Carlo Vittorio Cannistraci

Carlo Vittorio Cannistraci

Carlo Vittorio Cannistraci is a Professor at the Tsinghua Laboratory of Brain and Intelligence (THBI) and an Adjunct Professor at the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tsinghua University, Beijing, China. He works on the development and application of complex network theory, systems theory, information theory and machine learning. Carlo joined the Editorial Board of Scientific Reports in 2015.

On our 10th anniversary, Giampiero Accardo (Deputy Editor at Scientific Reports) talked to Carlo about the journal's recent scope expansion into engineering disciplines, the publishing and research landscape, and challenges and opportunities ahead.

What is your research focused on?

I have a background in biomedical engineering, data analysis, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, and artificial intelligence systems, but over the years, my interest has turned to complexity. I mine new theory, regardless of the field, to study how complexity arises and how it can create intelligence, but with the approach of an engineer. This is why I call myself a theoretical engineer. At the Center for Complex Network Intelligence (CCNI), which I lead in the Tsinghua Laboratory of Brain and Intelligence (THBI), a new interdisciplinary research institute, we aim to create pioneering algorithms at the interface between information science, the physics of complex systems, complex networks and machine intelligence, with a particular focus on brain- and life-inspired computing for big data analysis.

Scientific Reports recently announced a scope expansion to include engineering disciplines. How will engineers benefit?

Giving engineers the opportunity to publish in an interdisciplinary journal is important not only for engineers but for society. For example, management of the COVID-19 pandemic is very much an engineering problem. When the epidemic began to spread globally, I observed the misuse of mathematical models, whose validity proved to be very low, to track and forecast the spread of the disease. In my opinion, what was missing at the early stage of the epidemic was the voice of engineers. We don't need the most sophisticated simulation tools to tackle the pandemic but proper strategies and procedures that can efficiently and adaptively be scaled up to a global level.

I believe that welcoming submissions from all fields of engineering will allow engineers to contribute to the scientific discourse with more practical research and efficient strategies to tackle global challenges.

You joined our Editorial Board in 2015. What's been your best experience as an EBM?

I am sure the best experience will be the next paper I will have the fortune to handle! I love the interdisciplinary ethos of the journal and I'm fascinated by how authors, reviewers, and editors can all learn during the peer review process. The most important thing as an editor is to give authors a voice and the opportunity to understand and reply to the reviewers' criticisms so as to deliver a solid and technically valid paper to the scientific community.

What sets Scientific Reports apart from other journals?

I like the fact that Scientific Reports accepts articles based on whether they are technically correct; this ensures that article selection is not biased. Scientific Reports is, in my opinion, the most 'scientific' journal – science is episteme which in Greek means knowledge that stands on its own – there is no internal contradiction or, if there is a contradiction, you objectively explain your findings so that they become objects of conscious critical inquiry. Regardless of who you are, your research will be judged on its own merits without bias, and this is why I love being an EBM of Scientific Reports. Unfortunately, this is not always true in other journals where research is selected with the goal of selecting people.

How do you think Scientific Reports has helped to reduce publication bias?

Unbelievably so, because there are people out there still scared to publish negative results. But they are fundamental, because past experience and ideas are essential to underpin new, solid knowledge. I particularly appreciate that Scientific Reports now offers Registered Reports as a new article format. This is a brilliant idea that allows researchers to publish negative results that are methodologically valid and with conclusions supported by data, and helps other researchers to make informed decisions about what direction to pursue when starting a new or similar research project.

What are the key things journals should do to increase scientific rigour?

Certainly transparency – the journey is what really matters – so making the entire peer review process available would show how the final version of record had evolved since submission. This would increase scientific rigour and would also help early career researchers and students to understand how scientific debate works.

Another key point is peer-review time. Finding reviewers takes time, properly evaluating a scientific paper and delivering a constructive and objective peer-review report takes time. I believe a system where every submission becomes publicly available as a preprint immediately after submission so as to make the work citable and discoverable, would be a better approach than pushing reviewers to deliver a shallow report.

Finally, recognition. Constructive reviewers should be recognised and rewarded for their contribution, whether by paying them or by other rewards and incentives.

How would you like to see the publishing landscape change in the next ten years?

Blockchain is revolutionising how things are done, and I hope scientific publishing too will embrace this technology. My dream is that an author can submit their paper to a decentralised blockchain-based publishing platform where it becomes immediately publicly available as a preprint and is not assigned to a journal but rather to a community of journals that can independently evaluate the manuscript. Once the authors have selected a journal, the peer review process begins and the entire peer review history is securely recorded and permanently made available to the community. If the manuscript is rejected, the previous scientific debate remains publicly available and can eventually be used in future submissions. If the manuscript is accepted, the journal publishes the version of record with a link to the transactions. In the case of retractions or clarifications, new information can be added to the blockchain record. I think this would make the publishing system more transparent and efficient for all.