Behind the Scenes – Editing a Worldwide Journal

Article Conference CoverageFrom FIGOWashington D.C., USA - September 2000

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Dr. Mark Smith: “Good morning, I’m Marshall Smith the Publisher of, and we’re honored to have Professor Keith from Chicago with us. He’s been working frantically behind the scenes at this year’s FIGO 2000 meeting. Primarily, a lot of his work has been on the International Journal with which you’re all familiar. I’m going to let him tell us some of the things that have gone on behind the scenes as far as the Journal and then we’ll probably lead into some other things that are common to all journals - electronically or printed, Professor Keith.”

Dr. Louis Keith: “Thank you very much. I’m pleased to give this interview because many times people don’t understand what goes on behind the scenes at a I have been on editorial boards for many years, and the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics is somewhat unique in the sense that all of the editors meet annually, we discuss the problems from a very detailed agenda, and I can see over the years the progress. Now of course as editors of a journal, we and our publishers, Elsevier, are very much aware of the fact that the younger generation is turning to the Internet to get its medical information. I don’t think we are looking at that as an either/or situation but rather how can we work together to improve the access of information. One of the reasons that I’m intrigued with is that I was told that a very large number of your daily hits are not from physicians or healthcare professionals. This means that the general public, any place in the world with access to a computer, can have access to good information.”

Dr. Mark Smith: “That’s absolutely true. One of things that I think is evolving that we’re all seeing is how these journals integrate electronic dissemination of information with print, because obviously each have advantages, and some prefer one over the other. What do you see in the future as far as the way journals go and how they’re going to integrate this?”

Dr. Louis Keith: “Let’s talk first about the preference. I was at a dinner last night that was given by Elsevier and Roy Pitkin who is the Editor of the Green Journal, and we were talking about how people review articles. Professor Sciarra, who’s the Editor of the IJGO, said to the people at Elsevier - and I think he spoke for many of us in the room - that he preferred to read sheets of paper on his desk where he could consult the references or the figures or the tables as opposed to scrolling down. We recognize that our residents and our younger attendings prefer at times to scroll down to get their information but when you’re in the process of looking at a new manuscript that may not be too easy. That was the first part of your question now. What about the second, what was it again?” 

Dr. Mark Smith: “One comment - I prefer to read the printed articles because I can mark on them when I write them up. I think the second is, and you certainly have a good overview of this, what do you see in the future? You had said it would be an integration of electronic versus printed media, what do you see in the future? Do you have any forecasts or predictions?”

Dr. Louis Keith: “Obviously, my prediction is if I had good predictions I would be a millionaire on the stock market but my predictions are just predictions. There’s no way that we’re going to be able to maintain the system that’s worked for the last 150 years of everything on paper because the younger people won’t buy it, at least in our country, but maybe in other countries. So the sooner we, the people, who deal with the paper print journals everyday recognize there has to be an easy access. Now some of the journals are already easy access because you get onto a major search engine and you can get full text but you need to have a computer. If you go around to conventions, when the computer savvy people land in an airport, they want to know where is the Cyber Caf because they’re absolutely unable to reach the world without the Cyber Caf. Now some hotels have plug-ins, others don’t. I have a briefcase that I’m taking to Poland this afternoon, when I have my down time in the airport, I have two articles that I have to review and I will do the same thing that you do, I will mark them up. Now it’s true there are programs where you can cross out and you can add but that doesn’t say to the author, ‘Hey Joe or Jane - as the case may be - is this really what you want to say because if this is the point that you’re trying to make, it’s not coming through to me.’ Have you ever thought of another point of view or you forgot this reference or you know your discussion begins with the sixth paragraph. I once heard a lecture by Morris Fishbein, who was the legendary Editor of JAMA. I was a medical student at the time, and he was telling us how he edited early on and he said he wrote to the first person, ‘Dear Doctor, your paper begins on page six.’ That’s really something that young writers have to understand, that isn’t going to change with the Internet because if doctors want something on the Internet, they want it vetted, they want it edited, and they want the excess garbage or verbiage taken out. They don’t want to read jargon, and they want to be sure that references are absolutely up-to-date. That brings us to the problem of, let’s say, opened a journal tomorrow - you would be flooded by submissions. Someone is going to have to read these submissions because I can tell you as an editor, some of the submissions are not submissions; they’re three paragraphs with no beginning, no middle, and no end. If a young writer wants to learn how to write, then read Shakespeare. They’re five acts because the first act is the introduction, the climax is in the middle, and everything else sort of drags on. The Verde opera is the same thing, there’s always a beginning, middle, and an end. A medical article needs that.”

Dr. Mark Smith: “Absolutely, hopefully, the Internet can help them learn that along the way also.”

Dr. Louis Keith: “But you know, the younger doctors often think that the publication of an abstract is enough. The publication of an abstract is a slice, a bread slice, and it may get to a very few people. Now the Internet may be a great place to put abstracts because then you can go back and get the whole article if you want it but I think articles will still be around.”

Dr. Mark Smith: “I totally agree, especially with the advent of evidence based medicine. That’s what’s hopefully driving us and our medical care.”

Dr. Louis Keith: “Absolutely.”

Dr. Mark Smith: “Professor Keith, thank you very much. It’s always a honor to have you with us.”

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