It is easy to forget the odds that were stacked against Epidemiology back in 1990. Kenneth Rothman launched the journal from scratch, without the backing of a corporate publisher or scientific society. Today the journal ranks as one of the world’s leading epidemiology publications. To what does the journal owe its success?
True, the journal was founded by a well-known and respected epidemiologist, and, true, the office has been run with enviable efficiency. But these are not enough to guarantee a fledgling journal’s future. The spark was Rothman’s understanding that the best scientific journals do not simply present the best research – they succeed by engaging the reader. Epidemiology has done this splendidly, encouraging discussion and providing a forum for it.
Where does Epidemiology go from here? Can the journal be better than it already is?
There are great opportunities for Epidemiology, and they come from the field of epidemiology itself.
Just a few years ago, the future of our profession seemed gloomy. We had been put on the defensive by the 1995 Science article that hoisted epidemiology with its own petard. Science contended that epidemiology had reached its limits, with evidence articulated by our own self-critical profession.
What Science did not take into account was that self-criticism is our specialty. It is, in fact, one of the strengths that keeps us in the game today. There is hardly an area of human health to which epidemiology is not making substantial contributions. The Human Genome Project? No discipline is better suited than epidemiology to link the risk of disease with genetic variation. The risks from environmental degradation? Epidemiologists lead the way in identifying the health consequences of relentlessly expanding populations and industry. There is a resurgence of social epidemiology, bringing new rigor to our understanding of how societal organization affects human health. And then there is the baleful return of infectious diseases, a reminder of the historical origins of our discipline.
As these stories unfold, Epidemiology intends to be not merely venue but stimulus. In the ambitious words of the journal’s first editorial, we will be looking for “contributions that challenge hardened ideas and snap the scientific consciousness to attention.” Epidemiology will continue to be a springboard for fresh perspectives and productive criticism, where the best ideas of the present can suggest the shape of the future.
To enliven this process, three eminent epidemiologists have agreed to serve as editors. Jonathan Samet, Dale Sandler, and David Savitz each bring a unique voice and a distinctive viewpoint. Meg McCann will serve as Deputy Editor, providing a skilled hand to deal with special needs of authors and reviewers. With the help of the distinguished members of our editorial board, we will encourage and expand upon the qualities that have made Epidemiology successful. Our first effort appears in this issue, which includes three commentaries on the use of P-values and a reflection on journal policy by the editors. In coming issues you will find experiments with new features, further development of editorial policies, and expansion into web-based publication.
We are glad to be the new stewards of this journal, and we promise our best efforts. But in the end, our confidence does not lie in grand plans. It lies in the field of epidemiology itself – with all its limits, with all its possibilities.
Welcome to Epidemiology, Chapter Two.