Since its publication some years ago, Human Reproduction has developed into one of the leading journals in the field. This has been due to the enthusiasm and intelligence of the editor, Bob Edwards of IVF fame, and his team at Bourn Hall. The journal is the major publication of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology, a relatively new society established to promote the adoption of the latest scientific ideas into clinical practice. The presentation of papers in the journal has always been of top quality, and the occasional reviews of relevance to the broad interests of the readership.
The interest generated by these reviews has now led to the establishment of Human Reproduction Update, a "comprehensive review service" to quote from the advertisement. The journal continues the tradition of Human Reproduction in its format and presentation. It also incorporates two items previously published as separate entities. The Bibliography of Reproduction produced by the Society for the Study of Fertility was a comprehensive review service which listed papers within a topic but by title only. In the early days this was very useful but in later years, with the appearance of BIDS and Medline, to name but two, this type of service was no longer very attractive. Moreover, it came as hard copy only, which was superseded when the new search facilities allowed down-loading of abstracts into one's own personal file via the internet.
The second publication now incorporated into the update is Oxford Reviews of Reproductive Biology. This annual publication contained up to nine reviews and was also successful when first launched. However, as with all review books published annually, papers could be considerably out of date by the time of publication.
While I am pleased to see that Oxford Reviews is incorporated into the update, I am not convinced that there is any real need to include the Bibliography of Reproduction. It will be useful to those with limited time to keep abreast of new papers through the Human Reproductive Bibliography section of the update, but I do not encourage others to rely on such specific searches if they are actively involved in research. With the diversity of techniques and methods now utilised for research in reproduction, it is important for researchers to review a much wider area than that encompassed by reproduction alone.
Now to the new journal itself. The topics covered in the first year of publication have been very wide ranging and many have been of considerable interest. I will not go into any detail, suffice it to say that anyone with an interest in almost any area of reproductive biology will find several articles of interest. However, I would hope that students would read all articles and not be selective, since all contain items of interest. In research it is hard to predict the source of new ideas or inspiration.
The layout of each issue is similar to the Oxford Review articles; a section entitled "Keeping in touch" contains a series of shorter reviews, and articles only available on CD-ROM, which includes videos, data bases and the Human Reproductive Bibliography. There is little to say about the review sections available as both hard copy and on the CD. The articles are generally of good quality, although as is usual with some reviewers, there is bias in the papers reviewed. Nevertheless they do provide a useful update and, most importantly, can be read anywhere. Personally I often read reviews when travelling, when far away from my CD.
The new initiative is clearly the availability of the whole journal on CD-ROM, and the very innovative addition of videos. This is an excellent move, and spearheads the revolution in publication of this type of journal. There is no substitute for diagrams in reviews - a good diagram will be remembered while words may completely fail to provide any message. Indeed, it is sometimes impossible to convey a technique or message without being able to show the person what is actually happening. What, therefore, could be better than to have techniques available in video format so that we can see what is going on, stop at any point and zoom in, or rewind and look again? The 30 items so far available have provided images rarely seen before without visiting specialist laboratories - though I would not want any surgeon to attempt a new procedure while watching the video. Travel to the laboratory or operating theatre can happen later if, after watching the video, one is convinced that the methods are necessary for one's own research or practice.
That said, the quality of the videos must be maintained. Some are excellent, while others are a little unclear. This could be related to the hard and software being used to view the videos. I had considerable difficulty in accessing the videos, despite having a state-of-the-art Mac apparently with all the necessary software. Two computer-literate friends had to help, and once inside the videos, everything was fine. But the frustration of getting everything to work was annoying, and the instructions provided may not allow access to the whole system without some help. So be warned, there is a lot of incompatibility about in the software field these days, and between Macs and PCs. The situation is obviously improving, but be patient if things do not work immediately, it is worth ironing out the problems.
My overall verdict on this first venture by a journal in my field into modern electronic publishing is a success so far. Both the "Oxford reviews" and "Keeping in touch" articles available in both hard copy and the CD-ROM have been informative in the main, and well edited. The topics cover most aspects of human reproductive biology. The articles and videos available only through the CD-ROM are a great boost for understanding techniques and for teaching purposes, and on the whole are of reasonable quality. The availability of all the articles in the Human Reproduction Update CD on the computer screen may be helpful in certain circumstances, but I would think that the hard copy will be thumbed through and read more. It is fun to zoom in on the figures and photomicrographs but I doubt one will do it very much in practice. And one should be aware that specific hardware and software will be needed to access the whole journal.
I recommend this journal to those interested in gaining a good review of all aspects of human reproduction, whether scientific or clinical scientists active in research, or those in the clinic needing a useful update. The new bimonthly publication should ensure that reviews are published before the message is out of date.
Alan McNeilly is acting director, Reproductive Biology Unit, Medical Research Council, Edinburgh.
Human Reproduction Update
Editor - R. G. Edwards
ISBN - ISSN 1355 4786
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Price - £280.00 institutions, £95.00 individuals