Sailing into the Sunset
At the end of major films and books the heroes and their partners all sail off into the sunset usually to a rousing crescendo from the resident orchestra. It is a powerful symbolic gesture and marks the end of the story (and usually also the beginning of a new one). December 2009 marks the end of my tenure as Editor-in-Chief (EIC) of the European Journal of Anaesthesiology (EJA) and it is time for me to sail off into the sunset. I am not entirely sure where the rousing orchestral music will come from though.
It was in April 2003 that I found myself on a plane bound for Paris to be interviewed for the position of EIC. I had been Chair of the Editorial Board for the previous 3 years and so I knew a considerable amount about the running of the EJA. I had prepared the requested one-side-of-A4 project plan outlining where I thought the EJA should be going over the next 6 years. I was interviewed for about an hour by a panel representing the EAA, the ESA and the EFA. I must have given some responses that they liked because much to my surprise, a phone call later on that evening offered me the job. I of course accepted and signed on for my 6-year term with great enthusiasm. This enthusiasm for the EJA has not waned despite the workload and stress.
My organisation for the task ahead began and I had extensive discussions with Professor Tony Adams, the EIC at the time. In late August I began to take on some of the tasks and by November I had taken over. I was somewhat slowed down by my suddenly entering a most appalling and acrimonious divorce process in the summer of that year. I survived however, and in order to regain some sanity I moved out (my teenage daughter came with me) and at the same time as learning to be an EIC I was learning how to be a single parent.
During my 6-year tenure I have seen many events and changes in the EJA and also in the world of publishing. The journal has moved steadily forward. It has been hard work but well worth it. What have we done with the EJA? We introduced sections so that articles of the same type (e.g. critical care, regional blocks, etc) could be grouped together. Case reports were confined to the correspondence columns. We ceased publishing Book Reviews. We have tried to follow a policy of always including either a review or an editorial (or even both) in every issue but that has not always been possible. We introduced a triage system whereby as many submissions as possible were screened by the EIC and/or the two Associate Editors, Chris Pomfrett and Nigel Harper. This was facilitated greatly by their both being colleagues within my department in Manchester. We changed the cover design and the contents page. We went totally electronic, moving to a website for day-to-day running of the journal and manuscript tracking. We debated the issue of listing the contribution made by each author and also of insisting on trial registration but decided to delay the introduction of those two factors for a while. Those will now be for the next EIC to consider. We also had a positive effect on the Impact Factor – not as much as I would have liked, but it has risen from 1.19 to 1.55.
It has been an eventful time with respect to major changes in the organisational aspects of the journal. There cannot be many journals where the EIC has to cope with a change in ownership or publisher or management software during his/her tenure. I have had to weather two changes in publisher, two changes in manuscript handling and tracking and one change in ownership. In 2003 the journal was published by Greenwich Medical Media. They were then taken over by Cambridge University Press who remained the publisher up to the end of 2008. The current publisher is Lippincott. In 2003 the EJA was owned by the EAA; it is now owned by the ESA. In 2005 we adopted the Manuscript Central software package and in 2008 changed over to Editorial Manager. Each of these changes has probably resulted in some destabilising effect on the journal but we have ridden them and I hope that the EJA is now stronger and can have a smoother ride for the next 6 years.
What does an EIC actually do? That is a question which it is impossible to answer with complete accuracy. Each EIC will stamp his/her mark on a journal and all will work to different levels. The EIC is conductor of the orchestra and holds the Editorial team together. The EIC sets the editorial policy, but with advice and input from the rest of the editorial team. The EIC takes all of the flack from authors who are concerned, irritated or angry. The EIC receives virtually no praise for a job well done. The actual workload has been very heavy. In the distant past, the EIC could rely upon the departmental secretary for some assistance and a share of the administrative burden. That ceased some years ago before I took over and I have had to be both EIC and secretary. My work for the EJA work was almost all done in evenings, at weekends and while on vacation. I read and corrected every manuscript which was accepted up to mid-2008 to ensure consistency and accuracy, a hugely time-consuming task. My free time will be my own again from 31st December 2009 – I guess it will rapidly fill with new projects though.
Advances in technology in my lifetime has been amazing. My father saw and embraced the advance of technology and always made sure that we were at the forefront of the latest technological advances. The arrival of the domestic television is one such example. My father went out and bought a new television so that we could watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. It had a screen about 12 inches (30 cm) across and so needed a huge magnifying lens attachment which fitted over the front and enlarged the picture. It turned out that we had the first television in the street and so our living room was crammed full of neighbours squinting at the tiny picture of the coronation in the corner of the room. Some of those at the back would probably have needed binoculars or telescopes to see what was happening! Over the years may father brought home other new inventions as they appeared including an electric hedge trimmer, electric food mixer, video camera, dishwasher, microwave oven, etc.
The world of publishing seems to have undergone a revolution of similar proportions. The first research paper that I wrote in 1972 was prepared using a mechanical typewriter. When preparing the final draft of a large document any changes had to have the same number of characters so that only the one page needed to be retyped. If the alterations were extensive, then the whole document would need to be retyped, a tedious task. The advent of computers changed all of that. Cutting, pasting and revising a document on the screen is just so easy. Its simplicity however can lead to terrible problems. What if an author becomes disorientated by the number of paragraphs written and instead of pasting his own paragraph into the final document accidentally pastes in a paragraph form someone else's document? They immediately become the accidental perpetrator of an act of plagiarism.
It is the advances in technology and computerisation which have arguably had the most impact on the running of the EJA. When my predecessor, Tony Adams took over as EIC virtually everything was paper-based from the submission through correspondence with authors and referees to the proof. During his time we moved fairly rapidly towards the area of electronics. When I took over the EJA, at the end of 2003 most manuscripts came in electronically via email but some were on paper or floppy disk. Now there is no paper involved. The website controls the whole process and everything takes place on screen. This also means that journal activities can take place anywhere in the world where there is a computer and internet access. I have dealt with manuscripts in hotel rooms, at conferences, on trains, in airports and whilst on vacation.
Of course, all of this would not be possible without my truly excellent team of Editors. Their constant support has been invaluable. I will miss their wise counsel but friendships endure indefinitely. I must also pay tribute to the publishers – all three of them - for keeping the journal on the straight and narrow.
It was with great sadness that I learnt of the death of Professor Mike Vickers. Mike was instrumental in the creation of the journal and was EIC from 1984 to 1995. It has been an enourmous privilege to help his baby to grow and develop further and to have been the fourth EIC of the EJA. I feel that I have taken a pivotal part in European Anaesthesia and that has been a huge honour. The fifth EIC will be Professor Martin Tramèr and I know that I will be passing the EJA on to a very safe pair of hands. Sure, I will miss it, but I am pleased that the reins are being handed over to such a well-known and highly respected individual.
So what shall I do next? What is there for me as I sail off into the sunset? Where is the crescendo of orchestral music? I don't know, but what I do know is that I am not past-it yet. I hope to be able to use more of my wealth of experience in the fields of anaesthesia and its allied specialities to the benefit of European Anaesthesia. Good Luck to the EJA and may your Impact Factor ever rise.
Professor Brian J. Pollard