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Alastair Compston
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/awh240 1689-1690 First published online: 26 July 2004

With this issue, the tenures of John Newsom-Davis and John Rothwell end as Editor and Deputy Editor of Brain, respectively. In deciding some time ago that no Editor should serve for more than 7 years, the Guarantors of Brain are electing to sign off a great team. For this has been a period in which Brain has strengthened its position in the upper echelon of clinical and basic neuroscience journals, and been ahead of the game in anticipating trends in publishing and the needs of our readers. With their distinguished personal records of achievement in neuroimmunology as applied to disorders of the neuromuscular junction and paraneoplastic diseases, and in motor control, John Newsom-Davis and John Rothwell have steered readers of Brain into the modern era of cell and molecular mechanisms of disease. Without courting bibliometric markers of success, they have moved Brain up the rankings. The most recent impact factor (7.967) puts Brain first among clinical neurology journals. The Editors have ensured that authors can expect a decision within a median of 39 days; see their papers on-line 2.4 months later; and handle a print version 3–4 months after acceptance. In short, they have brought academic excellence and administrative efficiency to the editorial role, refuting the trite claims of the Editor of a British weekly journal that Brain is stuffy and antiquated—antipodal to Cosmopolitan (to us, a perfectly decent bed-fellow). We owe both Johns a debt of gratitude, extend admiration for all they have done, and express our affection for their personal styles in managing the affairs of Brain between 1997 and 2004.

Brain has always been well served by its Editors (Henson, 1978). The four founders—Sir James Crichton-Browne, Sir John Bucknill, Sir David Ferrier and Dr John Hughlings-Jackson—held office from 1879 to 1901. Dr Armand de Watteville joined this quartet in 1884, and Dr Robert Percy Smith was Editor from 1901 to 1905. Neither is well remembered, but Brain then entered its golden age of Editorships: Sir Henry Head (1905–1923); Sir Gordon Holmes (1923–1938); Sir Francis Walshe (1938–1954); Lord Brain (from 1954 until his death in office in 1967); Dr Denis Williams (1967–1975); Professor Charles Phillips (1975–1982); Professor Peter (PK) Thomas (1982–1991); Professor Ian McDonald (1991–1997); and Professor John Newsom-Davis (from 1997). And what did they accomplish? Simply stated, for 125 years, Brain has published articles of lasting importance and, more than any other journal, printed work that shaped the modern history of clinical neurology. Traditionally long but always definitive, these papers, many with an emphasis on higher cortical function but without neglecting any aspect of the central and peripheral nervous systems, charted the evolution of neurology as description moved to the illumination of disease mechanisms, and technologies offered new opportunities for understanding order and disorder in the nervous system.

Encouraged by colleagues at Oxford University Press, who have published the journal since we parted company with Macmillan in 1975, the retiring Editors took Brain on-line early in their tenure. Now, submission, reviewing, copy-editing and production are all electronic, such that Brain has not seen a manuscript for several years. This forward-looking policy was made possible by the work of Dr Carol Lovelidge and Ms Lubna Zafar. Together, Carol and Lubna have managed on-line submissions (helping the electronically unwashed through the process in the early years), distributed to referees, collated their reports, worked with the successful, dealt sympathetically with the unlucky, ensured high quality and timely production of the finished article, and kept the Editors firmly on the straight and narrow. They are both leaving the journal, but anyone who has read Brain over the last 15 years or hit the journal on-line knows well the professional skills of Carol and Lubna and their commitment to Brain. They will both be missed. We also thank those members of the existing Editorial Board whose work on behalf of Brain is now completed. Mark and Jancis Wiles have commissioned book reviews and kept readers of Brain informed on the major publications in clinical neuroscience over the last 7 years. They also are being granted a well-earned rest from these literary labours.

