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Am Fam Physician. 1999;59(11):2955

Over 400 scientific editors and other members of the Council of Biology Editors (CBE) recently met in Montreal, Quebec, for a forum on communicating science in the 21st century. Several AFP staff members and representatives of other journals from the United States, Canada and Europe attended CBE's 42nd annual meeting to explore issues surrounding the publication of scientific research, including research design, evidence-based scientific writing, the mentor-student relationship in research and publications, peer review, industry sponsorship and research integrity, ethical issues in journal advertising and the communication of science to the mass media. Other topics of discussion included principles of effective scientific writing and editing, and technical advancements affecting the ways journals are published.

While it is apparent that experts may disagree on the best way to enforce scientific integrity in journal publishing, there is a clear consensus on one issue—that technologic advances are driving the publishing industry and dramatically changing journal operations. Computer technology has shaped most aspects of journal publishing, including tracking of manuscripts through peer-review and publishing processes, electronic copy-editing, data conversion, printing, and electronic publishing via the internet and CD-ROM. Some journals have developed peer-review processes that are conducted completely through the Internet, and some journals have abandoned their print versions to publish solely online. Possibilities have opened up for journal-related products published online and on CD-ROM, and journals are beginning to join together in cooperative publishing efforts that draw from the combined strengths of various disciplines. Some journals are experimenting with special coding of manuscripts that will enhance the ability of researchers to retrieve scientific data for synthesis in meta-analyses.

Where does AFP fit into the picture? In terms of technology, AFP has made light-years of progress in the past 10 years, moving to desktop publishing and leading other journals in developing electronic copyediting processes. That's quite a jump from the days in which AFP editors typically bore traces of white correction fluid and eraser crumbs, while sporting thick calluses from tightly clenched pencils (a time in the not-too-distant past, which some of us on staff still remember). Within the past five years, AFP moved to electronic formats: full text of the journal is now published online and on CD-ROM, with a yearly update that contains six years of the journal. Readers recently have been given the option of taking AFP's CME quiz online, and other options for CME credit will soon be available through AFP's Web site.

What's in the future for AFP? While AFP has no plans for abandoning its print version in the foreseeable future, we'll certainly be watching for new technologies that will enhance our systems and services to readers and authors. We're currently investigating manuscript tracking software that will link our Washington, D.C., and Kansas City, Mo., editorial offices and improve the efficiency of data and manuscript handling.

Although rapidly changing technology may leave authors and editors breathless and readers stunned with ever-broadening options, it might be comforting to consider that some things never change: principles of sound scientific research, clear scientific writing, thoughtful peer review and ethical conduct with regard to authorship, sponsorship and communication of scientific findings to the mass media. Moreover, readers of AFP can be assured that, in keeping in touch with the journal keepers, we will continue to provide high-quality editorial in the most advanced formats, using time-tested principles of good scientific writing.

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Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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