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Circulation on the Run

Jun 29, 2020

This week’s episode is special: we have the former and current Editors-in-Chief of Circulation on Circulation on the Run. Join Dr Amit Khera, Digital Strategies Editor of Circulation, as he speaks with Dr James T. Willerson, Editor-in-Chief from 1993 to 2004; Dr Joseph Loscalzo, Editor-in-Chief from 2004 to 2016; and Dr Joseph A. Hill, the current Editor-in-Chief. They will discuss the history of Circulation and how it continues to evolve.


Dr Amit Khera: Hi, this is Amit Khera. I'm digital strategies editor for Circulation from UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Today we have a very special Circulation on the Run. We have three Editors-in-Chief from Circulation. First, we have Dr James Willerson, who was the Editor-in-Chief from 1993 to 2004. He's a President Emeritus at the Texas Heart Institute. We also have Dr Joseph Loscalzo, who was Editor-in-Chief from 2004 to 2016, the Chairman of Department of Medicine from Brigham and Women's Hospital. And finally, Dr Joseph Hill, the current Editor-in-Chief, the Chief of Cardiology at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Welcome, gentlemen.

Dr Joseph Hill: Thank you.

Dr James Willerson: Thank you.

Dr Joseph Loscalzo: Thank you.

Dr Amit Khera: Dr Willerson, I must say, looking over the tenure prior to Dr Loscalzo, you had one of the longest tenures ever as Editor-in-Chief of Circulation, and certainly a lot happened in the practice of cardiology during that period. It was a really formative period in cardiology. As you think back, what were some of the most important topics that you covered during that time as Editor-in-Chief, thinking about the evolution of cardiovascular care and science at that time?

Dr James Willerson: You have to remember, there have been many editors at Circulation. We all build on the shoulders of others, certainly I did. I really wanted Circulation to be the premier cardiovascular journal in the world. I wanted it to be much like the New England Journal of Medicine, but the New England Journal of Medicine Circulation of Cardiology. I wanted to publish it every week. We got permission to do that. That wasn't easy, but we were fortunate. I've been accused of wanting to publish it every day. There's actually some truth to that. I didn't make that. I didn't try very hard. I wanted to be able to present the information, important information, to everybody who cared about cardiovascular medicine: physicians, scientists, students, nurses, those who cared for people, and I wanted to do it frequently. I wanted to publish it quickly. So, we had some success with that. There are many other things that are well-known to the other editors, all of whom have built before me and after me, and I'm very proud of them.

Dr Amit Khera: Well, thanks for that. And certainly, as you pointed out, this has been an evolution where you took the gauntlet, if you will, from the people before you, and then built on that and had many advances. I guess after you, Dr Loscalzo, you I think did have the longest tenure if I saw of any of the editors and similarly, a lot of evolutions in cardiovascular care and a lot in science, particularly during your time. Tell us a little bit about any particular papers or topics that you focused on, or that really were revolutionary in the cardiovascular space during your tenure.

Dr Joseph Loscalzo: I'll pick up where Jim left off and just make the case that as you're suggesting, I mean, there's sort of been a natural transition of the kind of science that Circulation has been publishing over the tenure of the three editors here today. Before Dr Willerson, it was largely physiology and excellent clinical science. Jim really expanded the scope of what Circulation published to begin to put in press in its pages, fairly basic and translational science as well. I picked up from what he'd laid the groundwork for to expand the scope of that science. And as you know, expand it to the point that we had to develop daughter journals that would pick up the mantle in each of these increasingly subspecialized areas.

So, it's hard to think about those papers that I found have the greatest impact because every field had several of them in my several years as editor. As you know, the subspecialty journals that we established, which remain active to the current time, are also broad in their scope from outcomes based research to genomics and proteomics insistence, cardiovascular medicine, to everything in between, imaging, intervention, heart failure, and electrophysiology to arrhythmias. Each of these was led, and continues to be led, by outstanding leaders in their subspecialty fields.

I think the beauty of Circulation in contrast to even fine journals like the New England Journal of Medicine, is that Circulation has been able to put on its pages those studies that really do span quite a spectrum. We don't shy away from very basic studies. That actually began with Jim, I must say, because that wasn't the case previously. And of course, we move right through to epidemiology and outcomes based research. And the impacts have been broad in each of those fields, as witnessed by the excitement and uptake of the journal, measured however you wish, by impact factor, or citations, or the frequency with which it's referred to in the lay press. So, I think that tradition certainly continues under the current editor with papers of extraordinary impact.