Change carries risk to a journal that needs to maintain exposure in order to attract the best articles, and wishes to protect income so as to sustain our charitable activities. Were it to happen, the arrival of e-based journals operating an author-pays, reader-reads for free policy would radically change the publishing landscape. However, is allowing only those who can afford to publish (or are subsidized) an audience for their scientific work more or less restrictive than the present situation whereby only well-resourced institutions and a few dedicated individuals browse printed copies of Brain (in their Cambridge blue covers dispatched from Oxford)? How will the commercial aspects of academic publication be managed as viewing is increasingly available on-line, print becomes a luxury, and institutional subscriptions are managed through consortia in which market forces operate and profit margins narrow? Should an academic publication aim to make money? Brain distributes around £250 000 annually either as travel grants for young investigators otherwise unable to attend international meetings and present their work; fellowships for clinicians needing to make the transition between research and clinical training, in either direction; and support of teaching courses for trainees in clinical neuroscience. The income needed to deliver these activities ultimately derives from subscriptions, and the new Editorial team will work with Oxford University Press to maintain these roles on behalf of the Guarantors of Brain. Our task is simply to attract, select and publish material that makes it essential for the informed reader working across the spectrum of clinical and experimental neuroscience routinely to access the journal.

For a few issues, we will bask in the Editorial glory of John Newsom-Davis and John Rothwell, and benefit from the administrative talents of Carol and Lubna. Thereafter, the influence of six new Associate Editors will be felt: these are Anders Björklund (Lund), Patrick Chinnery (Newcastle), Christian Elger (Bonn), John Hodges (Cambridge), Jan van Gijn (Utrecht) and Angela Vincent (Oxford), with the help of Dimitri Kullmann (London) as Secretary and Treasurer to the Guarantors. Although covering a broad field, the contents of Brain will not prioritize the topics in which these Associate Editors are acknowledged experts. They will lean on an Advisory Board, listed in this issue, and the many ad hoc reviewers on whose help we continue to depend. We also welcome Dr Eleanor Riches and Ms Lisa Edwards as Scientific Editor and Editor's Assistant, respectively. Each has previous experience of publishing in addition to their graduate backgrounds. Eleanor and Lisa will process submissions and work with authors to make their articles visually attractive and maximally informative—such that it looks and feels good to have work published in Brain, and both specialist and non-specialist readers derive maximum benefit from your endeavours. Space is always at a premium, and we may wish to discuss matters with those seeking to emulate S. A. Kinnier Wilson who occupied a generous 214 pages for his description of hepato-lenticular degeneration (1912), slightly displacing the 204 pages written by Henry Head in 1906 on afferent impulses in the spinal cord (McDonald 2000).

Will there be radical changes? No, nothing is bust and no fixing necessary. The journal will continue to be filled with original articles covering the spectrum of clinical and basic neuroscience, together with a review (in most issues). However, a few changes will gradually make their appearance. We will introduce slightly more commentary and editorials on specific articles—sometimes with the synopsis of a paper published across our illustrious 125 year past that traces the historical trail leading to the contemporary account appearing in a current issue. We will pay attention to the appearance and information content of figures so that Brain is aesthetically pleasing. At a time of increased electronic scrutiny and evaluation of abstracting systems, we will require authors to submit summaries of their work that, although not ritually structured, nevertheless provide context, detail, numbers and comment on the contents. And our book reviews will change from short accounts of many books to extended essays covering one or more publications that tell a story written by reviewers able to take a broad view on the significance of these books for anyone interested in the nervous system from the scientific and cultural perspectives, and drawing on knowledge that may extend outside the authors' chosen turf.

The responsibilities and demands on an Editor, still active professionally, are not trivial. Those previously serving Brain have set high standards. The Brain office in Cambridge aims to be accessible and available to authors and readers by e-mail, telephone, FAX, post or personal visit. We will remain sensitive to the enormous efforts that authors put into getting their work ripe for publication and hope to provide an efficient and attractive repository for presenting the very best in clinical neuroscience for our readers.


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