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Nature editor bids farewell

A reflection as the seventh editor-in-chief of Nature hands over to the eighth.
Philip Campbell was editor-in-chief of Nature from 1995 to 2018.

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This issue of Nature is the last under my tenure as the publication’s editor-in-chief. The first was published on 14 December 1995. A few personal thoughts seem in order.

Nature’s editorial role since its foundation in 1869 has consistently been about support for outstanding science while also being a critically minded friend of the research community and its values. Fired by my own enthusiasms for astronomy and physics since childhood and as a researcher, and by this publication’s ever-broadening interests and international ethos, it has been my extraordinary good fortune and privilege to work with many researchers and colleagues to help Nature to continue and develop in its mission.

As a journal, Nature has thrived by keeping abreast of some of the most inspired and inspiring research — insights into the human genome and the microbiome, developments in photovoltaics and the extraordinary flowering of exoplanet research are just some examples that have been a joy to see. The journal has also gratifyingly grown into areas that were well established elsewhere — organic chemistry and high-energy physics are two. And the totally unexpected has always felt best: Homo floresiensis (‘the Hobbit’) was perhaps my own favourite.

On the magazine components, a look back at some 1995 issues shows how focused Nature then was on narrow rather than widely interesting policy news, how little commissioned comment there was relating to the research enterprise and its external relationships and how impenetrable some of the language was in our News and Views section. Ever since, it has always been my ambition and that of the editorial teams progressively to open up our pages to more lively and comprehensible fare.

My regrets include wonderful papers that we failed to attract, and that we still have more to do in speeding up our handling of labyrinthine complexities that can arise in retractions and formal critiques of our papers. There are initiatives under way towards being more attentive in our content to the needs and interests of under-represented groups in the population and in the research community, and being equivalently more diverse in the make-up of our editorial team. I wish I had pushed harder on all of these fronts.

An editor-in-chief has a platform on which to champion readers’ needs and interests — and also under-attended causes. Mine have included the interests of social sciences, reproducibility, healthy research cultures and environments, the tracking of research’s societal impacts, and mental-health research. Throughout, my goal has been, above all, to make the weekly issue — much of it now published continuously online — something that as many as possible of our very demanding audience eagerly look forward to.

Whatever has been achieved, none of it would have been possible without great colleagues. Nature’s editorial staff over the past 22-plus years has included many inspiringly skilled and visionary individuals. As a result, while there have been some acknowledged missteps, the time we have spent has been rich in fulfilment — at least for me, possibly for them too, and above all, I hope, for readers.

As I move on to a new role as editor-in-chief of our publishing company Springer Nature, I thank those many people inside and outside the research community who have helped to make Nature what it is. Above all, I offer the Nature team my profound thanks. I wish them and my successor Magdalena Skipper all the very best in their abundant future responsibilities and opportunities.

Nature 558, 486 (2018)

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