Tansley likened New Phytologist in his first editorial to an organism at the mercy of natural selection –‘... if it is well adapted to fill its place in the scheme of things, it survives. If not, it inevitably goes under and disappears’ (see Lewis & Ingram, 2002). What state is New Phytologist in at the beginning of 2004? Are the professional scientists who comprise this organisation delivering a suitable service to their peers, one that appears fit to survive?
The New Phytologist Trust is an independent charity, a not-for-profit organisation much like a scientific society, which is dedicated to the promotion of plant science. It is professional scientists who make the journal ‘happen’ editorially, and it is these same scientists who collectively decide the direction in which New Phytologist should develop. This applies not only to the science, but also to the enterprise of communicating that science to best effect. No share-holders, no profits – the aim is simply to serve the plant science community. The Trust ensures that any excess revenue from the journal is put straight back into the subject – in recent years this modest sum has meant bursaries to students, sponsorship of symposia, and occasional funding of other scientific events and prizes (see http://www.newphytologist.org/about.htm). It also, means that we are able to support the publication of our high quality Tansley reviews with open access – for example, you will find the articles in this issue (Cann, pp. 23–34; Evans, pp. 35–49) free to view at http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/static/tansleyreviews.asp.
The community that we serve is, in 2004, wider than ever. The origins of manuscripts submitted to the journal in 2003 can be seen in Fig. 1. There is a wide, global spread of submissions from 48 countries, with a particular concentration from North America and Europe but also significant numbers from Australia and South-east Asia, including Japan. The location of New Phytologist Editors and Advisors (Fig. 2) broadly mirrors the distribution of the major densities of these submissions. The contribution of our office in Oak Ridge, Tennessee has been highly significant in supporting the North American community, whose interest and submissions have been, and will continue to be, so vital to our success. But more than this, it is the Editors – most recently Chris Cobbett, Sonia Sultan, Mark Rausher, Steve Strauss and Keith Lindsey – who constantly invigorate the journal, encouraging authors who previously might not have considered us for the publication of their research (Ingram & Woodward, 2003; Woodward, 2003).
Service to authors
We are convinced that we are providing the authors from this widening community the right service. It is worth highlighting the recent impact of Manuscript Central (supplied by Scholar One) in this regard, which has been extremely positive. During the 18 months since the launch of this online submission and peer-review system, there has had to be a steep learning curve for authors, Editors, Advisors and our other referees. But as a result we have not only been able to reinforce our international inclusiveness, but also to continue to improve our rapid speed and efficiency of manuscript handling without compromising quality. Authors would, on average, expect to have a first decision from the journal in just 5–6 weeks from submission, and to acceptance in no more than a further 4 weeks. Rapid reports (e.g. see Thomas et al. pp. 193–198 in this issue) move through much faster than this, supported especially by the expertise of our Advisors.
Accepted manuscripts also now receive the benefits of OnlineEarly, and here it should be emphasized that Blackwell Publishing do an excellent job in serving the Trust. Blackwells are contracted to publish the journal, and the responsibility of the company is no more evident than in its involvement with some 500 scientific societies. The production work on manuscripts, coordinated by Ruth Swanney in Edinburgh, with typesetting in Hong Kong, is outstanding.
We encourage comment and informed, serious debate in the journal, and this issue features one such exchange (see Holst-Jensen et al. pp. 11–13, and following Letters), examining the impact of errors in online genetic databanks (Bridge et al., 2003; Vilgalys, 2003). We have the opportunities now, more than ever before, to open up the processes of review and debate, and we have embraced this while taking care that quality, through peer review, is never compromised. The same technology driving Manuscript Central also means that we have more information than ever before, and so can look to different objective metrics than impact factor – most prominently hits on a particular article in Synergy (see also Shephard, 2003). It is surely a useful measure of successful communication of science that an article is read online, whether or not it is then cited. We are content with this, and pleased that articles in the Forum not only raise the awareness of some of our best research and controversial issues, but also raise significant interest from those browsing the journal online, irrespective of how often they are subsequently cited. The most-viewed article in 2002 covers, inevitably perhaps in the present context, evolution (Brundrett, 2002). The most highly cited article from 2002 is by Meharg & Hartley-Whitaker (2002). It appears that citations and web visits are quite uncorrelated (it may be that zero citation papers are also never visited – which might give a positive correlation overall).
Appropriately, then, this Special Issue of the journal marks the launch of our Evolution section (http://www.newphytologist.org/evolution.htm), and show-cases an array of scientific papers that not only demonstrate the vibrancy of life science, but also the vibrancy of the journal academically (see the Commentary by Rieseberg on pp. 3–8). As a broad-spectrum journal, New Phytologist must always seek to be a presence as new areas of the subject come to the forefront of current research priorities (e.g. see Cobbett, 2003; Sen, 2003; Talbot, 2003), and this is precisely what is happening in the area of evolutionary studies. The Section Editor, Mark Rausher, is developing the coverage of this area in the journal, supported particularly by Sonia Sultan. This builds on the devoted, much appreciated efforts of Loren Rieseberg, aided by Jonathan Wendel as a guest Editor in this issue. Related work in the area of eco-devo has also been highlighted recently (Ackerly, 2003; Gutschick & BassiriRad, 2003).
Just as molecular genetics has revolutionised biology, so the internet has done the same for the communication of that science. We are well aware of the wealth of opportunities available for improving the communication of science that this has put before us at this time, and in Manuscript Central and OnlineEarly we can see just some of those benefits. The changing nature of the market is a critically important issue, particularly as the current publishing business model is unstable. At present, predominantly libraries fund the enterprise through subscriptions – that is, free publishing for authors, but access then restricted to institutions with site licences. Open access, an alternative approach, means that authors have to pay for the right to publish, but their article is then freely available (e.g. see Morris, 2003). There are other models, such as pay-per-view, already an option where an author's institution does not subscribe to this journal. For a small organisation such as New Phytologist, this transitional phase from the established status quo to a new, as yet uncertain, future is especially challenging. The journal will evolve to survive.
2003 has been an unprecedented success for the journal in terms of submissions of manuscripts, with numbers reaching their highest ever levels at a steep rate of growth, and an increased ISI Impact Factor (2.945). We will, for the second time in recent years, be increasing the number of pages that we publish, allowing us to accommodate the increased submissions in 2004. This all builds again on the success noted in our centenary year, with the activities in motion at that time now having come to fruition (Ayres & Ingram, 2002). At its heart, this success comes down to the network of authors, reviewers, Advisors and Editors – the people. We are convinced that scientists recognize the value of organisations such as New Phytologist, and are eager to support us in our efforts to achieve excellent service in the dissemination of scientific information. It is our pleasure to thank you all formally, and to invite your continued support.