Dr Amit Khera: Thanks for that. I think your point about the evolution of science over time from Dr Willerson and certainly during your tenure and beyond to the breadth of Circulation currently. You also touched on the subspecialty journals. That happened in your watch and that was quite a marked change in cardiovascular medicine to have that explosion of new journals, if you will. What do you think the impact of those subspecialty journals has been for the cardiovascular field?

Dr Joseph Loscalzo: We struggled with the idea about whether or not we should pursue that kind of fragmentation. What really pushed us was the fact that the acceptance rate remains quite low, in those days, probably eight or so percent range at its nadir. So, we were rejecting a lot of really excellent papers which wound up in competitor journal pages, that we would like to have accepted and been given the scrutiny of the careful reviews and editorials that accompany papers accepted by Circulation. We felt the best way to do that under the circumstances was to create these daughter journals. They succeeded, in many respects, beyond our wildest imagination. The numbers of papers that were published in the family increased, I think in the first two or three years, by at least 2-to 3000.

So, that really speaks to the fact that we kept the best papers in the family. We gave them the right kind of audience. Some of these would have been too technical or too highly specialized to have been published in Circulation proper, but certainly of the highest quality and of significant relevance to the subspecialist. So, we think that it was a successful experiment. Now it's sort of become tradition. I think that the question that will always come up, of course, is can we fragment things more? I would say one of the best reasons to make the case that this was a successful experiment is that if imitation's the sincerest form of flattery, the New England Journal is now going to start three subspecialty journals. In fact, in my role now as an editor of the New England Journal, editor-at-large, they asked my input in how to design those daughter journals and what to expect from them.

Dr Amit Khera: Well, I think that's a great point. It certainly has been a resounding success and as you pointed out, imitation is the best form of flattery. I'm going to pivot now to Joe Hill. Dr Hill, you have certainly been the beneficiary of all the great work that these two editors have done in the past. You've inherited a very successful journal and also have crafted your own vision for where you want Circulation to go in your mark. Tell us a little bit about some of the new initiatives you've tried to implement, leveraging on these past successes.

Dr Joseph Hill: Thank you, Amit, it's an honor and a privilege to be in this conversation, frankly. I mean, Dr Willerson made this a weekly journal. That was back in the day when FedExes were flying around. Everything was paper. That kind of volume with that technology is impressive. And Dr Loscalzo, who has been a friend and mentor for many, many years, spearheaded the subspecialty journals, as we just heard, and took the journal to yet new heights. Each of you has been a pioneer and we've been fortunate to put together a team that I think has moved in exciting directions. We've leveraged technology now, such that we have our video conference meetings. We meet in a video conference with editors from 17 different countries. We have a third of our editors in Dallas, where I live, a third in the US outside of Dallas, and another third in 16 other countries.

It turns out we alternate the time of that meeting each week because there's no single hour of the day that works around the globe, so we move it around to capture Asia or to capture California in alternating weeks. That has been a thrill and, honestly, I believe a robust success. We have leaders on the ground in all these different countries. We have a highly diverse team across the different subspecialty domains of cardiology, across different geographic regions, across race and sex and gender lines. It is an amazing team. And Amit, who leads our robust digital efforts, including this podcast and our efforts on social media, again, the opportunity now in the 21st century to take these initiatives forward has been a real privilege.

Dr Amit Khera: It's ironic that Circulation was doing Zoom before everybody else was in the modern era. I'm going to pivot back to Dr Willerson. As Dr Hill just mentioned during your tenure how the volume of papers was handled, FedEx and sort of the nature of the journal publishing process. And now in the modern era, we have so much different information. We have a huge volume of journals. We have online, we have Twitter, we have podcasts. We have people that are consuming information in so many different ways. Tell us from your perspective, what's the role of the scientific journal currently and how has it changed at all in the last few decades?

Dr James Willerson: It's always going to continue to evolve. It's about as good as it can be right now with Dr Loscalzo and Dr Hill's leadership, and I'm really proud of them. There'll be more. We can't even imagine what it will be in two or three years. Of course, it'll be better and better, faster, almost momentary. Thank you, Dr Hill.

Dr Amit Khera: Thank you for that. I think we all look forward to seeing how this evolves more rapid information, rapid turnaround. I'm certain that will change. Dr Hill, you had a comment on that?

