineen (then Publishing Production Director at OSA, now Senior Director of Publishing Production and Technology) and his team ably implemented the recommended changes and, within the first year, were able to reduce median time from submission to final publication for Optics Letters from 176 days to 115. Such improvements continued throughout my tenure, and eventually TTP approached that of Optics Express.
The changes that were made to the production process included using outside vendors like the American Institute of Physics to do more of the copyediting, performing a lighter copyedit, improving electronic file/data exchange with vendors, and publishing larger issues. To further improve publication times, the electronic version of an article was made the official Version of Record. This action helped reduce publication times, because print issues take longer to produce and even longer to reach readers by mail, especially outside the U.S. Another way to speed readership’s access to papers was the establishment of an early posting page, making available non-copyedited PDF preprints immediately following an article’s acceptance. In addition, OSA introduced e-first publishing, allowing article-at-a-time publishing up to two weeks in advance of the issue date. In general, the Journal took every opportunity to adopt important enhancements made available through electronic publishing. Another example is the addition of multimedia and links to references in the web-based versions of the articles.
At about this same time, a movement began in support of removing access barriers to scientific literature by making government-funded research freely available to the public through the internet. While no laws had been enacted yet, by 2006 Optics Letters and other OSA journals introduced an optional Open Access option for those authors who nonetheless wished to make their research more widely available than would be achieved through subscription access.
Also around this time Optics Letters suffered an identity crisis of sorts when Optics Express began to double in size every two years. Some questioned if Optics Letters was still needed. The scope of both journals was essentially the same, and both were considered rapid communication venues, though in fact Optics Express was significantly faster. Even their Journal Impact Factors were similar. Optics Express’ Open Access format was favored by many, because results would receive wider dissemination. Furthermore, the desire for Optics Letters print issues began to decline as both readers and libraries moved away from this format due to the convenience of electronic access and storage. So while Optics Letters had been primarily known as a print journal in the past, it was becoming known as an online journal as well.
Optics Letters' identity crisis was addressed by an Optics Letters review committee appointed by the OSA Publications Council and chaired by Ronald Driggers (then at the U.S. Army’s Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate, now at St. Johns Optical Systems) to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the Journal. A survey conducted by the committee showed that both readers and authors at that time still regarded Optics Letters as OSA’s premier journal, publishing papers of higher quality than Applied Physics Letters and approaching that of Physical Review Letters. Also, the survey indicated many authors favored the Journal’s subscription-based format with its voluntary page charges over an Open Access journal with mandatory author fees. The Committee concluded that Optics Letters had strong brand identification, was a valuable resource to the community, and shouldn’t be changed in any significant way.
A highlight of my tenure was being Editor-in-Chief during Optics Letters’ 25th Anniversary. To recognize the anniversary, Optics and Photonics News published several commemorative articles written by the then-current and previous Editors-in-Chief, and OSA hosted a grand reception at the 2002 Annual Meeting.
I would like to back up a bit and relate some of my personal experiences with Optics Letters and explain how the Journal lured me into becoming an active OSA volunteer. I learned of the 1977 launch of the Journal while I was a member of the staff at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (LASL; now called Los Alamos National Laboratory). I recall conscientiously scanning the table of contents of each new issue for papers related to my research. However, back then I had not thought to publish in the new Journal myself, despite having been an OSA member, because I was in the habit of publishing mostly in physics and chemistry journals. This changed when my frequent coauthor, the late Stanley L. Shapiro, was recruited by Optics Letters founding Editor Robert W. Terhune (also now deceased) to be an Associate Editor (AE) in 1979. Stan and I shared an office at LASL, and I would frequently overhear him on the phone talking to potential referees, fielding queries from authors, and discussing the Journal’s business with Terhune and others. As might be expected, Stan regarded me as a readily available referee. Within a short time, we both became duly impressed with the new Journal and submitted two of our latest manuscripts to Optics Letters, which were quickly published.
When I moved to Brookhaven National Labs (BNL) shortly thereafter, I published my first two BNL papers in Optics Letters as well. I was faced with a problem, however. Apparently the BNL optics community did not have enough leverage to convince their library to subscribe to the relatively new Optics Letters (they did subscribe to Applied Optics and the JOSAs). I was so used to reading Society journals at the LASL library that I had let my OSA membership lapse a few years earlier. The easiest solution was to rejoin OSA and personally subscribe. So I have Optics Letters to thank for my rejoining OSA and for my active Society involvement since.
Over the next decade or so, I published frequently in Optics Letters and received more than my fair share of papers to review. Apparently, when a reviewer develops a reputation for being reliable, he or she is rewarded with an ever-increasing number of review requests and in some cases is recruited to become a TE or an AE. So it was in 1993, while working at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), that I received a call from Peter W. E. Smith asking me to become the “general optics” TE. I accepted, of course, and have never regretted doing so. My editorships at Optics Letters eventually spanned 15 years from 1993–2007: six years as TE, three as AE, and six as Editor-in-Chief.
My AE position requires some explanation. The term Associate Editor was in use at Optics Letters until 1990, when it was renamed to Topical Editor to better reflect that editors typically handled only manuscripts from their own areas of expertise. Editors may serve up to two three-year terms in the same position, so after I completed six years as TE in 1998, I was required to step down. Anthony M. Johnson, Editor-in-Chief at the time, had come to depend on me as an occasional backup. He proposed to the OSA Board of Editors reinstituting one Associate Editor position for the Journal to act as his deputy. I served in that role from 1999–2001. During Anthony’s last year as Editor-in-Chief (2001), he also served as OSA Vice President. Occasionally, his Officer responsibilities took precedence over his editorial duties, and during those times he relied on me as his backup. When I became Editor-in-Chief the following year, I was well prepared for the task, having received prior on-the-job training.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge several individuals who greatly helped me during my years as Editor-in-Chief. These include Joe Richardson (Optics Letters Peer Review Coordinator), Kelly Cohen (then Peer Review Manager, now OSA’s Senior Publisher), and Brian Justus, a close associate at NRL who served as “general optics” TE at the time. Brian was my occasional backup when I traveled, and he carried an editorial workload twice that of any other Optics Letters TE. After my editorship, I continue to be peripherally associated with Optics Letters as Chair of the Editorial Ethics Review Panel and as a member of the Board of Editors. Shortly I will be retiring from these remaining positions, but I will always fondly remember the many satisfying interactions I’ve had with editors, authors, reviewers, and OSA staff. It’s been a highly rewarding experience.
Editor-in-Chief, Optics Letters (2002–2007)
OSA Sr. Director, Science Policy