When a new author approaches us about publishing in ANZJPH, we commonly suggest that they start by reading the Journal to see what it is that we publish. Readers of this Journal can make quite reasonable assumptions about our policy for publishing based on an overview of what appears in the Journal, and what we highlight in media releases. So, for example, we have recently published a number of articles on alcohol usage (by young and older people) and these have attracted some media attention. We regularly have a section devoted to infectious disease and we consider that it is an important part of the function of this Journal to keep the spotlight on the sometimes invisible activities of colleagues working in infectious disease surveillance. We are unusual among health journals in publishing a regular segment on methodology and we consider this to be a valuable contribution to both research and teaching. Indigenous health enjoys considerable emphasis because of its importance to public health.
What readers sometimes overlook is that we select our themes for each Issue based on the papers that we have accepted to that date. We respond to the material that is submitted to us. When we receive a paper, we first ensure that it addresses an important public health issue in Australia or New Zealand, or that its focus is on an important international health issue. When sent for peer review, our main considerations are that the method is as rigorous as the context allows and that the findings contribute to the existing public health knowledge base. After that, the field is open to all comers, addressing any public health issue, using whatever method.
We know that there are neglected areas. We seldom publish papers that focus on public health policy and we are short on economic analyses. While we publish regular contributions addressing refugee and prisoner health, we lack thoughtful analyses of some less-obvious vulnerable groups within the community. Where, for example, are the papers on the experience of ageing in those migrant communities who immigrated to Australia post-World War II, especially those with a poor command of English? How are they managing? How successful is our longer-term settlement of refugees, say after ten years? What are the problems that need to be addressed when considering public health in Australia's rural areas, for example, do poor young women have satisfactory access to pregnancy termination when they need it?
The answers are hard to find in this Journal but we are aware of the problem and would welcome papers on these and other relatively neglected topics.
It is worth asking why there is an undersupply of this kind of article for our Journal. Our impression is that there is a series of filters that predates submission to the Journal and this is where some of the research falls by the wayside. The first formal step is review by institutional ethics committees and the Australian Health Ethics Committee has ensured that there is good information to members of ethics committees about judging a wide range of research proposals. The next step with many of our authors is to apply for funding from NHMRC or other funding bodies. Again, we do not think that these processes discriminate systematically against research on vulnerable communities, probably the opposite. If this is so, then the remaining explanation is that researchers are not taking on this kind of research. Perhaps it is simply too hard. If this is so, then public health should provide good mentorship programs for people wanting to work in these areas. A particular emphasis might well be on people who themselves came from vulnerable communities and, for example, in the case of immigrant communities, have access, a knowledge of the culture and a command of the language.
So, if this is what we publish, or would like to publish, what do we not publish? A recurrent problem in recent years is that authors want to publish material that appears on a website, often as a report to the relevant funding body. We cannot do this, in part because of copyright laws. The material that we publish has to be unique.1 If it has already appeared in a different publication, this skews the process of peer review, and we also cannot hold copyright. If it appears in another publication after the material is accepted by ANZJPH, this infringes our copyright. Of course, it is acceptable to quote from any ANZJPH article, provided that any overlapping material is placed in quotation marks and referenced to the Journal. For these reasons we ask that authors tell us in their submission letters that the material in an article has not been previously published and is not under consideration for publication elsewhere, in whatever format. We ask that authors submit copies of any other potentially overlapping articles with their submission letters.
With pressure on academics to publish at all costs, the temptation is to cut a piece of research up into ever smaller segments and publish each one separately. This is known as salami slicing2 and it is unacceptable, especially when there is substantial overlap between articles in the method, conclusions and/or implications of the research. Our preference is for one solid contribution to the literature rather than several minor ones. This may cause difficulty for research institutions that have a program of research addressing the same research problem in a number of different studies. We think it is good practice to give readers some of that background: tell us about the program, what has already been established and where the new paper fits in, making its unique contribution.