An editor for all seasons: The “Impact” of Dr. Andres Blei


  • William F. Balistreri M.D.,

  • Gregory Bologna

  • Potential conflict of interest: Nothing to report.

The challenge faced by the candidates interviewing with the selection committee in the summer of 2000 for the position of Editor-in-Chief of HEPATOLOGY was particularly daunting: How does one assume the leadership of a very strong journal and make it stronger? HEPATOLOGY had just reached an impact factor of 7.304, second highest of all gastroenterology and hepatology journals. In that year, it received 1198 original research manuscripts from around the world to review, reflecting the perception that HEPATOLOGY was viewed by the community as the preeminent journal in the field. All 4 candidate finalists presented compelling strategies through which they would ensure continued success of this outstanding journal. The guiding principle of the selection committee was that HEPATOLOGY should not only reflect the membership of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, but more broadly, the entire field of hepatobiliary disease in order to appeal to the global scientific and clinical community. Therefore, the selected Editor should embrace that mandate and foster growth based on these principles.

Dr. Andres Blei was recommended by the selection committee to the Governing Board; this decision was based on his clearly stated vision of what HEPATOLOGY should become and how it should be organized. His vision for the journal was one of balance; indeed, he adhered to that vision throughout his highly successful tenure as Editor-in-Chief of HEPATOLOGY. His goal was to create a journal that represented all of the various constituencies represented by the AASLD membership by publishing articles from diverse areas of research and practice. In addition to balance, he sought to add a humanistic element to HEPATOLOGY that would make it a focal point of the field. In Dr. Blei's view, the journal should not shy away from difficult issues, such as those related to public policy or ethics. Dr. Blei was committed to providing quick and expert reviews to authors, constantly focusing on the impact factor, and most importantly, striving to have something in each issue of HEPATOLOGY for each hepatologist to read.

As Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Blei was faced with a few new challenges compared to his predecessor Dr. Mongomery Bissell. Dr. Bissell had a cadre of local Associate Editors, who met weekly at the journal office, as well as a local Journal Management Staff. Dr. Blei's Associate Editors were more geographically dispersed, residing throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. Geographic diversity was part of his original vision, and this was reflected in the composition of the Editorial Board, authors of invited editorials and reviews, as well as the emphasis that the journal would place on hepatobiliary disorders worldwide. This made organizational issues more complicated. Dr. Blei viewed HEPATOLOGY as having 3 cores: viral hepatitis, liver biology and pathobiology, and liver failure and liver disease. The Associate Editors thus participated in small-group, biweekly conference calls to address issues germane to each core.

In addition, Dr. Blei was asked by the AASLD Governing Board to work with the central office staff in Alexandria, VA, as his Journal Management Staff. This was a major paradigm shift which necessitated a significant reorganization of both editorial office policy as well as operational strategies. At that time the “sister” journal, Liver Transplantation, which received 202 original research manuscripts in 2000, was being managed by the Central Office Staff. However, providing similar services to HEPATOLOGY required hiring additional staff, as well as the institution of an Internet-based peer review system. This was viewed as a clear future trend and a way to accommodate an Editor-in-Chief in Chicago, staff in Alexandria, and Associate Editors on 3 continents. Indeed, very few journals were using online technology on July 1, 2001, the day Dr. Blei and his editorial team took over; today, the overwhelming majority of journals are managed via online systems.

Dr. Blei's vision of HEPATOLOGY required a “humanistic” article that readers would turn to first, a piece that would “highlight the interface between individuals, society, and science.” The correct author had to be selected and provided with the proper degree of guidance while allowing for individual creativity. Thus, Dr. Adrian Reuben, a hepatologist and scholar who was “enthralled with a fascination for language, humor, history, biography, ethics, literature, and the arts,” was selected as the author of a newly commissioned section: Landmarks in Hepatology. The final piece was in place.

By all external measures, HEPATOLOGY flourished under Dr. Blei's editorship. In 2006, the impact factor reached 9.792, the journal received 1331 original research manuscripts through the first week of December 2006, and time to initial editorial decision decreased to less than 30 days in 2006 from 52 days in 2000. A quick note about impact factor: various ways to manipulate this metric have been used by editors; these include publishing more review articles, reducing the number of manuscripts published, and publishing editorials and letters that count toward citation but not toward the overall number of manuscripts published. These methods have nothing to do with the quality of the published material, in our opinion. In contrast, the growth in HEPATOLOGY impact factor is directly due to the efforts of an Editor-in-Chief and Editorial Team with uniform views of what should be accepted for publication in their journal—the consistent selection of the best submitted science and publication of high-quality review articles from expert authors.

AASLD has been fortunate to have Dr. Blei as HEPATOLOGY Editor-in-Chief in this specific period of time—an era of transition in publication process and procedure. One in which open access, online publication, registration of clinical trials, and emergence of new journals have become realities that every editor must address. Scientific journals and the ethics of medical research and publishing are clearly under the microscope by the public and by peers. As author agreements have become more intrusive, potential conflicts of interest are increasing, and relationships between authors and pharmaceutical companies less clear, a journal requires stewardship by an Editor with clearly developed ethical standards and the willingness to apply those principles. Dr. Blei has clearly stated that vision through a series of Editor's Corners that addressed issues such as “Who Owns the Data” (the role of the author in large clinical trials), “Who Writes the Article” (the role of author as ghostwriter), the need for clinical trial registration, standards for advertising in HEPATOLOGY, and various conflict-of-interest issues facing authors.

The authors of this letter, one as then-President of AASLD and soon-to-be Chair of the Journals Publications Committee and the other as HEPATOLOGY's Managing Editor, have been fortunate to view firsthand Dr. Blei's dedicated pursuit of the plan which he articulated in the summer of 2000. HEPATOLOGY has grown in stature, strength, scope, and submissions, and the impact factor (the industry metric) has increased. HEPATOLOGY has remained balanced with “something for every reader” in each issue, it has never sidestepped difficult issues, and the Editors have voiced their opinion on relevant issues when appropriate to do so. Thus, HEPATOLOGY, the flagship publication of the AASLD, has continued to expand as an international journal that reflects the excitement and diversity of the field. On behalf of the AASLD leadership, the Central Office Staff, the Journals Publication Committee, and, indeed, clinicians and scientists everywhere, we congratulate and thank Dr. Blei on his outstanding tenure as Editor-in-Chief of HEPATOLOGY.