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Progress and change at Occupational and Environmental Medicine
  1. K Palmer1,
  2. D Loomis2
  1. 1Editor-in-Chief, OEM
  2. 2Deputy Editor, OEM
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr K Palmer
 MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, Southampton General Hospital, Southampton SO16 6YD, UK;

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An introduction by the new editorial team

Regular readers will have noticed that the front cover of OEM changed in January—timed to brighten the New Year and to herald in a new Editor-in-Chief and a fresh chapter in the Journal’s long and fruitful history.

After 10 years in post Anne Cockroft demitted office recently to spend more time on her research in developing countries. Her legacy is a valuable one. During her tenure as editor, OEM has grown both in size and in stature. It now publishes more peer reviewed research, features more educational articles, and presents a greater variety of content (editorials, miscellanea, workplace reports, and the like) than at any earlier period; it has a burgeoning website on which yet more primary research (electronic pages), supplementary data, research correspondence, and CPD quizzes are posted; and it currently boasts the highest impact factor of any international specialist journal in its field. Moreover, it attracts research submissions from all over the globe (fig 1) and in ever increasing numbers, particularly following the introduction of the BenchPress on-line submission system (fig 2). In 2003, almost 500 articles were received, representing a 60% increase on 2001.

This is a position of good health, and a cheery one for those who feel that good research in the field of occupational and environmental medicine benefits the public health. It is one that the new editorial team intends to uphold. Indeed, we are committed, where possible, to adding value to the high quality primary research that we publish by supporting it with interesting commentaries, discussion, and debate. We also wish to encourage an even greater international balance of contributions, and we plan to develop the website further. As a mark of this commitment we have already appointed an American Associate Editor and an Associate Web Editor, and are making several changes to the balance of the Editorial Board, with more appointments planned from North America and Western Europe, including Scandinavia.

But success also presents some challenges. It is clear, for example, that the recent growth in submissions cannot be mirrored by a growth in the number of printed articles, however much we would like this. Such a move would cause a substantial rise in editorial, production, and distribution costs of the paper journal; it would encroach even more on the time generously donated by those who review for us; for successful authors, there is a danger it would prolong the time from initial submission to final publication (whereas we plan to shorten it); and no-one would wish OEM to move from a periodical to a monthly encyclopaedia of occupational and environmental medicine (EOEM)!

If it is unsustainable to publish more, we will have to reject more. During the past three years OEM has accepted about 40% of the peer review articles it has received; but from now on a target of 30% seems more appropriate. This will force hard choices on the editorial team: although submissions are growing in number they have not been falling in quality, so different standards for acceptance will need to be set. The focus will shift from mere technical excellence of submissions to their originality, interest, importance, and potential impact on future research, practice, and policy. And a system of triage will be established within the editorial team that renders quicker decisions to unsuccessful authors. If all of this can be managed effectively, then the journal’s content will be strengthened to the benefit of readers, and for successful authors the achievement of publishing in it will become even more significant.

Figure 1

Geographical distribution of submissions to OEM and acceptances during 2001–03.

Figure 2

Annual number of submissions received by OEM during 1995–2003. *As estimated in November 2003.