Responsibility and Privilege: McLean Faculty Serving as Journal Editors Influence the Field

April 15, 2012

The Archives of General Psychiatry (Archives) made quite a stir in July of 2011 when it published a twins study suggesting that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has both genetic heritability and a significant environmental component. Picked up by the mass media, including NBC Nightly News, The New York Times, and others, the California Autism Twins Study (CATS) “marked an important shift in thinking about the causes of autism” (The New York Times, July 4, 2011).

Instrumental in getting the CATS study published was Joseph Coyle, MD, editor-in-chief of Archives and chief of McLean Hospital’s Center of Excellence in Basic Neuroscience. “I knew the moment I saw that study that it would be a game changer,” he said. In fact, as editor-in-chief of Archives for 10 years, Coyle has overseen the publication of hundreds of groundbreaking articles that have “pushed the field of psychiatry forward.”

According to Coyle, Archives publishes high-impact research that broadly covers psychiatry from its genetic and molecular mechanisms to clinical and policy issues. As the most highly cited journal in the field, Archives has a citation impact rate of 16.4; the impact factor is a measure of citation rate per article and is the primary indicator of a journal’s prestige. In psychiatry, as in other disciplines, scholarly journals have significant influence on the latest thinking and are the leading contributors to moving research forward and impacting the way care is provided.

Archives receives more than 1,000 submissions per year yet publishes only about 10% of them, allowing the editors to choose “only the best of the best,” Coyle explained. “All of the research studies we receive are outstanding. Being able to be selective gives us the opportunity to have significant impact on the field in terms of how we understand, treat, and shape policy toward mental disorders.”

Dost Öngür, MD, PhD, agreed. Chief of McLean’s Division of Psychotic Disorders, Öngür was recently appointed associate editor-in-chief of Archives by its oversight committee, an honor he calls a “tremendous opportunity” for him and for McLean. “The leading researchers in the field send their best work to Archives, which means we get to see the most cutting-edge, imaginative work first.”

Scholarly journals can also have a powerful teaching mission, for scientists as well as the general public, said William Carlezon, PhD, director of McLean’s Behavioral Genetics Laboratory and the recently appointed editor-in-chief of the journal Neuropsychopharmacology (Neuro). For example, Neuro published a study in December 2011 regarding the effects of “designer drugs,” which can often be purchased legally in convenience stores even though their effects resemble those of drugs of abuse. News of the study was picked up by the popular press, including Time magazine. “Getting this research out there does a service to the public,” Carlezon said. “Parents and kids need to understand the dangers of these drugs.”

Carlezon, whose research focuses on neuroscience and the neurobiology of depressive disorders, is the first non-MD to serve as sole editor-in-chief of Neuro. The official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP), Neuro ranks sixth among all journals in the psychiatry category and has a 2010 impact factor of 6.8.

The Harvard Review of Psychiatry (HRP), led by Shelly F. Greenfield, MD, MPH, chief academic officer for McLean and the editor-in-chief of the HRP, is a key tool in providing education about the latest research as it translates to clinical practice for clinicians. The journal celebrated its 20th year of publishing with a special issue on global mental health that brings to its readers challenges and solutions to mental health care from around the globe.

“The HRP is one of the few journals in our field providing mental health clinicians a review of a broad array of research and its impact on clinical care,” said Greenfield. “We are delivering cutting-edge information and in keeping with that goal, we are developing methods to provide our content through smart phones and web-based applications. We are also planning to offer continuing medical education credits online. We are evolving to keep up with the needs and demands of our readers.” The HRP also provides an opportunity for the next generation of psychiatrists to learn about the peer review process. Selected Harvard psychiatry residents serve as assistant editors and meet weekly with editorial staff to assist in the review process. “This is a unique feature of our journal and another important contribution it makes to the field,” said Greenfield.

Carlezon, Coyle, Greenfield, and Öngür also believe that, as editors of important journals, they help effect change in psychiatry and further McLean’s role in advancing psychiatry. As Öngür points out, “The editors of a journal have a responsibility to publish articles that will drive innovation and encourage growth. In this way, we make a meaningful difference in the field.”

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