Every 5 years a new editorial team is selected to lead the journal. As of July 1, Dr. Keith Lindor and team will handle all new submissions to HEPATOLOGY. The current editors will continue to be responsible for the remaining issues of 2006. Like the title of this page, we are going through the healthy intermission between editorial teams, a period when transitions can be smoothly conducted. In the theater, intermezzos can be an idle period or a time to revisit major themes of the play. Over the years, I have shared with the readers issues that are germane to the editorial/writing process. Rather than reiterating concepts expressed in previous Corners, I would like to reflect on the experience of a recent Editors Forum, where a capsule of such concepts was presented.
The organizers of the 2006 Hong-Kong/Shanghai International Liver Congress invited the editors of leading specialty journals to openly discuss the issues that surround publication of liver-related research. The formal presentations were not the highlight of the meeting. Rather, the vigorous discussion among the participants reflected the importance of what is published in shaping the nature of our activity. “Publish or perish” is passé; its role in shaping individual careers is a given. Today, the impact of publication at several levels is increasingly recognized. Just to highlight a few concepts:
- 1Authorship. Our statistics indicate a median number of 8 authors per manuscript published in HEPATOLOGY. The journal endorses accepted criteria for authorship spelled out in the editors' statement (http://www.icmje.org/index.html): A substantial contribution to the conception and design of the study, to the acquisition and analysis of data, drafting the article or critically revising it, and providing final approval of the version to be published.A hypothetical case was presented based on a recent publication1: A chairman of a department requests a younger faculty member to include several colleagues who do not meet the criteria for authorship. The chairman's quid pro quo: Authorship in future studies from his/her counterparts, contributing to the well-being of the department by advancing the careers of others, avoidance of a clash with the hierarchical structure of the institution. But the correct behavior in this case is so clear that repeating the obvious seems redundant.
- 2Sponsorship of clinical trials. I tabulated 107 randomized controlled clinical trials in liver-related studies that were published in the period 2001-2005 in the New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, Gastroenterology, HEPATOLOGY or the Journal of Hepatology. Of these, 49.5% were supported by the pharmaceutical industry and the ratio was even higher for the first 2 widely-read general medical journals (13/17 trials). The relation between the pharmaceutical industry and clinical investigators is complex and under increasing public scrutiny.2 As voiced at the Hong Kong/Shanghai meeting, the hepatology community also scrutinizes investigators who fail to make a concerted effort to demonstrate their independence from the goals of the pharmaceutical industry. While the partnership between academia and the pharmaceutical industry can be drawn as an intersecting Venn diagram, I argued for the merits of two parallel circles, each with common but also different goals.
- 3Publication, an honor code. Several cases of violations of the honor code that surround scientific publication were discussed as was the role of medical journals in preventing such violations. In fact, every editorial office would become a virtual police station if a policy was adopted to verify critical statements within each manuscript. Such vigilance would include: establishing the reliability of the data, determining whether Human/Animal Investigation approval has indeed occurred, confirming that patient consent was informed, corroborating that all sources of financial support are provided, and ensuring that all potential conflicts of interest are disclosed. Accuracy in publication is a responsibility shared by every member of an investigative team and the honor code that surrounds publication should be preserved at all costs.
Many more topics were discussed, including controversial aspects of manuscript review. I left with a hunger for more. In fact, I have proposed that an Editors Forum become an established activity of the annual meeting of our association, where many more issues could be publicly deliberated. At a time when the pace of scientific discovery in HEPATOLOGY continues to accelerate, it is useful to pause for such an intermission: Not an idle period but one that reaffirms the importance and value of the written word in all what we do.