Scientific journals are not merely filters for scientific reports. Journals provide a forum for viewpoints and criticisms. Sometimes these opinions conflict, in which case the journal can give the contenders access to the ultimate jury of their peers—our readers. Epidemiology takes all these roles seriously. From its first issue, our journal has devoted space to commentaries that provide perspective, opinion, and sometimes dissent.
We regularly offer commentaries without response by the authors. This policy itself has attracted debate. If the journal wants to encourage discussion, why not routinely invite authors to respond? In most cases, it is because there is not genuine disagreement to be sorted out. Many of our invited commentaries are to provide context and perspective. When authors are asked to respond to such commentaries they seldom refuse, but they seldom have much to say either.
We do make exceptions. When Jay Kaufman published his critique of the “slavery hypertension hypothesis,”1 we sought opinions from all sides of the controversy and asked Kaufman for his response. In the current issue, we once again give authors space for reply, in one instance because of the public health importance of smallpox as a possible tool of bioterrorism, and in the other because of criticisms raised by the commentator.
In publishing these responses with the commentaries, we do not signal a change in policy. We will continue to use our judgment as to what combination of point and counterpoint best airs the issues. If an exchange omits crucial facts or fails to rebut errors, we trust our authors and readers to set things straight. Our letters pages are at your disposal.
1. Kaufman JS, Hall SA. The slavery hypertension hypothesis: dissemination and appeal of a modern race theory. Epidemiology