The importance of being Frank


Professor David Isaacs, Children's Hospital at Westmead, Westmead, NSW, Australia. Email:

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[ Frank Oberklaid ]

Frank Oberklaid has finally stepped down from the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health after 20 years as a deputy editor, followed by 10 years as an editor, then 8 years as editor-in-chief. He is sometimes referred to outside Melbourne as Frankly Overpaid, a friendly but totally undeserved slight. The irony is that Frank has never taken or been offered a cent for his work for the Journal, and in typical Frank fashion has committed his energy and intelligence totally to running the Journal. Frankly Underpaid would be more appropriate. At the same time, he has been running a superb Centre for Community Child Health in Melbourne and his only sin is that Frank's fossil fuel footprint is black as black, because he is in such demand internationally. Frank has continued the struggle to change our Journal from a relatively small, local paediatric journal into an international one, with considerable success.

Are there any aspects of being editor-in-chief that Frank might regret? He would have liked to raise the impact factor, a measure of how often published papers are quoted in other journals, which has remained steady. Raising one's impact factor is difficult. Impact factors have a vicious circularity to them: the best journals (New England Journal of Medicine, the Lancet, etc.) attract the best papers, which attract more readers. Smaller journals struggle to break the cycle.

How can we improve the popularity of our Journal and thus improve its impact factor? Does it matter? Those of us who care deeply about the Journal have thought deeply about the problem. We need to make it really enjoyable for you to read the Journal, whether you are reading this in the bath or on your computer (or on your computer in the bath, in which case disconnect the electricity, please). The British Medical Journal has decided it cannot compete with the top scientific journals, and has reinvented itself to appeal like a magazine. Not by dumbing down, but by finding a large variety of different ways to interest readers: medical news, summarising recent journal articles, debates, ethics, book reviews, using evidence, even obituaries (I suppose their readers take a vicarious delight that they are not reading their own obituary). The major difference between our Journal and the mainstream journals is that they employ a large number of full-time staff, whereas we depend on the energy and goodwill of volunteers and those volunteers are already heavily overcommitted.

If you value this Journal, we need some favours. First, we want you to contact us and tell us which current features you like, which you do not, and what future, new features you would particularly like to see. Second, we want volunteers prepared to be editors. We want you to write reviews or personal practice articles about general paediatrics and subspecialties. We want you or your juniors to volunteer to be reviewers. We would like to start a regular feature about recent important publications in other journals, similar to Alison Tonks' excellent ‘Short Cuts’ in the British Medical Journal, to keep readers up to date. We invite expressions of interest to be the editor of this section. We need the rest of you to contribute by sending us references to the most important new research or even better short commentaries on papers in your specialty area or general medicine. If you write a commentary, we will publish it under your name. We want to liven up the journal with humour, anecdotes, drawings and photographs. We want you to get involved, please. Your Journal needs you.