The King is dead. Long live the King!

Categories Science & Justice

Well, there we go then. #endofanera as I imagine the kids are saying… After three years in the hot seat, I’ve finished my stint as Editor-in-Chief of the journal Science & Justice.

When I put my name forward to take over back in 2014, I did so partly because I wanted to see if I was up to the challenge, but mainly because Science & Justice has always been one of my favourite journals. Focused primarily on Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences members, it was the place where I got my first paper published. I still remember the support and mentoring I got from the then-Editor Robert Forrest, and I always vowed that I would support early career academics in the way that I was.

There’s been another example of a ruler departing recently. After considerable hype, Thor: Ragnarok has finally arrived on the big screen. The film reviewer in me (I did this for our University radio when I was an undergrad!) would describe it as a psychedelic discussion of destiny and determinism, legacy, identity and how one defines oneself. But really it’s just a hilarious romp through space with added Hulk-penis jokes… It’s utterly bonkers, but it’s so much fun and is easily the funniest MCU film so far. Anyway, I digress. In the film (spoilers, natch…), the King of Asgard, Odin, dies and throughout the rest of the film there’s a reflection of his time on the Asgardian throne.

Thor, God of Thunder: the physical similarities are uncanny…

In terms of the story arc of Odin, the film is split into three sections: reflections on the present, critique of the past, and discussion of the future. And now that I’ve started with this analogy, I feel compelled to run with it, even though we all agree that it was a terrible idea all round… So, deep breath then – here we go..!

My main driving force as Editor was simply to not screw it up. Leon had handed it over in a great state, and I was conscious that expectations were high when I took over. The role is basically just constant decision-making. Is this paper any good? How should we respond to this conflict between authors? What’s the running order for this issue? I tend to trust my instincts in these situations (since they’re built on years of experience), but when I wasn’t sure, I’d lean on my Editorial Board and colleagues at Elsevier and in the Society. Always though, I’ve argued that the final decision rests with me. It makes things easier and clearer, but also protects my Journal colleagues should it all kick off. Which it does. I’ve also been able to try some new initiatives as part of a strategic attempt to focus the remit of the Journal whilst also reaching a wider audience. New Editor’s Choice freely available papers every issue, combined with exciting special issues and dialogues have been brought in. I’ve also benefited from following on from some great Editors, and have been able to build upon their work and efforts. I’ve also been surrounded by some brilliant and supportive staff at the Society (namely Nicola and Anya) and at Elsevier too (firstly Aisling, and then Alex). I’ve also had two knowledgeable Associate Editors (Will for DNA and Sarah for fingerprints) and my aforementioned Editorial Board. Science & Justice is very much a team effort, and the success of the journal is a reflection of the whole team. Thankfully (and you’ve no idea how relieved I am to say this), the Journal is standing strong with some incredible metrics, a higher profile on the international stage, a greater media presence and filled with more significant pieces of research than ever before. Further, the Society members are happy. Job done.

But I’ve also learned a huge amount too. I have a greater understanding of the publication process and related ethical issues, for sure, but more exciting has been developing a much stronger understanding of the forensic and crime scene sciences, and what research is being undertaken in different parts of the world. It’s been a delight to read so many papers, and learn such a variety of new knowledge.

So what about the past. One of the twists in the third Thor film is that it turns out that the kind, beneficent ruler Odin actually built his kingdom through violence and massacre. I only did this a little bit… I felt that my first job as Editor was to give the Journal a new direction, one that emphasised multidisciplinary and more discursive work. For that, I needed an Editorial Board that reflected my ideals and represented disciplines that I was inexperienced in. Much of the Board when I took over had been in place for many many years, and although they’d undoubtedly done a good job, I was keen to give others an opportunity to contribute to the Society. So three weeks in and two thirds of the Board were gone. Not everyone was happy, and while in retrospect I could have been more gracious about this transition (people complained about me to the Society!), I still think it was the right thing to do. I’m very grateful to those who came onboard and have supported the Journal over these three years. And unlike Odin, I may not have had my own Executioner, but I did have Journal Manager Paul. Not quite the God of Death, but nobody messed with him nonetheless…

Finally, after Odin dies, Thor and Loki spend much of the remaining film thinking about the future of Asgard and how to lead it’s people. As I pass on to my own publication-Valhalla, I am delighted to see the role pass on to Dr Lisa Smith from the University of Leicester. She was appointed at our AGM on Friday and she’s going to do a fantastic job in charge. I’m really looking forward to seeing the direction she takes the Journal in, and watching her kick on and take Science & Justice to new heights.

I’m a Professor of Applied Biological Anthropology at Teesside University.