In memory of Kuan-Teh Jeang, a virologist who helped to promote open access publishing and leadership development among Asian scientists

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A tribute by Shibo Jiang
(Shanghai Medical College, Fudan University, Shanghai, China shibojiang@fudan.edu.cn)

On the morning of January 29, 2013 when I turned on my computer, I saw the first email saying “It is with great sadness that we have heard Kuan-Teh Jeang passed away suddenly on Sunday night”. My first reaction is “Oh my God, Teh must make another joke on me”. It was only a few days before that he had asked me if I could submit my review article on HIV entry inhibitors to Retrovirology on the promised date. I told him that I needed to extend the deadline for three weeks since I was very busy writing grant applications. He pretended to be very angry, saying “I am going to send the CIA to arrest you if you don’t finish it by then.” However, when I called his office, I was told that he had indeed passed away Sunday night. I immediately collapsed in my chair and saw his smiling face swirling all around.

Ben Berkhout, Kung-Teh Jeang, Shibo Jiang at the 4th IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention in Sydney, Australia, 22 July 2007

Dr. Jeang was born in Taiwan in 1958, first moving with his family to Libya at age 3 and then to the United States at age 12. He got his BA, MD and PhD degrees at Johns Hopkins University. He joined the U.S. National Cancer Center (NCI) in 1985 and the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in 1987. His research focused on the molecular biology and gene regulation of HIV and HTLV-1. No need to recount his contributions to the field of virology; the following numbers tell everything, with over 300 peer-reviewed articles published, nearly 20,000 citations, and an h-index of 75 (1).

In addition to his achievements in science, Teh made great contributions in promoting open access publishing of scientific papers. In 2004, he started the first journal in the field of retrovirology, Retrovirology, an open access journal with BioMed Central (2). With his tireless commitment, he served as the Editor-in-Chief (EIC) for this journal and, true to his long-held ambition, made this open access journal the highest-ranked and best-regarded specialist journal in the field (3). In the 2011 tabulation of Impact Factor and Immediacy Index, Retrovirology placed ahead of those best traditional journals in the field of virology, such as J. Virol., Virology, J. Gen. Virol., AIDS, and JAIDS (4).

I once asked him how he managed to make this new journal so successful. He told me that I could find all the “tricks” in the first editorial that he wrote for Retrovirology (5). He stressed the need to “be fast, fair, and responsive to all.” He said, “Tell me what we are doing wrong, and even better, what we are doing right. I will listen, and I will respond to your every query in a timely and reasoned manner. I shall be actively interested in your work, and where you think that you have not been treated fairly by reviewers, if you ask me, I will read your manuscript, and will personally shoulder some of the responsibility for reaching a decision” (5). Indeed, he had kept his promise. Many colleagues told me that Teh always responded to queries about their manuscripts very quickly and fairly.

One day when I complained to him that one of my papers submitted to Retrovirology had been rejected, he immediately pointed out the major weaknesses in that paper and told me: “Shibo, although you are an editorial board member of Retrovirology and my good friend, I still have to reject your paper if its quality is not good enough for Retrovirology, for the sake of fairness to all. Similarly, you can also reject my paper if the paper that you reviewed is not qualified for Retrovirology, no matter if I am the EIC or not.”

In 2010-2011 when Teh was the President of the Society of Chinese Bioscientists in America (SCBA) (6), he helped Dr. Yun-Bo Shi and several other SCBA members to launch the first official journal of SCBA, Cell & Bioscience, another open access journal with BioMed Central (7). Serving as an Associate Editor of Cell & Bioscience, he did his best to promote this new journal. Every time I met him at conferences, I saw him ask almost everyone to submit papers to Cell & Bioscience. He said, “You will regret it if you do not submit papers to Cell & Bioscience now, since it will soon become a new star journal like Retrovirology.”

He often told me that open access journals tended to be young journals with relatively low impact factors, compared with those well established traditional journals. However, because most of the articles published in open access journals can become freely and universally accessible online, the impact factors of the open access journals would climb up much faster than those of the traditional journals with limited access.

On January 17th, 2013, I told Teh that research scientists in China were now evaluated mainly based on their publications in journals with “four tiers of quality rating”. He told me that those Chinese administrators were now using what the Australians used a couple of years ago (8), but that the Australians had stopped using it, possibly because the rankings were so “off-the-mark”. However, Retrovirology did experience some damage from the Australian ranking system, as some Australian colleagues stopped submitting to Retrovirology, explaining that although Retrovirology had a relatively high impact factor among virology journals, it was still ranked at tier C in the Australian system. Therefore, they would get no credit towards their grant applications if they published their papers in Retrovirology. However, after the ranking system was shelved, Australia in 2011 began to flourish, just after the U.S. and Europe, for papers published in Retrovirology.

