Innovation in Publishing

New virtual journal features articles with social impact

“Atlas” aims to demonstrate the value of science to a wider readership, with research articles summarized by journalists

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AtlasEvery major challenge of modern life has complex science, technology and health components, whether it's about energy, health care, water or food.

But society needs more than wonder to respect science and call for its funding. Many people don't understand scientific reports and their significance, and this lack of understanding affects everything from governmental policy to commerce and living conditions.

In fact, with the growing pressure placed on public funds and the need to show return on investment, funding bodies in Europe and North America have made societal impact a requirement for government grants. 

Elsevier's new virtual journal Atlas is taking a unique approach to demonstrating the impact scientific research has on people around the world.  

With the slogan "Research for a better world," its aim is to show the value of science and scientific publishing in ways that resonate with global challenges. Researchers are well placed to explain concepts, but journalists – such as the ones who will be writing our content – can bring the crucial attention needed to integrate science into society.

How Atlas works

Each article will be handpicked by an external advisory board that includes representatives of some of the world's most renowned non-governmental organizations (NGOs). They will choose from a shortlist of articles suggested by the Publishers of Elsevier's 1,800+ journals. The key criterion for selection will be the social impact of the research.

Once selected, our science writers will summarize the research in an easy-to-understand story for Atlas. The selected articles will also be made freely available on ScienceDirect.

In addition, an Elsevier colleague will present the Atlas trophy to each of the winning authors.

 Dr. Floris de Hon, Publishing Director for Life Sciences at Elsevier, and Zoe Mullan, Editor of <em>The Lancet Global Health</em>, present the first Atlas Award to Dr. Katie Greenland, Research Fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (center), for her article "SuperAmma to the hand washing rescue." "We're honored to be able to raise the profile of this work," Dr. Greenland said. "The award is especially poignant for us because a key member of our team, Kiruba Sankar, tragically died recently. We're pleased to be able to publically recognise his work."

The idea is to reach further than our traditional audiences. Having the featured articles written about by journalists will help readers understand the social impact of the research, even if they don't have a scientific education.

Although the journal has launched with three articles, it will initially feature just one article a month.  

Atlas articles will fall into four broad categories: people, planet, resources, and technology.

Whereas every other Elsevier-owned journal sits on ScienceDirect, Atlas lives on the Community area of, with articles also to be posted on Elsevier Connect. You can follow the journal on Twitter: @ElsevierAtlas.

The first 3 winning articles

'SuperAmma' to the hand washing rescue

A paper in The Lancet Global Health features a project to change hand-washing habits in India. Researchers created a character called SuperAmma who encouraged, among other things, hand-washing with soap and water. Before the campaign, the practice was virtually non-existent in the 14 villages the researchers targeted; six months after their intervention, 37 percent of the group had started washing their hands with soap and water at key times. 

That's a life-saving habit change in a region where thousands of children die of diarrhea each year, and it represents the kind of social impact that Atlas will promote and celebrate.

Watch a short interview with co-author Dr. Katie Greenland:

'Sustainable' coffee: what does it mean for local supply chains in Indonesia?

Dr. Jeffrey Nielson of the University of Sydney in Australia received the second Elsevier Atlas for his research into local coffee supply chains in Indonesia. Fiona Barron (Publisher, Elsevier Sydney) came to his university to present the trophy. On receiving it, Dr. Nielson said: It's really quite a beautiful piece of art. It was humbling to be considered as an author whose research 'can significantly impact people's lives around the world.'"An article in World Development examines the impact "sustainable" coffee is having on the coffee in Indonesia. Researchers suggest that corporate regulations may, in fact, be keeping farmers in poverty rather than ensuring their well being. By requiring farmers, processors, traders and exporters in the supply chain to provide proof of ethical practices, multinational companies are imposing costs on their suppliers, causing a demand for farmers at the end of the supply chain to reduce their prices.

"It is reasonable to question the ultimate effectiveness of schemes, designed as tools of defensive brand management to deliver development benefits to disparate communities in the developing world," explained study author Dr. Jeffrey Neilson, Senior Lecture in the School of Geoscieces at the University of Sydney in Australia.

Making construction safety social

Construction sites have a high risk of accidents. A new social network for the construction industry could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars by improving communication about safety. The researchers behind the new tool, from Chung-Ang University in the Republic of Korea, say it could improve safety information and knowledge, preventing injury. Their research, published in Automation in Construction, introduces the prototype system, and tests it out using a real-life accident case.

"We think the lack of construction safety information exchange and knowledge sharing is a main reason that causes on-site accidents and thus low construction productivity," explained Quang Tuan Le, PhD candidate and co-author of the study from Chung-Ang University. "So, in order to achieve better safety performance, an enhanced safety and health communication system is necessary to identify and analyze safety hazards and risk."


Atlas Advisory Board

  • Steven Wartman (Association of Academic Health Centers International)
  • Charlotte Masiello-Riome (Bioversity International)
  • Yu Wang (Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • Johannes Keizer (Food and Agricultural Organization – FAO)
  • Kiyoshi Kurokawa (Global Health Policy Institute)
  • Neil Packenham-Walsh (Healthcare Informational for all – HIFA 2015)
  • Temina Madon (University of California, Berkeley – Centre for Effective Global Action)
  • Sue Corbett  (International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications – INASP)
  • Gracian Chimwaza  (International Training and Outreach Center in Africa – ITOCA )
  • Lucas Simons  (NewForesight)
  • Tonya Blowers  (Organization of Women in Science for the Developing World)
  • Kimberly Haynes  (OXFAM)
  • Randy Rumscak  (TEDMED)
  • Mohamed Atani  (United Nations Environmental Program – UNEP)
  • Kazuhiko Takemoto  (United Nations University)


Elsevier Connect Contributor

Floris de Hon, PhDFollowing his PhD in Molecular Immunology at the Central Laboratory of the Netherlands Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service (now Sanquin), Dr. Floris de Hon did a science journalism course and worked with Excerpta Medica, a medical communication company once owned by Elsevier. Floris joined Elsevier in 2003. In his current role as Publishing Director, Applied Biosciences, he is responsible for an international team managing more than 120 peer-reviewed scientific journals, various conferences and other information solutions. 

Floris is the project lead for Atlas, an idea he developed with various colleagues during multiple high-impact content workshops.

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