Published 23 November 2018
Next year the Norwegian embryologist Arne Sunde will take over as editor-in-chief of ESHRE's remarkably successful review journal Human Reproduction Update, whose impact factor reached 11.85 at the last assessment. Sunde's experience with ESHRE reaches back to the very first Executive Committee assembled by Robert Edwards in 1984.
FoR: You'll be filling some very big boots as editor-in-chief of Update. Fauser, Collins, Petraglia as editors before you and an unprecedented impact factor to protect. Any worries?
AS: When it was suggested to me that I might apply for the post, that's what I thought about the most. As you say, big boots and an impact factor which is almost unheard of in a specialist journal. Of course, everyone tells me that I shouldn't focus on the impact factor, but I'd be very disappointed if during my time as editor it went down.
FoR: Hans Evers as editor of Human Reproduction set himself an impact factor target of 5. Will you do something similar and set a target for the next three or four years?
AS: No, I have no figure in mind. I'll firstly hope to protect what we have. At this level - 11.85 - it's tough to get any higher - though something above 12, say, is not a huge challenge, because we're almost there.
FoR: So for the present you'll be looking to maintain the status quo. How do you hope to do that?
AS: Quality of papers. And of course, for any journal you want the luxury of many proposals and the luxury of selecting the best. My predecessors were very successful here, but I think it's still possible to have even more papers submitted - perhaps in other disciplines than the traditional. We need to serve our community, ESHRE members, and the topics we cover should reflect the broad interests of the ESHRE membership.
FoR: For example?
AS: Social science, more basic science. Update has been very clinical in its history, and I don't want to lose that. So the best clinical reviews should still go to Update, but we should also have excellent reviews on more basic science.
FoR: And where will these papers come from? Commissioned, or will they simply be submitted as original reviews?
AS: Both. I will be active in commissioning and to some extent I've already started that. As an assistant editor I got a good idea of who can write a good review. The other ESHRE journals are mainly publishing new findings, while Update is synthesising current knowledge. I do believe that a review journal has an educational role, which is why I am so inclined to the idea of 'Grand Theme' reviews introduced by Felice Petraglia. I think their basic idea is right, and we need to develop this concept.
FoR: So you will be looking at these grand comprehensive reviews?
AS: Yes, very much so. I'd like to see them well written, well presented, even with their own identifying style.
FoR: But not like a guideline, making recommendations?
AS: No, not at all. In my mind it will be educational material, something which will tell you what you want to know about a subject. But we have to be honest, this is very hard work. So if we're thinking about cryopreservation, for example, we'd have to include the basic science behind it as well as the clinical developments.
FoR: Do you have any plans to change the number of papers you publish.
AS: We have five or six new reviews each issue and the pipeline for more papers is healthy. Increasing the number of papers published is really a question of cost, which we haven't considered.
FoR: And no plans to increase frequency from six issues a year?
AS: No. If we have a situation where we have too many good papers, then we can start the discussion, but I wouldn't want to dilute the quality of papers.
FoR: Well, Update's impact factor is exceptional. So I guess that if one group has performed a systematic review in reproduction and they're looking to publish it, Update would be the obvious choice - high impact factor, high readership, a broad specialist base?
AS: Absolutely, we should be first pick.
FoR: But there are still lots of journals way down below these top titles - do you think we have too many?
AS: Yes, I do. And too many predatory journals. That's the other side of open access, where your paper will be published immediately almost without review - provided you hand over the money. These are low quality journals and I hope authors understand the difference between these and more respectable titles.
FoR: Of course, ESHRE now has its own open access journal doing very well . . .
AS: Yes, and I suppose in the long run more and more journals will become open access, because that's the way it's going. So our aim eventually will be to combine open access and high quality, and readers and authors will have to understand that. However, for a review journal like Update it's a little more complicated. Authors of a long commissioned review will not be happy if they have to pay for publication, but on the other hand the idea that the text is available to everyone is attractive.
FoR: Well OK, but all your articles are open access after six months . . .
AS: Yes, but there are still more and more universities, libraries showing great reluctance to pay for readership. We will have to face it.
FoR: Editing Update must be a great fulfilment of your career with ESHRE. I believe you are the only member of ESHRE's original executive committee still active in the Society today.
AS: Yes, 35 years, so ESHRE has been a big part of my life. And I'm still very active. I was involved in developing the programme for embryology certification and in the working group looking at culture media.
FoR: And over this time you must have seen from the very heart how ESHRE has changed - bigger, more outward looking, more authority. These are clearly obvious changes, but what's struck you most in the Society's development?
AS: Every change presents a challenge, and I think the big change - and challenge for ESHRE and the whole sector - is commercialisation. It's becoming a consumer sector, not a pure health sector - and there's good and bad about that. The good is that what we do will be more efficient, more studies will be possible, but the bad is that developments are much driven by money. And clearly within this commercial framework ESHRE's role is greater than ever, so its neutrality is becoming more and more important. I'd hope that ESHRE will find ways to publish research without favour and to encourage good studies. They've done this occasionally and should continue to do so. A lot of necessary research will never be done - or published - in a commercial setting, so I hope ESHRE will remain fixed in its neutral and open role.
FoR: You've been associated with Trondheim in Norway all your working life. Are you retired now?
AS: I am retired from my hospital but I am Emeritus Professor, so am still involved.
FoR: But plenty of time to edit Human Reproduction Update?
AS: Yes, I have the time, but what we're seeing now in many of the major journals is that editing is becoming a full-time job. It almost is with Human Reproduction. And indeed almost a full-time post being Chairman of ESHRE. It's almost a day job.
FoR: So doesn't that also mean that - right now - only someone approaching retirement can reasonably consider taking on these editorial or chairman's posts? A young person in the middle of their career couldn't consider it.
AS: I agree, and that's not right. The ideas of my generation, who have grown up with ESHRE, may no longer be the right ideas, so we have to find ways to involve younger members with clear ideas of what they want from ESHRE. This I know is something that ESHRE is working on.