A Three-Decade Dialectic With Circulation Research
Circulation Research is celebrating its proud 50th birthday. I am pleased to be able to contribute to the journal’s Golden Anniversary, since it has been integral to my career over the past three decades. The goal of this editorial is to elucidate this relationship: how the journal shaped my research program and how reciprocal impact was provided to the journal.
My first association with the journal was as a research fellow and subsequently as an author in 1970, when I published my first papers in Circulation Research,1 and the Editor was Julius Comroe. I remained a regular contributor to the journal through the editorships of Bob Berne, Brian Hoffman, and to the present. When Frank Abboud assumed the editorship in 1981, he appointed me to the Editorial Board. I soon learned that my critical reviews of others’ work were not only passed on to the authors, but, in turn, were graded by the Editors at Iowa. The revelation that the Editor must do more than shepherd the journal proved important to me 10 years later when, interestingly, Frank Abboud was a key member of the search committee that selected me for editorship of Circulation Research.
Circulation Research contributed significantly to many scientific careers, including my own. Submitting and publishing an article in this journal during the formative years of my career was an exciting, interactive process. I enjoyed the conversations with the Editors and Associate Editors, who were always helpful not only in interpreting the criticisms of the reviewers, but also in providing insight into improving the experimental design of my work. I remembered these conversations when it was late in the day during my editorship, and I faced a list of calls to return to concerned authors. I hope I was able to return to the young authors what was accorded to me years before.
When I assumed the editorship in 1991, Circulation Research was at a crossroads. Since its inception, the journal had been the bastion of integrative cardiovascular physiology, a discipline that was in the dominion of experimental and clinical physiologists and pharmacologists. However, by 1991, the molecular biology revolution had not only begun, but was well established. The majority of these scientists had little to do with traditional physiology, pharmacology, and clinical departments, and Circulation Research was not on their radar screen.
The major challenge our team encountered was to alter radically the image of integrative cardiovascular physiology and to develop a new concept of integrative cardiovascular science, incorporating biochemistry and molecular biology. During the 10-year period prior to 1991, this process had already begun at the level of the Scientific Councils of the AHA: as Program Chair and Chair of the Council on Circulation (the home for traditional physiologists), close working relationships were developed with Gus Watanabe and later Harold Strauss, my counterparts on the Basic Science Council (the home for biochemistry and eventually molecular biology). These collaborative programming efforts, which melded the interests of both councils, at first resulted in coordinating the review and programming of all basic science abstracts at the Annual Scientific Sessions of the AHA, and subsequently in establishing joint scientific conferences, the first of which was held at Keystone, Colorado.2 Prior to this time, the scientific programs of the two councils were essentially independent of each other. Ultimately, under the leadership of Thomas Hintze and Eduardo Marbán, the two councils merged into one, the Council on Basic Cardiovascular Sciences, and also established Circulation Research as its journal. The interaction between these individuals and others in the two councils was integral to the development of a revised concept of integrative cardiovascular science, which became central to altering the course of Circulation Research 10 years later.
Our first editorial described this process of change and how we were to incorporate contributions from molecular biologists, biochemists, pathologists, and physiologists.3 While it was relatively easy to conceptualize, the implementation would be far more difficult. It would require changing the whole culture of the journal, including its contributors and reviewers. We wanted to accomplish this and bring in an entirely new cohort of scientists working on molecular biology in the heart and vessels, without alienating the more traditional supporters of the journal.
Our concept was to reduce the emphasis on traditional studies and attract studies focusing on cellular/molecular biology of the heart, vessels, or cardiac conduction. In order to achieve this goal, the journal was fortunate to have the leading figures in cardiovascular molecular biology as associate editors: Bernardo Nadal-Ginard; Leslie Leinwand; Ketty Schwartz, who would also be the editor in Europe; and Yoshio Yazaki, who would also serve as the editor in Asia. Cellular/molecular biology related to vascular biology was directed by Peter Libby, Brad Berk, and Tom Hintze. For cellular/molecular electrophysiology, Harold Strauss, joined by Eduardo Marbán, led this discipline. In close contact with these Associate Editors, we restructured the Editorial Board and proselytized supporters for the journal.
It was absolutely clear from the outset that all our good intentions and ideas could never be implemented if we couldn’t overcome the journal’s most notorious stigma: the protracted time from submission to publication. As is recognized readily, this time delay consists of two major components. The first was the handling of the review process in the editorial office, and the second was the publication process, which at that time was managed at the AHA headquarters in Dallas with an outside contractor for publication.
