Prof. Alex Hansen shares his vision for revolutionizing scientific publishing in Physics

Alex Hansen is professor of theoretical physics at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. His main research interests are complex transport processes in disordered media. He is Field Chief Editor of Frontiers in Physics.
What excites you about working as a Physicist?
Nature in all its complexity is understandable – this never ceases to amaze me. The truth is often very subtle and the way there is typically quite frustrating, but with hard work one eventually gets there. Whodunits are very popular with the general public. Doing physics is solving mysteries and the excitement in doing so is that of the whodunit.
Why did you join Frontiers in Physics as Field Chief Editor?
I first heard of Frontiers in Neuroscience through a colleague a couple of years ago. He liked it a lot. When I heard that Frontiers were to start a corresponding journal in physics, I seized the opportunity and applied for an editorial position. I see the position as Field Chief Editor as a great challenge. Frontiers with its unique structure has given me – and all the other physics editors – the tools to create a great journal. It is our job now to succeed.
How do you see Frontiers in Physics making its mark within the scientific literature?
We are at the beginning of the largest revolution in scientific publishing since Gutenberg invented printing. The World Wide Web creates so many new possibilities in disseminating and preserving new knowledge, that every aspect of publishing needs to be rethought. We see this in the surge of new journals being created. Most of these will (and should) disappear again. Frontiers, in my opinion, distinguishes itself through merging the idea of scientific publishing with the idea behind social media.
What has been your experience with Frontiers’ interactive peer review?
I have published one paper so far in Frontiers in Physics. The review process was – can I use this term? – fun. First, we got the two referee reports. This is standard. But then, we entered into a fastpaced direct dialogue with the reviewers where misunderstandings were cleared up. It was amazing to sit on a Saturday night bouncing comments and replies back and forth with one of the reviewers. The last innovation is to have the names of the reviewers appear on the published paper. This really forces the reviewers to do a careful job. It works.
How does the Frontiers concept reinforce the sense of community among scientists?
Combining the idea of social media with scientific publishing is new and extremely innovative. There are other social media tailored for scientists, but this combination has not been seen before. In practice, it means that papers – any material pertaining to them, e,g, in the press – will be known to one’s entire network immediately. Clearly, this will change the dynamics of the scientific community. It has already done so for the community at large, cf. Facebook.
How do you see Frontiers fitting into the bigger picture of open science? 
Open science and open publishing is the future. The old model, where publishers end up owning the work they publish, is closely connected to having papers printed on paper. When papers now no longer are distributed in print, but only exist as abstract bits on hard disks, it is becoming hard to justify this model. There are many open access journals being established now, and not all of them of high quality. We must assume that the survival of the fittest also is at work here, and in my opinion, Frontiers is indeed very well fit. Since its establishment in 2007, it has grown considerably, besides expanding into new fields such as physics. Frontiers must today be characterized as one of the locomotives of open access.
What do you predict the future of scholarly publishing to look like?
For certain, it will be very different from today. We are seeing the beginning of a revolution in scientific publishing. Peer review will survive, but the way Frontiers has modernized it seems to be a real improvement. I think this has a good chance to survive. Open access is here to stay. Exactly how it will be financed is still unclear, but anything less than gold open access – full openness from the day of publication is unlikely.
Lastly, how do you expect the field of Physics will evolve in the next ten years?
Computational physics will grow. This is the third branch besides experimental and theoretical physics. This will have enormous impact on our understanding of materials as it will allow us to tailor them at the molecular level (on the computer). In particular I believe we will see a deeper understanding of biological materials with the practical applications this will have.
Follow Alex Hansen on the Frontiers Research Network here.

This article will be appearing in Nature and Nature Physics magazines. Reprinted with permission. 

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