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Holden Thorp

Washington University

AAAS names chemist Holden Thorp as editor-in-chief of Science

Holden Thorp, a chemist who held top leadership positions at two major U.S. research universities, was named today as the next editor-in-chief of the Science family of journals. He succeeds biologist Jeremy Berg, who had held the job since 2016 and is returning to a research post at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

Thorp, 55, was provost at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, from July 2013 until this past July; he held faculty appointments there in both chemistry and medicine. His priorities during that period included supporting interdisciplinary research and entrepreneurship and promoting diversity among the institution’s leadership and undergraduate students.

Before that, he spent 3 decades at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where he served as chancellor from 2008 through 2013, after beginning his scientific studies at the institution as an undergraduate, earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He earned a doctorate in chemistry in 1989 from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and completed postdoctoral work at Yale University. His research focus has ranged widely, from physical inorganic chemistry early in his career to drug development more recently. Thorp developed technology for electronic DNA chips and co-founded two pharmaceutical companies, which are commercializing new drugs for fungal disease and prostate cancer.

“I think both the news side and the research side [of Science] are national treasures,” Thorp tells ScienceInsider, “and it’s an extraordinary honor to be asked to steward these resources for the country and the world.”

Thorp says he wants to continue the focus of previous Science editors on ensuring the reproducibility of published science and encouraging manuscripts from a wide range of authors, including those outside top-rated universities. He is moving to Washington, D.C.—where the headquarters of AAAS, which publishes Science, is located—to take the position full time. (Science’s news division, which prepared this article, is editorially independent of AAAS.)

“Holden is a terrific choice for the new editor-in-chief,” said Margaret Hamburg, chair of the AAAS board of directors and of the search committee that selected Thorp, in a statement. “Widely recognized for inspiring and wise leadership, he is also known for his ability to work across scientific disciplines, his open, collaborative work style and his integrity and objectivity,” said Hamburg, a former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “At a time when both the landscapes of science and scientific publishing are changing rapidly, Holden combines the necessary scientific strength and breadth with a deep expertise and commitment to advancing science and science communication.”

Regarding publishing research relevant to entrepreneurship, one of his longtime interests, Thorp says, “It’s really important that we have the right balance of basic science and things that have immediate application” in Science. But, he adds, he’ll need to settle into the new job before he can propose any changes to the journals.

Thorp’s work at Washington University in St. Louis included an emphasis on improving socioeconomic diversity. One outcome is that the percentage of its students eligible for Pell Grants, the U.S. government’s principal grant for financially needy undergraduates, grew from 6% in 2013–14 to 14% in the 2018–19 academic year.

“Thankfully we’re at a moment where a lot of the inequities that have been in the system [of science] for a hundred years are being called out,” Thorp says. “And we need to report on that in the news side [of Science] and we need to continue to adapt our practices on the research side to produce an equitable future for science.”

“Throughout my career,” Thorp adds, “I’ve tried to use the unfair advantages that accrue to white men to develop and promote the work of women and people of color and get them into the spotlight. I hope to continue to do that in this role, and I think Jeremy Berg has done the same thing. He’s set an excellent tone for that.”

Hamburg says the search committee reviewed more than 500 candidates who included women and members of minority groups, and diversity was an important consideration “all the way up through the end.” She adds that Thorp “really appreciates the importance of celebrating diversity and inclusion in all that he does.”

As the leader of the University of North Carolina, Thorp‘s tenure was marred by allegations—later confirmed by an independent report—that for more than a decade the institution had allowed students, many of them athletes, to enroll in classes with little or no faculty oversight and which the students frequently skipped. “I learned a lot from that, the biggest thing being that when you’re in a challenging situation, the goal is to get the information out as quickly as possible,” Thorp says. “In any kind of controversial situation that we get into [at Science], I’m going to be disclosing things as quickly as possible.”

Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed, general science journal in the world. AAAS has recently expanded its publishing efforts with journals such as the open-access Science Advances and the most recent publications to launch, Science Robotics and Science Immunology.