On taking over the journal in 1991, I was told that money was no object for the second time in my career. The first instance occurred as I joined my mentor, Gene Braunwald’s department at the University of California, San Diego, as a junior faculty member. However, in those days, funding for research was not as competitive, and another mentor of mine actually returned a grant to NIH, since he felt he had too much support. The second instance occurred when I assumed editorship of Circulation Research, and the generosity of the Publishing Committee of the AHA was critical, because the additional funds from the AHA allowed us to expand the office staff, establish computer-based communication with the Associate Editors, and use almost unlimited Express Mail to send manuscripts to reviewers, which facilitated the review process.
Now, of course, Eduardo Marbán has accelerated this process further by use of e-mail. However, prior to 1991, a major delay occurred in identifying reviewers and getting the articles to them. Before this time, reviewers or editorial board members would often receive unsolicited articles in the mail from almost all journals with requests for review, which frequently would arrive at inopportune moments in reviewers’ busy schedules. Accordingly, it was not uncommon for 4 to 6 weeks to slip by before manuscripts were assigned. We determined to seek acceptance of assignment to review a manuscript by the referees within 48 hours, ie, before sending the article for review, and frequently sent the article to a third reviewer. We even kept detailed records of review times and the number of articles reviewed by the Editorial Board, which we shared with them at the Board’s annual meeting and dinner. While this is considered routine today, in 1991, there were numerous complaints, although mostly good-natured, regarding this infringement on “academic freedom.” Luckily for the journal, the majority of scientists welcomed the more rapid turnaround of decisions and, in turn, contributed to improving the review process. Simultaneously, the AHA staff, working closely with the Editorial office staff, accelerated their turnaround, and we instituted a rapid publication section not only for briefer articles, but also for full-length articles.4 It was an exciting time to work with the AHA office staff and the Publishing Committee to shorten publication time and with the Associate Editors to reduce time from submission to acceptance of articles. Although we could not compete with Cell, Science, or Nature, we were able to shorten the editorial process sufficiently to attract supporters and contributors to the journal from leaders in cellular/molecular biology.
The reduction in time from submission to publication was coupled with cutting the acceptance rate in half from roughly 45%. These administrative changes helped attract new manuscripts of high quality, and this was reinforced by the energy and status of the Associate Editors in their respective disciplines. There was a progressive increase in high-quality manuscripts submitted to the journal, and we even increased publication from once to twice a month within a relatively short time. All of these factors helped reshape the image of the journal and its impact internationally. Most gratifying for all of us was the steady rise in frequency of articles cited from our journal, which reinforced our efforts and direction. We are particularly proud of the current editorship of Eduardo Marbán, who has improved every aspect of the review process in Circulation Research and whose editorship has enjoyed a further rise in the impact factor.
There were a number of other changes that also occurred over the 81/2 years during our editorship of Circulation Research. We saw the beginning of electronic publication, and journal articles were becoming available through personal computers. It is now rare for scientists to spend hours at the library or requesting reprints from authors. There are more changes to come, with the next generation of computers and the Internet. The increase in funding from the NIH and other sources undoubtedly will translate into more articles submitted to Circulation Research, potentially requiring a full-time editor as utilized by the New England Journal of Medicine.
In closing, I cannot count the hours spent over the past 30+ years reviewing and preparing manuscripts for Circulation Research and rebutting the extensive criticisms that always returned. I appreciated the 81/2 years I spent as Editor of Circulation Research and, despite the hard work, was particularly appreciative of the positive feedback and growth of the journal. This article gives me one more opportunity to thank the staff, both in my office and at the AHA, who worked very hard, the Associate Editors noted earlier, and all the authors, reviewers, and the Editorial Board. Harvard University, which housed the journal for the first 6 years, generously donated space and never insisted on collecting the costs for that expense from the AHA. Although the majority of effort was characterized by hard work and seriousness, there were brief interludes of levity when reviewers would offer marvelous excuses for why their review was late, eg, their car was just stolen with the manuscript locked inside, or when authors would issue generous ultimatums, giving us “just one more chance to reverse our decision and accept their manuscript.”
The opinions expressed in this editorial are not necessarily those of the editors or of the American Heart Association.
Vatner SF, Franklin D, Van Citters RL, Braunwald E. Effects of carotid sinus nerve stimulation on the coronary circulation of the conscious dog. Circ Res. 1970; 27: 11–21.
Strauss HC, Vatner SF, eds. Mechanisms of autonomic cardiovascular control, parts I and II. Circ Res. 1987; 61 (4,5).
Vatner SF. Pursuing new frontiers while preserving traditions. Circ Res. 1991; 69: 1.Editorial.
Vatner SF. All manuscripts are not created equal: the expedited publication. Circ Res. 1993; 73: 1–2.Editorial.