Dr Joseph Hill: We live in an era now where peer review is under attack in many ways and pre-print journals, blogs and so forth. And one of the things that I've really seen, and we've all seen, is how the peer review process, and we're all authors, right, we live on the other end of that stick, but it really is important. It makes a big difference. And people who are anxious to accelerate that process, I totally get it. We work very hard to do that. At the same time we, following the traditions here, have an intentionally redundant review process where every paper is evaluated by multiple editors and multiple peer reviewers. On a number of occasions, we've avoided a pothole, or we've improved a paper many, many times. And that is something that has really been impressed on me that I think people who aren't on this side of the editorial fence might not appreciate as much.

Dr Amit Khera: I think that's an important point about sort of the rigor about the way that articles come out in Circulation. And Dr Loscalzo, maybe as an extension of the last question, what do you see as some of the challenges going forward or opportunities for Circulation? You think about where it's been, but what are some of the things that you look forward to for Circulation in the future and what are some of the things you're concerned about?

Dr Joseph Loscalzo: Well, I too am concerned about this issue of peer review being under attack, and I'm particularly concerned about it for papers that have direct clinical impact. A good example of that concern, of course, are papers published, or at least publicly released, on non-peer reviewed websites like the archive sites because of their importance in the COVID epidemic, potentially. We all know of cases of drugs, at least in test tubes, with cultured cells and viruses appear to be effective that have adverse clinical consequences.

So that, and more than in any other sphere of science, ensuring that proper peer review from as many perspectives as possible is always a part of the process is absolutely critical for clinical medicine. And to me, the threat that this need for acceleration and rapid peer review poses and the sort of socialization of the transmission of scientific information that we're all interested in doing really has to have the brakes put on it a bit for the clinical science that the journal represents for this very important reason. Not to say we want to slow things down, we want to make sure that the best possible reviews are performed before we release it to the public.

I know that, as Joe was pointing out, one of the most exciting parts of the role of when I led the journal was the weekly meeting. We had a face-to-face meeting because all of our associate editors, save one, was actually physically proximate and they could travel to our conference room. But it's a wonderful exercise to have people of very different perspectives, from basic scientists, to clinical electrophysiologists, to outcomes researchers, make comments on papers that were completely outside their sphere.

The argument, of course, is if one can write and transmit a thought with the clear intent in a way that's rigorous and logical, that any reasonably bright person with reasonable scientific background should be able to understand it. And often these folks with very different scientific backgrounds have perspectives that very clearly improved the paper when they were acted upon. That's a process that doesn't exist in many other journals, I have to say. And I would encourage Joe, which I know, well, he's doing this because he enjoys it and he recognizes its importance, and Joe's successors continue to do that as well because that will ensure the value of the journal through all of the challenges that it is going to have to face in the next decade or two.

Dr Amit Khera: I think that was a great point. We're certainly seeing candy bowl examples of the importance of this rigorous process of the editors looking through it carefully and, as you both mentioned, peer review. Joe Hill, I'm going to let you maybe have the last word. I know how hard the three of you have historically worked on your craft for the journal, how much effort you've put in, but I also know it's quite a rewarding job. What would you see as the best part of being Editor-in-Chief of Circulation?

Dr Joseph Hill: Oh my, I'm learning something every day. I've been on about a steep a learning curve as when I was an intern at Dr Loscalzo's hospital long ago. Under Dr Willerson's term, I imagine many, many studies came in on acute coronary syndromes and thrombolytic therapy, primary PCI, antiarrhythmic drugs. We haven't seen an antiarrhythmic drug paper except for a recent review we did, but for quite a long time. It's artificial intelligence, it's big data, it's the UK Biobank, it's Omix, it's incredibly sophisticated genetics and genomics and basic science with genetic manipulations, IPS cells.

It's a very different world now than it was 10 years ago, 20 years ago and it certainly will be again, 10 and 20 years down the road. We are now approaching, I will say, 600 COVID related papers, and they're still coming in at a record pace. The world has changed. As I said before, this is the 70th anniversary of this storied journal. And it is truly my honor to be able to stand on the shoulders of Doctors Loscalzo and Willerson.

Dr Amit Khera: Thank you. I think that's a great way to end this podcast and congratulations on the 70th anniversary. It truly has been a privilege to chat with the three of you today. I want to thank you not only for what you've done for Circulation, but for the field of cardiovascular medicine. This is Amit Khera, digital strategies editor for Circulation. Next week we're back to our usual podcast with Carolyn Lam and Greg Hundley. Take care.

Dr Greg Hundley: This program is copyright the American Heart Association, 2020.