He suggested that I try to convince the authorities of the research and educational institutions in China to use the “h-index” (9) in combination with the “future h-index predicator” (10) to replace the “four-tier journal ranking system” as the “key performance indicators” to measure a researcher’s scientific productivity. He published two papers in Retrovirology to discuss the “h-index” system (11, 12). Through his investigation and analysis, he noticed an interesting phenomenon: the frequency of access to online Open Access scientific articles was not always correlated with the frequency of citations. Therefore, he suggested that the relative merits of citations versus frequency of access be further validated. He also noticed another limitation of the “h-index” system, which is more reliable for evaluating established or senior scientists, but less suitable for the younger early-career scientists. Most recently, Acuna et al. (10) developed a formula to predict the “future h-index” of a research scientist. Teh believed that this method would overcome the limitation of Hirsch’s “h-index” system (9) and could be used for evaluating both junior and senior scientists.

I want to remember another lasting contribution that Teh made on behalf of all Asian-American scientists. In 2005, his comments on the “invisible glass ceiling” that prevents Asian-American scientists from being promoted to higher decision-making positions were published in Science (13). On July 22, 2008, he testified in a meeting of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) about the issues facing Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in the federal workplace. He pointed out that whereas 21.5% of NIH’s 280 tenure-track investigators are Asians, they comprise only 9.2% of the 950 tenured senior investigators at the NIH. Furthermore, only 4.7% of the roughly 200 lab or branch chiefs are Asians (13). In 2009, none of the 27 institutes of the NIH was run by an Asian-American (14). One day when he attended a “laboratory or branch chiefs meeting” at the NIH, he encountered only a single Asian face in a room of two dozen or more individuals. Such phenomenon is also true in universities and companies in the U.S. Teh, with many others, had made tireless efforts to break through the “glass or bamboo ceiling” for Asian-American scientists.

He also strongly encouraged Asian-American scientists to get leadership positions in Asian countries since he believed that Asia would be at the epicenter of rapid scientific progress in biology and medicine in the 21st century, which has been recognized as “Asian century” (15). In 2008, he noticed that a new scientific database ranked Japan, China, India, Korea and Taiwan in 2nd, 5th, 12th, 14th and 17th place, respectively, in terms of global output in scientific publishing. Now China is ranked in 2nd place (16). He believed that Asian-American scientists could make greater contributions to scientific progress in their native Asian countries.

One day when he heard that I had been offered a “National Thousand Talent Program” professorship at Fudan University in China, he immediately sent me his congratulations. He told me that this was one of the best decisions of my life and that I should convince more Chinese-American scientists to return to China to continue their research and leadership roles in academics.

As the past president of SCBA, he requested that the 13th (2011) annual conference of SCBA be held in Guangzhou, China, and asked all SCBA members to convince the research scientists in China to participate in the conference and to join SCBA. Indeed, this conference was very successful.

He paid special attention to the epidemic of HIV/AIDS in China. On the 2012 World AIDS Day (December 1st, 2012), he sent me a news report from CNN regarding the new leadership’s warning of the grave situation of HIV/AIDS in China. He then invited me to write a commentary in response to his question whether I think China is approaching the AIDS problem correctly and adequately. I promised to write it, but could not finish it until recently.

Teh worked extremely hard. I once received his first email in the middle night and then his second email in the early morning, asking me why I did not reply his last email. He generally replied my emails promptly no matter if it is a workday or weekend.

Every year before Christmas, I, like many of his other friends, always received a photo of Teh with his family. All of them showed similar charming smiling faces. When I typed his name in Google Image Search, I saw his smiling face in almost all the pictures. However, my eyes were full of tears when I wrote this story. I heartily hope he can still keep his smile in Heaven.

Teh, we miss you!

References

1 http://scholar.google.com/citations?user=uiPIDmsAAAAJ&hl=en.
2 http://www.Retrovirology.com.
3 http://blogs.biomedcentral.com/bmcblog/2013/01/29/kuan-teh-jeang-m-d-ph-d/.
4 Jeang KT: Open access, moving to the fore. Retrovirology 2012; 9:66.
5 Jeang KT: Retrovirology and young Turks.. Retrovirology 2004; 1:1.
6 http://www.SCBAsociety.org.
7 http://www.cellandbioscience.com.
8 http://www.arc.gov.au/era/journal_list_dev.htm.
9 Hirsch JE: Does the H-index have predictive power? Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2007; 104:19193-19198.
10 Acuna DE, Allesina S, Kording KP: Future impact: Predicting scientific success. Nature 2012; 489:201-202.
11 Jeang KT: Impact factor, H index, peer comparisons, and Retrovirology: is it time to individualize citation metrics? Retrovirology 2007; 4:42.
12 Jeang KT: H-index, mentoring-index, highly-cited and highly-accessed: how to evaluate scientists? Retrovirology 2008; 5:106.
13 Mervis J: U.S. workforce. A glass ceiling for Asian scientists? Science 2005; 310:606-607.
14 http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/get-file.xqy?uri=/aaas/files/uploaded-files/pdf/fdf1f7e3-a974-483a-96bc-8ac666bc918e/science.opms.r0900072.pdf.
15 Jeang KT: The Asian Century: The Changing Geography of Science. J Formos Med Assoc 2008; 107:101-102.
16 http://www.scimagojr.com/countryrank.php.

  • rzhao

    Dear Shibo,

    Thank you very much for writing such a moving story.  Indeed, we’ll all miss him dearly. I know Teh will also be pleased to see this article and very much appreciative of your kind words and warm thought of him.

    Rich