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Thorax in the 1960s
  1. A J Robertson*
  1. Correspondence to:
    A J Robertson
    thorax{at}bmjgroup.com

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At the Spring meeting of the Thoracic Society in 1970, I summarised some of the work done after receiving over 700 papers, of which 53% had come from the UK and 45% from 40 different countries. About 40% of all papers were rejected, the acceptance rate being 64% for those from the UK and 56% for those from elsewhere. I do not think we ever refused anything which should have been taken, although we had almost certainly taken some which we should not have accepted.

In those 10 years our circulation rose by over 40%; two thirds were exported and nearly one third of our issues went to the United States. I introduced abstracts at the beginning of a paper, but here is an example of exuberant literary inebriation:

It seemed reasonable to suppose that marked variations in techniques would modify the parameters involved when assessing the problems caused by the omission of standard multifactorial corrections, for which appropriate measures are suggested in detail for further consideration with a view to their being finally eliminated.”

The last word was “eliminated”. It was.

The best results were from the Antipodes, with Australia having 19 accepted papers out of 23 and New Zealand topping the list with 7 out of 7. This started with my only journalistic scoop. In 1963 I met Brian Barrett Boyes in Auckland and asked where his results of aortic homografts had been published. He said he had just signed the letter sending the manuscript to the American Journal of Thoracic Surgery, but it might take 9 months to get it published. After reading it and suggesting minor modifications, I promised to publish it in 2 months if he would give it to me to take home, and indeed this was the first of several papers from Green Lane Hospital.

In 1960 26 papers were published (10 medical, 8 physiology, 6 pathology, and 2 radiology) with a total of 179 pages. This was in addition to 33 surgical papers on 165 pages. In 1969 the number of papers published had increased to 64 (19 medical, 16 physiology, 25 pathology, and 4 radiology) with a total of 420 pages – plus 52 surgical papers on 330 pages.

In 1960 our paid circulation was 2423 with 536 (22%) going to USA, while in 1969 the paid circulation was 3301 with 1054 (32%) going to USA.

Thorax has always had a high standard, and you must recognise the tremendous task of those colleagues who spend many hours reading, altering, or suggesting modifications to the manuscript. Rejection letters are not easy because few of us can grace a refusal with the charm of Sir Theodore Fox when he edited the Lancet. One of my favourite helpers recently wrote just 13 words: “This paper is unethical, illiterate, and contains no scientific information of value. Reject.” There was one paper from a Medical Research Council worker with 87 statistical errors.

The Editor obviously has the final say for the test and, because of an interest in nomenclature, I removed the words “râles” and “rhonchi” from every paper in those 10 years, substituting “crackles” and “wheezes”. Although the work of an editor is what they make of it, no-one should take it on who is not proud of the honour bestowed on them by our Society.

I wish to thank Wisia Wedzicha for her kind invitation to send these comments.

Editor 1960–1971

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Footnotes

  • * Dr John Robertson sadly died in June 2006.

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