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Meet the new Editor-in-Chief of PLOS Medicine

We are delighted to be introducing the new Editor-in-Chief of PLOS Medicine, Prof. Dr. Till Bärnighausen! He brings with him a wealth of expertise and experience in the major drivers of good health, as well as interventions that can improve and support health at population level. He is committed to increasing the uptake of open science practices in the medical community, and advocates for more transparency in the process of research practice.

Till has kindly answered some of our burning questions about himself, his background, and what he plans to bring to PLOS Medicine. Get to know him a little better with this short interview.

What is the specific background and expertise do you bring to PLOS Medicine?

I originally trained as a family physician and bring research domain competence on many of the major global disease burdens – including HIV, diabetes, hypertension, and depression – to PLOS Medicine, paired with broad methods competence for the design and evaluation of interventions and policies that address these burdens. I have research expertise and experience in multiple disciplines, such as epidemiology, data science, economics, health systems research, and design and implementation research.

How do you align with the Executive Editor’s expertise and interests? And can you anticipate what will be the core of the new PLOS Medicine strategy you and the Executive Editor are developing?

Raffaella Bosurgi (Executive Editor) and I share expertise and interests in the major biological, behavioural, social, and environmental drivers of good health, as well as the interventions and policies that can substantially boost health at the population level. I anticipate that the core of the new PLOS Medicine strategy will focus thematically on the most promising solutions to the massive preventable and curable disease burdens that continue to persist and increase; in particular in the world’s resource-poorest communities and countries.

Major new movements in health systems worldwide – such as healthcare in everyday places, health promotion through social networks, and digital and mobile approaches to reach resource-poor and left-behind populations – require design research to create interventions and evaluation research to establish causal impact, performance, and social and economic value. PLOS Medicine should strive to be the first choice for researchers to publish ground-breaking research on solutions to the world’s largest and most pressing health problems.

Methodologically, I anticipate that PLOS Medicine will focus equally strongly on high-quality clinical evidence, such as from efficacy trials and large clinical cohorts, and on population evidence, such as from health policy experiments and quasi-experiments. Last but not least I anticipate that PLOS Medicine will focus on the important and complex relationships between human health and the environment and how both can thrive in respect of each other in order to build more resilient societies and futures.

What does PLOS’ vision for Open Science mean to you?

Part of the PLOS family of journals, PLOS Medicine has been at the forefront of the Open Science movement since its inception in 2004. As this movement advances, PLOS Medicine has an opportunity to further broaden its ‘openness’. As Editor-in-Chief, I will work with the Executive Editor and the PLOS Medicine leadership team, editorial board, reviewers and authors to consider initiatives for open engagement of other societal actors in publishing scientific articles on health and medicine. For instance, the beneficiaries of findings published in the journal could be invited comment, providing novel perspectives on the value and usefulness of a particular piece. Similarly, themes for special issues could be decided in open engagement with patient representatives, health professionals, and funders of science.

PLOS Medicine is already strongly and visibly committed to open peer review and open data. It could further boost the ‘openness’ of the knowledge that it publishes by trialling and implementing novel approaches to sharing documentation of the processes that have generated data and the analytical code that has turned data into results.

What developments are occurring in Medicine or your field of expertise that excite you at this time?

I am excited by the promise (and fearful of the perils) of ‘high tech’ for health promotion, and disease prevention and treatment. For interventions: digital approaches for health literacy and personalized health promotion, contextual social marketing for healthy lives, and for linking patients for mutual and real-time treatment support. For insight, such as wearables and sensors to measure exposures and outcomes in far greater detail and with far greater time resolution than in traditional visit-based studies. I am also excited by the potential of ‘low tech’ for population health. Things such as salt reduction and substitution to reduce blood pressure, green and blue space exposure to boost mental resilience and health, and delayed prescriptions to reduce antibiotic use and antimicrobial resistance.

What is a topic in medical research you wish you knew more about?

Network science. In particular how we can better use physical, biological, cognitive, and social network information to understand more deeply what drives population health – and how we can leverage networks for health interventions and policies.

What is a fun fact about you?

My favourite past time activities are skiing and playing old-fashioned board games with our kids, Amelie, Elias and Leo.

What’s on your reading list for the PLOS Medicine community?

This summer I am reading three books. A shot to save the world by Gregory Zuckerman, which describes the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. I expect this will hold some important lessons on developing future systems to respond to new threats to population health. Theory and reality by Peter Godfrey-Smith, a wonderfully written survey of the major intellectual movements that have conceived science, and how they have challenged each other. I am rereading this book. The art of gathering by Priya Parker, which includes many recommendations for making meetings matter more. This book seems particularly timely as we are emerging from the COVID-related restrictions to our gatherings and have an opportunity to redesign how we meet in the coming years.

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