From the International Medical Informatics Association

Report from Methods 50th Symposium, June 9-11, 2011: Heidelberg, Germany

An invitational symposium was held on June 9-11, 2011 at the Internationales Wissenschaftsforum Heidelberg (IWH) in Heidelberg, Germany to celebrate the first 50 years of publication of ‘Methods of Information in Medicine’ ( With the theme “Biomedical Informatics: Confluence of Multiple Disciplines”, the event, which was generously organised and supported by, among others, Schattauer Verlag, publishers of ‘Methods’ and the Peter L. Reichertz Institute for Medical Informatics, brought together just under 50 people, many of whom have been involved with ‘Methods’ for many years.

Photo, Symposium participants: courtesy Reinhold Haux

The first afternoon focused on the history of ‘Methods’, and the parallel development of health and biomedical informatics. Introductory reflections from the current editor, Reinhold Haux, past editors, and others who had been actively involved in ‘Methods’ for many years set the scene for a series of short presentations exploring many aspects of the disciplines.

Alexa McCray, in an overview titled “The birth and evolution of a discipline – as reflected in its longest running journal’, noted that the scope and aims of the journal had remained essentially constant since the beginning, exploring the methodology of processing data to contribute to high quality and efficient health care, and to progress the health sciences. Over 2,600 papers have been published in the past 50 years; the most cited paper has been Lindberg, Humphreys & McCray (1993) on United Medical Language System, cited in 94 other journals and over 400 times. Other frequently cited papers have addressed topics including terminologies, biomedical signal processing, biostatistics, clinical epidemiology, and electronic medical records. Alexa described the early history, in the 1950s, of the development of a German working group on documentation in medicine which lead eventually to the launching of the predecessor of ‘Methods’ and of the journal itself.

Don Lindberg provided a personal perspective on ’50 years of progress’, noting that ‘Methods’, with which he has been involved for over 42 years, had published many milestone articles. He explored the role of the scientific journal, noting that at their best, they can provide robust peer reviews of scientific claims, but can sometimes conceal bad results or be plagued by poor writing and editing.

On the second and third days, the Symposium comprised a series of short, invited talks on a variety of topics related to the past, present and possible futures of health and biomedical informatics. Papers from, for example, Arie Hasman (on whether health informatics and bioinformatics can be merged), Neil Sarker (exploring translational bioinformatics) and Christian Lovis (on challenges and opportunities for a confluence of disciplines) lead to wide-ranging discussion. The question not only of ‘can’ the disciplines be merged, but ‘should’ they merged, of whether there is a need for people with skills to span the disciplines, and the academic and practice implications or pre-requisites for exploring the issues provoked lively debate. How the development of social media to facilitate links between people and publications, and the growth of non-text resources, might be reflected in indexes of the scientific literature are issues that deserve further exploration.

Issues as diverse, but interlinked, as rethinking the nature of decision support paradigms (Tze Yun Leong), genomics (Joyce Mitchell) and evidence-based bioinformatics (Elske Ammenwerth) were discussed. While many of the presentations and much of the discussion focused on the history of the disciplines, and the interface and/or intersection of health and biomedical informatics, bioinformatics and other disciplines, and the current scope and borders of the disciplines in individual countries, the international nature of the fields, and looking towards future developments, were also considered.

Several other journals (ACI, IJMI, JAMIA, JBI), formally linked to or produced by IMIA, AMIA, EFMI and other organisations, were represented at the event. The Symposium closed with a panel discussion in which journal editors discussed issues including the challenges for producing journals in a digital era, and the responsibilities of journal editors to support good science. Questions such as whether paper journals will be fully replaced by digital publications, the increasing problems of plagiarism (including ‘self-cannibalisation’), models of publishing and the cost bases (including issues around the shifted costs of open access), and how to really compare impact factors and other metrics, provided a stimulating close to the symposium.

A short news report, with some photographs, is available on the ACI website news area. A series of papers based on the presentations and discussions at the symposium, will be published in ‘Methods’ at the end of 2011.

Question: what is the collective term for a group of journal editors?


June 16, 2011 - Posted by | Europe, IMIA, journals | , , , , ,

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