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This journal aims to be the definitive international source for important and relevant information on occupational and environmental health research and practice, and in 2012 we continued to fulfil that mission.
The number of papers submitted to the journal peaked in 2010 at about 700 after rising steeply for several consecutive years, but since then has declined modestly to about 660 papers in 2012. Despite the mild slowing of the submission rate, publishing in OEM remains very competitive, with only 15% of original research papers accepted in 2012. This level of competition unfortunately requires us to decline many interesting, well written papers on a wide range of topics.
As highlighted a year ago, OEM is truly a global journal.1 In 2012 this trend continued and, while authors in the USA and the UK contributed the majority of papers, we also received many submissions from the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, France, Italy, Spain, Finland and, importantly, China. The appearance of China among the countries contributing most actively to the journal is a new development, but is consistent with current trends in scientific publishing.2 While submissions are still small, we received an increasing number of papers from other parts of the world where research output is growing, and we welcome more contributions from those countries.
The journal's content illustrates the tremendous breadth and real-world impact of research in occupational and environmental health. For example, papers published in OEM were part of the body of evidence considered by two International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) working groups that determined that diesel engine exhausts and trichloroethelyene are carcinogenic to humans (Group 1).3–7 Another study that evaluated the extent to which legislation limiting the chromate content of cement has been effective in reducing the incidence of allergic contact dermatitis demonstrates the use of surveillance data to evaluate occupational health policy.8 The implications of the research we publish for health policy mean that we are sometimes involved in controversy. OEM was one of several journals that received letters in 2012 from an attorney for a mining industry group which warned us against publishing results from the Diesel Exhaust in Miners Study by the US National Cancer Institute and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.9
Other highly cited papers published in 2012 investigated topics ranging from the relationship between death rates from cancer and urinary cadmium levels,10 to associations between occupational exposures and the occurrence of respiratory diseases11 ,12 and the inflammatory effects of experimental exposure to wood smoke.13 Notably, studies investigating environmental health questions have been among the most highly cited papers in the journal in recent years, and this trend continued in 2012.14 ,15
In a less positive development, OEM's impact factor (IF) for 2011, announced in 2012, slipped measurably from 3.494 the previous year to 3.020. The journal's ranking in its category of Public, Occupational and Environmental Health also fell, as did those of other specialist journals covering occupational and environmental health. Despite the acknowledged limitations of the IF as a measure of a journal's quality and impact, we were pleased when OEM's IF was trending upward16 and we are disappointed with the recent decline. Although we are epidemiologists whose routine work involves causal inference, it is difficult for us, as editors, to identify the determinants of these trends. Certainly there are random fluctuations in the IF, and although we have not conducted a formal test, we expect there is a significant positive trend in the IF over the last decade. However, the IF and the numbers behind it suggest trends that may be somewhat problematic for the journal and for our field more generally.
The declining IF rankings of occupational and environmental health journals generally, coupled with the decline in submissions to OEM, is consistent with some worrisome developments. First, the continuing global economic crisis is having a depressing effect on support for scientific research. Cuts in research and training grants must eventually be felt in the form of reduced scientific production, leading to fewer new findings and fewer new papers submitted to journals. This is not good news for the research community, especially not for young investigators starting their careers, and it means that valuable discoveries may be delayed or missed entirely.
At the same time, funding agencies, accrediting bodies and research institutions themselves have been pushing researchers to be more accountable for the funding that remains available. It is not unusual now for researchers to be told to submit their work only to ‘high impact’ journals, as indicated by an IF of at least 5 or 6. This pressure calls into question the future of specialist journals like OEM, which focus on fields with relatively small numbers of active researchers but potentially large impacts on public health. Speciality journals help to build a cohesive identify for a field of investigation and to maintain a standard of quality consistent with the research community's values. While high-impact generalist journals may offer authors and their employers a greater level of prestige, there is not necessarily a relationship between a journal's IF and the rigour of its reviews or the quality of the authorship experience. We therefore think it is important for specialist journals to continue as a forum for communicating focused research.
We will strive to ensure that OEM remains a vital and engaging forum for communicating high quality, high impact research to readers around the world, and we hope that you, our authors, will continue to submit your best work to us.
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.