On Becoming the Former Chief Editor of Neurology Today
My term as editor-in-chief of Neurology Today commenced with the May/June 2001 issue. In my welcoming article for that issue, I wrote: “Dr. Steven Ringel, Past-President of the Academy, conceived the idea for this newspaper and I am pleased that he is serving as associate editor-in-chief.”
Now, nine years later, my term is expiring and, this time, I am pleased to inform you that Dr. Ringel will continue to lead the newspaper, becoming the next editor-in-chief as of Jan, 1, 2010, with volume 10.
Dr. Ringel is probably the best informed member of the Academy when it comes to issues of health care policy. From 1991–1992, he was a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow in the office of Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). As a professor of neurology at the University of Colorado, he is an actively practicing academic leader of neurology and has proven to be remarkably sensitive to emotional and ethical issues of patients with neurological disorders. He writes gracefully and is quick to recognize breaking news.
Dr. Ringel brings with him three associate editors, Kenneth Tyler, MD, the renowned virologist; Robert Holloway, MD, an expert in clinical research; and Orly Avitzur, MD, popular columnist for Neurology Today on practice issues and editor of the Academy Web site, AAN.com.
After the Academy opted to develop a newspaper, a publisher was needed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins was already partnering with the AAN in publishing the medical journal, Neurology, so it was a natural progression for them to take on the tabloid. They already had a dedicated division of “Targeted Periodicals,” which published other newspapers including one called Oncology Times. At that time, Fay Ellis was a writer-editor for several of the specialty publications in that department and she applied for the position of editor of Neurology Today. Leaders of the American Academy of Neurology Enterprises Inc., owners of the publication wisely picked her and we were off running. Ms. Ellis and her staff are the ones who edit and magically transform the typed text into a real, live newspaper.
When we started, we described two concerns. One proved to be real, the other imaginary. The real one arose from our goal of reporting important papers that had been given at national specialty meetings and would not have been subject to peer review. That problem was successfully addressed by interviewing experts who could comment on oral presentations or published articles.
The other concern never materialized. We wondered if the comments of high powered investigators could be considered “prior” or duplicate publication, but somehow that was never a problem.
We also wondered how we would measure our own performance. We could not count subscribers because our readership comprises every member of the Academy. They receive the paper as part of their membership fees, a fixed number that is not a measure of reader-interest or satisfaction.
Readership surveys, however, have repeatedly ranked Neurology Today ahead of all English-language neurology journals and other periodicals, except for Neurology itself. We have been proud of the professional journalists who write the text and provide scientific information in comprehensible English.
We have admired neurologists who have written so often that they are recognized by our readers as regular columnists, especially Dr. Avitzur on practice matters and James L. Bernat, MD, on neuroethics.
Through the years, we have followed important public issues, including disparities in neurological care in the United States and worldwide. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created new issues in military medicine: blast injuries; traumatic brain injuries; amputations and prosthetic devices, as well as post-traumatic stress disorders.
In formulating health care reform proposals, solo specialty practice is pitted against group practice plans. Scientific progress has included advances in stem cell research, new drugs for the treatment of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer disease, and parkinsonism. In all of these diseases, gene discovery is accelerating and the biology of these diseases is increasingly demystified, so opening new approaches to therapy and prevention. Even treatment-resistant diseases are slowly yielding, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and glioblastoma. Animal models of human diseases and genomic approaches have become part of the picture. Advances in basic and clinical neuroscience have surely been heartening.
Personally, Neurology Today has become a defining portion of my identity. I had been known earlier as an editor of Neurology who marked up typescript manuscripts with a red pen. Authors of articles accepted my compulsive attempts to make the texts as short as possible, as grammatically correct as possible and as clear to readers as possible. By the time Neurology Today came along we had graduated from red pen to computer programs for digitally tracking the articles. My compulsions have continued and I have read every word printed in the nine published volumes of Neurology Today. Some, but not all, of my suggestions were accepted by Ms. Ellis without affecting our mutual admiration society. Naturally, Dr. Ringel has made his own invariably helpful suggestions. Naturally, also, I will be pleased and honored to help in the future.
Being editor has been an incredibly effective form of continuing medical education for me and I am proportionately grateful. I thank all concerned for the opportunity to edit Neurology Today and for the help given by so many people, none more important than Esther Rowland or my assistant, Hope Poulos.