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The New Millennium: time for a change!
  1. Helen Holzel,
  2. Paul J Van Diest

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    The turn of the millennium deserves to be celebrated. That is why we decided some time ago to make January 2000 a special millennium issue. The approach of the new millennium inevitably leads to reminiscence. We therefore decided to indulge both in reflection on the rich history of JCP and in simultaneous speculation on the future. With the help of many people, we have filled this issue with some reflections by our editors on papers from the first issue of JCP in 1947,15 together with some visionary papers on developments in pathology.622 We are indebted to all those who have contributed to this issue and extend our thanks to them.

    Board membership of JCP

    The strength of JCP has always been its multidisciplinary base. To facilitate this ongoing role we are appointing new members of the board to represent those specialties that are currently underrepresented—that is, chemical pathology, haematology, microbiology, immunology, and statistics. In line with this policy, we have also increased the trainee representation of the board to include one person from each discipline. We hope that this will provide new thoughts and ideas, to meet the requirements of trainee pathologists and new consultants as well as those established in their field.

    Journal developments

    We would also like to take this opportunity to highlight changes in the journal which have occurred during the last two years and to announce some which are imminent. We have reduced the turn around time of submissions to JCP and with the help of our many reviewers, now give authors the initial comment on their paper within an average of five weeks after receipt. Furthermore as a result of the fully electronic in house publishing process, papers are usually published within a three month period after acceptance.

    CPD and pathology interactive

    In June this year, JCP launched its educational CD-ROM, Pathology Interactive.23 Financed by the ACP, Pathology Interactive is available as a membership benefit to ACP members and by subscription to non-members. Selected review papers and leaders published in JCP are accompanied by CPD questions generated or moderated by specialty CPD panels. The CPD questions are presented in Pathology Interactive with related literature and as multiple choice questions. There is an automated self testing program, with scoring and analysis of MCQ scores achieved. Completed tests may be saved as portfolio evidence of learning.

    In the year 2000, Pathology Interactive will appear quarterly, with 24 papers and further CPD material. The broadening of the Royal College of Pathologists' view of CPD means that, in the millennium, the range of educational facilities provided by Pathology Interactive will be extended. Instructive case histories, with appropriate questions and model answers, and picture quizzes will provide further access to self learning, while appropriate use of the user notes facility may provide evidence of the reflective process.

    Recent discussions with Clair du Boulay, Director of CPD at The Royal College of Pathologists, have resulted in agreement that a range of credits, between 1 and 3, may be awarded for participation in this CPD activity. The actual number of credits to be claimed should be assessed by the individual on the basis of effort expended and learning derived from the activity. This is a self accreditation process, awarded in the following way: one credit should be claimed by participants who read the review article and complete the associated questions; two credits can be claimed if additional reading is done and references followed up; three credits can be claimed if these studies are supplemented by note taking and by identifying learning outcome or further learning needs.

    It is felt that this should provide a readily accessible and enjoyable means of CPD activity for all pathologists.

    Historical notes

    Beginning with this millennium issue, JCP will start to publish short historical notes as page fillers, on a regular basis (see p 26, this issue). We hope that these will provide an interesting short read. The historical fillers have initially been commissioned, but we very much welcome your submissions for this type of brief article.

    Open peer review

    Peer review has had a crucial role in publishing in medical journals since the 18th century.24 Since then it has developed somewhat haphazardly, with individual journals producing their own versions, basically dependent on the editor in charge at the time.

    During the last 15 years, rational inquiries into the workings of editorial peer review have been undertaken. They began with the publication in 1985 of Stephen Lock's seminal work on peer review, a book entitled A Difficult Balance,25 and the decision by JAMA that year to hold a conference to present research, as opposed to opinion, on editorial peer review. Three conferences in this field have now been held and have stimulated research into an area which greatly lacked factual support.

    Open review, where the names of the reviewers are known to the authors, first appeared in the journal Cardiovascular Research in 1994.26 The article fuelled a response from a number of independent critics including Stephen Lock and Richard Smith, past and present editors of the BMJ, and Drummond Rennie of JAMA. These editors all argued that there was no ethical justification for the anonymous system of peer review, as knowledge that their names will be disclosed to authors and the public cannot fail to make reviewers more responsible in their comments.27 A publication in JAMA in 1998 showed that blinding reviewers to the identity of authors or revealing the identity of reviewers made no editorially significant difference to review quality or review considerations.28 Certainly in revealing what makes a good publication for a journal, Black et al showed that high quality review ratings were significantly associated with training in epidemiology or statistics, that younger age was an independent predictor of editor's quality assessment, and that review quality increased with time spent up to three hours, but not beyond.29

    After much debate at the 1999 editorial board meeting of JCP, we decided that an open review process would be more honest, would give credit to reviewers, and would encourage them to be both polite and constructive in their comments. An argument against it would be the reluctance of junior reviewers to criticise the work of senior researchers for fear of damage to their careers. In short, arguments in favour of an open review process are largely ethical. Several journals, including the BMJ, have opened the review process and we have decided to follow this practice. From now on, reviewers for JCP will be invited to reveal their identity, but we will respect their right to remain anonymous if they so wish. In order to protect our reviewers, however, we will make it clear that the decision to accept a paper or not is an editorial one, so that any authors disagreeing with a decision must address their comments to the editors of the journal. A similar decision to open the peer review process was taken separately by the editorial board of Molecular Pathology.

    New copyright procedure

    It has long been customary that the authors' only reward for publishing a paper is exposure and “findability”; there has been no direct payment.30 Publishers for their part have borne the costs of peer review and of providing the exposure. In return they have taken the rights to their authors' work and the revenues of publishing, and have made money from allowing third parties to reprint articles or translate and distribute them. Recently some authors have become resentful of the fact that publishers take their rights, don't always exploit them well, and then insist on requests for permission when authors want to use their own material. Along with other journals in the BMJ Publishing Group, the Journal of Clinical Pathology and its Molecular Pathology edition have traditionally asked authors to assign their copyright to the publisher to exploit those rights, and tackle infringements without having to go back to the author each time. In practice the publisher has, however, always allowed authors to use their material in other publications, and for their own teaching and research purposes without charge. From now on the Journal of Clinical Pathology and Molecular Pathology will change this traditional policy. Authors will no longer be asked to assign their copyright to the publisher. Instead, we will ask for an exclusive licence. In practice this gives the journal almost the same control as before, but authors will no longer have to ask for permission to use their material for any non-commercial use. In addition, we will give one nominated author, research group, or institution 10% of the revenue we make from a commercial reprint order (over £1000) for their paper.

    We hope that you will appreciate the changes to the JCP and that you will enjoy this special issue. We wish you all the best for the new millennium.

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