|Editor creates journal
by J. L. Crammer, South Grange, Steeple Aston, Bicester OX6 3SS, United Kingdom
Every journal has its own character. This is a reflection of the editors interests and concerns, his conception of what the journal is there to do. He selects out of all the papers offered by contributors those which by subject-matter fit the journals points of view. A journal may be called Clinical Psychiatry and will then obviously not publish papers on the chemistry of helium or the early poetry of T. S. Eliot, but what about human brain physiology or animal psychology? Observations on homosexuality in dogs, perhaps, but not experimental alcoholism in rats? Behavioural problems in people with diabetes, treatment of the epilepsies, fear of flying, depiction of suicide in opera? Where will the editor be tempted to extend the boundary of acceptance?
The journal may be addressed to a readership of specialist practitioners, which also includes groups of general practitioners and physicians, academics, public health epidemiologists; how far should it go to meet also their special interests, and go beyond the experience of clinic and ward in publishing relevant biological science or special investigations? Is it for discussion of theoretical issues, or organisation of mental health services as well as the recording of useful and reliable clinical observations and human experimental resultsthe evidence for effectiveness of some therapy, for example? Will it help in some aspect of daily practice, stimulate new interests or revive neglected but potentially useful old ones, provoke illuminating discussion, promote continuing education, re-enthuse the jaded practitioner?
The journal should lead and not follow. The editor will not rely simply on what the mail happens to deliver in choosing papers, reports and letters, but will go out inviting review articles, leaders, comments, dialogues and studies from active researchers, to widen interests and catch the new. Yet space is limited by the costs of paper, printing, postage by weight. Some subjects are worth more space than others (perhaps on grounds of topicality, novelty of syndrome, number of patients studied, etc), but very long papers, 700010 000 words and upward, are particularly liable to rejection on length alone. Is the editors decision final?
A scientific Journal is not a place for rhetoric or literary flourishes. The editor is there on the readers behalf to promote intelligibilityclear, simple, precise exposition, so that he, and every professional reader, can understand every paper, specialised though it may be. Some authors are so immersed in their subject they forget to explain it enough to others. Some will try to publish the same results several times over, make results up, plagiarise. This is where peer review may spot the deceit. The main role of an assessor, however, is narrower than that of the editor: it is to report from her or his particular specialist knowledge and experience on the relevance and novelty of a papers subject treatment, the authors acquaintance with the literature, the aptness of the methods of observation and how well they have been executed, the reliability of the results, the reasonableness of the conclusions. If there are deficiencies here, perhaps they can be remedied by rewriting, with additional information. But without rewriting, the paper may yet have some particular merits which influence an editor to accept, possibly printing with it a critical comment pointing to its limitations. Bad work in a novel field may stimulate better work later. Observations may be good but the conclusions nonsense. But this may lead off on a false trail, and excite unfounded hopes of treatment or anxieties about developing illness fanned by the daily press. The editor has the responsibility to maintain a high standard of reliable information, and to exclude ideas and speculative predictions for which no shred of supporting fact is offered. It is a balancing act, trying not to overlook the useful new or to discourage the author, and at the same time not to add to the flood of trivia, misinformation and tedious repetition about to engulf us through ever more journals, the daily press and the Internet.
Many papers would stand a better chance of acceptance if their authors had had honest advice and frank criticism (a) at the start of their research, making sure its plan and methods were adequate, and (b) in the early draft, to confirm orderly, comprehensive and intelligible writing. Even writing up a case, or making a report, can often be improved with a little teaching from a friendly critic.