Editorial | Published:

The brief goodbye

    Because of trends in submissions, Nature's Brief Communications will bow out at the end of the year.

    From time to time these pages have proudly announced the birth of new sections of Nature and new research journals. Rarely, if ever, have we proclaimed a death. It is with mixed feelings that we now announce the demise of Brief Communications, whose final appearance will be in the last issue of 2006. Importantly, we will continue to give full support to Brief Communications Arising, an online-only section in which we publish critical discussions of Nature papers.

    The Brief Communications section has provided a bridge between the journalism and opinionated sections of Nature and the review articles and full-scale research papers. The sections' intentions have been to capture the excitement and appeal of both — and in doing so has ensured plenty of impact both among readers and in the media.

    There have been tales of rat robots, Neolithic noodles, nano-bulls, a cloned cat (as well as a more notorious cloned dog), of goings-on at the Moon's north pole and with the Queen's vowels, and there have even been models to unravel the best way of tying shoelaces, to list just a few. In generally no more than a single page, papers in the section have offered glimpses into breaking scientific news — including the giant Indonesian earthquake, SARS and bird flu, and on surprising climate effects of shutting down air traffic for three days after the attacks of 11 September 2001. All were underpinned by rigorous peer review, and the success of Brief Communications owes much to our referees entering into the often quirky spirit of the section without compromising Nature's standards.

    The section has had its critics. Sober scientists have worried that such brief candles have diminished the stellar luminescence of the Nature references in their CVs. False rumours that the section was not peer reviewed have occasionally circulated. But Nature has stood by its short masterpieces, quirkiness and all.

    Why, then, abandon this popular part of the journal, which continues to receive many more submissions than it can possibly publish? It is, we believe, an appropriate response to what we are increasingly receiving, and a belief that the pages can therefore be better deployed. Fewer and fewer submissions to Brief Communications have been making the grade — perhaps constrained by the short format and limited online supplementary material, they may be too lightweight, too technical, too long or too preliminary.

    “Perhaps today's pressures are forcing science to become more earnest and more specialized.”

    Perhaps today's pressures are forcing science to become more earnest and more specialized, as well as demanding greater detail in presentation. Never mind that Watson and Crick's paper on the structure of DNA was the length of a Brief Communication.

    The section's demise will not affect the Brief Communications appearing in Nature research journals, where there is undoubtedly a place for short accounts for a more specialized audience. Moreover, Nature will, if anything, increase its support for Brief Communications Arising, in which critics of our papers can vent their views, usually with authors' responses.

    We also remain committed to another virtue embodied in Brief Communications: being brief. The quality of papers can supposedly be enhanced by boundless web space; length is no longer such an issue. But our authors should be warned, and our readers reassured, that Nature remains a champion of succinctness.

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