I read an interesting editorial recently. It was by Dr. Bruce P. Squires and was in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (Vol. 142, No. 7, p. 713-714). In that editorial, Dr. Squires makes this point:
In a study of what parts of a scientific journal are most consistently popular with readers, I have no doubt that the letters-to-the-editor section (the correspondence column) would come out on top or very near it. Usually brief and lively, letters often provide the spice in what might otherwise be pretty bland fare. But lively reading is not the primary intent of the correspondence column of a scientific journal. It is the forum in which the process of peer review, which begins after a manuscript is first submitted, continues. Through the letters, study design, methods, and interpretation of results are criticized, discussed and tested. This role in the validation of science is alone justification for the correspondence column's existence; indeed, no scientific journal truly fulfills its responsibilities to the public and to science if it does not have such a column.
If you are a regular reader of PPPJ you will be aware that our letters-to-the-editor section is usually scarce or non-existent. I recall that the lack of correspondent feedback bothered my predecessor, Thomas R Verny, and it has now come to bother me. It bothers me in the sense that I don't understand why more of you do not respond to the material we present in these pages.
Dr. Squires is dead-on about the importance of correspondence for peer review. And perhaps he gets to the root of our problem. Can it be that most of you do not realize that you are an integral part of scientific peer review? You see, the editor can only do so much. He can read the articles, send them out for review, try to make a reasoned decision as to whether or not to publish an article. He edits within his limited scope of expertise-of course, with the able help of a board of editors. But he also does his editing with the interests of you, the reader, in mind. Or he thinks he does. He may well be off base.
What I am saying is that the letters-to-the-editor section is not merely a place to air complaints and suggestions about the quality of editing-although those motives are valid and important. The section is first and foremost a place to present expert feedback pertaining to the data, methods, theoretical biases, limitations of view, and quality of presentation of individual articles. If you are seriously involved in one or another field relevant to pre- and perinatal psychology, and find you are in disagreement with an author's position about some body of data or some theoretical view, you have a responsibility to give feedback if you have the expertise to do so.
Now that's quite a different point of view about the letters-to-the-editor section, isn't it? If you are reading the journal and passively presuming that your reactions are of no account, then think again. Your responses are crucial to elevating the quality of pre- and perinatal psychological science. I, like Tom before me, am inviting your reactions to the articles presented in PPPJ. Let's get with it!
This issue of the journal is oriented almost entirely to various aspects of stress. Dr. Mary Lou Moore and her colleagues look at psychosocial factors contributing to pregnancy complications. Dr. Goldenberg and his colleagues examine the psychosocial factors correlated with intrauterine growth retardation. Dr. Lee Ellis and Mr. William Peckham relate maternal stress during pregnancy to handedness among male offspring. Ms. Jude Roedding discusses the relationship between birth trauma and suicide. And Dr. Jo Ann Ruiz-Bueno and her colleagues suggests that prior counseling may have a beneficial effect upon anxiety-related sequelae of amniocentesis.
In quite another vein, Prof. Ruth Fridman discusses the possible importance of proto-rhythms for the acquisition of musical appreciation and language expression.