WAME Meets at the Peer Review Congress

At the September 2009 Peer Review Congress in Vancouver, BC, Canada, the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME; pronounced “whammy”) had a face-to-face meeting with most of its executive board and about 75 of its international members. Such meetings are rare because WAME is a virtual organization that conducts most of its business and provides most of its services over the Internet. That allows editors in any country to participate as equals in the organization. Equality is important because, although WAME was founded to be of use to all medical editors, an important reason for its existence is to support journals in developing nations. The WAME membership naturally has a great interest in the Peer Review Congress, so with each Congress held since WAME was founded (1997, 2001, 2005), WAME has held a member meeting (reports available at www.wame.org/wame-history).

WAME is an international, voluntary nonprofit association dedicated to fostering international cooperation among editors of peer-reviewed medical journals. Membership in WAME is free, and all decision-making editors of peer-reviewed medical journals published anywhere in the world are eligible to join. Membership is also available to scholars who have professional interests in editorial policies, scientific publications, peer review, and other aspects of medical journals. Established in 1995 with seed money from the Rockefeller Foundation, WAME now has more than 1500 members representing more than 965 journals in 92 countries.

With no income from dues, WAME recently incorporated as a US 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization so that it can apply for grants to fund the training programs that will help it meet its goals and can encourage donations by enabling the tax break that accompanies charitable donations. In addition to creating a supportive network of editors, WAME’s goals are to disseminate and improve editorial standards; to promote professionalism in medical editing through education, self-assessment, and technical assistance; and to encourage research on the principles and practice of medical editing.

Thus, the opportunity to hold a WAME meeting at the Peer Review Congress was not to be missed. Margaret Winker, the outgoing president, called the meeting to order at 6:30 pm. She began by introducing seven of the nine officers and board members who could attend. They came from Canada, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United States; one Iranian member was unable to attend. Magne Nylenna, chair of the Membership Committee, described how new members are accepted. The process involves confirming that an applicant is a decision-making editor of a peer-reviewed medical journal or documenting an applicant’s status as a scholar. The confirmation process is rigorous, and 30% of applicants are turned down because they do not meet the membership criteria.

Lorraine Ferris, chair of the Ethics Committee, assisted by fellow committee members Michael Callaham and Elizabeth Wager, led a group discussion of two ethics cases. Case 1 concerned how journals should enforce the requirement that clinical trials be registered if their results are to be published. Several perspectives were given, including the idea that with lesser resources, smaller journals cannot be expected to enforce new policies immediately. However, it is important for small journals to educate and inform authors about clinical-trials registration. Editors can accept an unregistered trial on the condition that it will be registered soon. Not publishing an unregistered trial contradicts the purpose of the registry if it means that ultimately trials cannot be published because they are not registered.

Case 2 dealt with the discovery of and reaction to an instance of self-plagiarism. An editor discovered that an author had self-plagiarized several paragraphs, but when the author was asked to explain, he said that his assistant was responsible. In fact, the assistant’s name was listed in the “properties” field of the Microsoft Word file. Although editors thought that the overlap of a few paragraphs with an author’s previous work would not be important enough to pursue with the author (although it should be avoided), the assistant’s role was another issue. Editors wanted more information about whether the assistant was responsible for the concept and primary draft of the manuscript, making the assistant a ghost author, or whether the assistant merely opened the first document file but didn’t actually write the manuscript. The author said that the assistant wrote the first draft; therefore, the assistant should have at least been acknowledged or possibly been an author, depending on the breadth of the role. However, the assistant’s name in the “properties” field of the word-processing file was not equivalent to authorship. A document created by a person will always retain the person’s name as the creator.

Farrokh Habibzadeh, secretary of WAME, could not attend but presented his survey of medical journal editors and the definition and needs of small journals in the form of a video and slide lecture. His survey found that the defining characteristics of small journals are infrequent publication and delayed publication. The group discussion that followed suggested that delays were not caused by a lack of articles but rather by problems with publishers and delays in peer review. The challenges of finding high-quality peer reviewers were discussed; one editor said that he would send articles to as many as eight reviewers, hoping to receive two or three reviews eventually.

WAME initiatives under development include the creation of an online editortraining program, an editor-mentoring program, regional workshops for members, ethics commentaries on listserve discussions, and a new monthly e-newsletter. WAME’s most important resource is its members, and members were asked to indicate which initiatives they were interested in volunteering for.

Although English has become the language of medical science and dominates the published literature, only about 10% of studies published in English address the health problems that affect 90% of the world’s population. Thus, journals publishing in languages other than English, especially those in developing countries, are critical for improving health throughout the world. WAME seeks to support these and all its member journals by providing them with the training and skills they need to produce high-quality journals irrespective of the language of publication, size, or the resources available to devote to the task.

The WAME Web site, www.wame.org, provides free access to all WAME position statements, resources for editors, and list-serve discussions on a variety of topics.

Tom Lang, of Tom Lang Communications, is treasurer of WAME.