Other Than Editing

James Tumwine: The Walking Editor

Honk. Honk. Honk. “Prof Tumwine, what has happened to your car? Can we give you a lift?” students of the Makerere University School of Medicine in Uganda often ask when they see James K Tumwine walking to campus.

Perhaps unknown to some students, Tumwine (pronounced Toom-WIN-ee)— editor of the journal African Health Sciences and a pediatrician—just walks for pleasure. “Thank you. I can ‘lift’ myself,” he jokingly responds.

Tumwine attributes his obsession with walking to childhood experience.

Walking as a School Boy

Born in the early 1950s, Tumwine grew up in a village in Uganda. He began school at age 6, which was considered very young at the time. “Some of my classmates were teenagers,” Tumwine said. Despite the age difference, he and his classmates had one thing in common: walking to school daily. He had his elementary-school education in three schools because each school had only a few grades.

“I walked more than 10 km [about 6 miles] to school for 4 years in my first school until all the classes got finished,” Tumwine said. The second school was more than 16 km from home. Tumwine walked to that school for 2 years. As he grew older, the walking distances increased: The third school was more than 20 km from home. Kengyemu Mountain also stood in his way. “We had to climb the mountain, go down, then walk to school,” he said. “We had no shoes. Sometimes, we had to run to avoid being late to school.” He spent 2 years in the third school.

Years after his walking experience in elementary school, Tumwine remains hooked on walking as a hobby, even as a professor of pediatrics and child health at the medical school.

Editing and Walking: The Link

We know too well that editing involves paying attention to detail and staying largely motionless, except perhaps for moving the head and the hand. Walking, in contrast, involves movement of the whole body.

But Tumwine thinks editing and walking are linked. “When we edit manuscripts, we shed excess words or sentences,” he says. “Walking is a form of exercise that helps us shed excess weight and makes us healthy.”

Tumwine has a timetable for walking much as he has for editing. To keep his body in good shape, he ensures that he walks on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 4 pm until dark. On Saturdays, he sometimes walks for mere pleasure for more than 6 hours. To keep on top of his editing commitments, Tumwine meets weekly with peer reviewers to review journal articles for the African Health Sciences.

Like his love of walking, Tumwine’s love of editing started at an early age.

Life as a Student Editor

When Tumwine was 14 years old—then in the seventh grade—he founded a school magazine called The Standard and became its editor.

Tumwine’s first article was about seeing two schoolteachers dancing to a gramophone in a village hall. He and his editorial team posted the article on the school’s notice board.

“It was the attraction of the whole school: teachers and students alike,” Tumwine said of the article. “Unfortunately, we had provided names of the male and female teachers and described their ‘chacha’ dancing strokes in provocative language,” he continued. “We were paraded before the school assembly and each given six strokes of the cane in front of the whole school and given a week’s hard labor in the school garden, where we were to dig up the very hard soil. Our paper was banned. You talk of censorship!”

But that unpleasant editorial experience did not deter him from pursuing his ambition of becoming an editor.

Life as a Medical Editor

In August 2001, Tumwine launched the peer-reviewed journal African Health Sciences, and he has been its editor ever since. The journal, which is published by the medical school, has been indexed in MEDLINE since April 2003.

Peer reviewers for the journal are mainly faculty at the medical school, a few international experts, and some of his graduate students. “I meet weekly with graduate students to evaluate scientific papers and theses,” he says. “Through this process, some of the graduate students are motivated to review scientific papers in their fields. After completing graduate school, some have become peer reviewers for the journal.”

The journal, which was initially biannual, has been quarterly since 2005, Tumwine noted.

FAME and Fortune

Tumwine is involved in promoting the development of medical journals in Africa. In 2003, he was elected president of the Forum for African Medical Editors (FAME), a professional association of African journal editors.

FAME has had various successes. “Several journals were able to get support from ScholarOne to establish Web-based submission of articles, and one publisher, SPI, was able to assist us with XML conversions of journal articles,” Tumwine said. He noted that several African journals are now listed in African Journals Online, some are indexed in MEDLINE, and others are included in PubMed Central and Bioline International.

Tumwine cites Malawi Medical Journal and Mali Medical as some of the journals that have benefited from FAME’s connection with the Africa Journals Partnership Project—of which CSE is an integral part. “I cannot claim any credit for any of these, but I know that the men and women we worked with in FAME and our partners have made these remarkable achievements possible,” he said.

Tumwine handed over the presidency of FAME at the end of 2005 in keeping with his pledge to serve only one term even though his colleagues had wanted him to continue.

“My strong belief is that we should never overstay in any elected position as leaders. That is my guiding principle. None of us has a monopoly on skills, knowledge, or experience. There will always be someone better. Succession planning is critical,” he said.

Tumwine became the president of the Union of African Pediatric Societies and Associations in 1999. He handed over the presidency when his 2-year term expired.

Tumwine loves teaching medical students and doctors who are specializing in pediatrics and child health at the master’s and doctoral levels. “I also teach research methodology because we can have good research papers only if our authors have initially asked an exciting research question, designed an appropriate line of inquiry, and analyzed the results and made sense of them. Good writers cannot make bad science readable!”

In 2007, Tumwine received a Life Achievement Award from the Uganda Medical Association—not for his walking but for his immense contribution to the Ugandan medical profession and society. Nevertheless, walking is just part of him.

Walking Is Tumwine’s Nature

Even when on the university campus, Tumwine prefers to eat lunch at a restaurant far from his office instead of an equally good one nearby. “I just want to capitalize on my hobby by walking,” he says.

Tumwine’s passion for walking has attracted his wife to the same hobby but not his children. “My wife often joins me in the evenings and weekends to walk,” he said. “But my children think I’m crazy.”

Passersby who see him walk almost every day also think of him as a strange person because, according to them, a professor should be seen in a “posh” car, not walking on roads.

“Cars are fashionable here in Uganda,” Tumwine said. “People do not know that they contribute to carbon dioxide emissions and hence climate change. Walking is a very good exercise for the body and mind.”

“I love walking regardless of what people say. I used to walk over 20 km to school in my early school years, so I presume it has become my second nature.”

Bernard Appiah, a graduate student in science and technology journalism at Texas A&M University, wrote this profile while a Science Editor intern.