We live in an era of high technology. It prompts us to have as a guiding motto: "Adapt or die." After more than 160 years of continuous publication, The American Journal of Psychiatry has certainly demonstrated that at the fork in the road it takes the path that leads in the direction of adaptation!
As Editor, and with the support of our superb editorial staff and the American Psychiatric Publishing arm of the American Psychiatric Association, I am proud to say that we have remained at the forefront of most of the technological advances that have occurred in publishing. We were among the earliest of medical specialty journals to go online, having begun this practice back in August 1997. We are now in the process of working with Highwire Press to have all of the back issues of the Journal available online. What a privilege it will be for all psychiatrists to be able to review their historical heritage!
Our most recent innovation has been the establishment of online manuscript submission and peer review. We began this practice in October 2003. Although changes create challenges, overall this system is working very successfully. The majority of our authors seem to enjoy online submission and the ability to track the progress of their manuscripts through the system. (If you haven’t found it already, you can access our submission site at: http://appi.manuscriptcentral.com/main.html.) Our turn-around time has been dramatically reduced because submission is instantaneous and because our reviewers have been doing an outstanding job (in general) of providing timely reviews. We now have a typical turnaround time of approximately 4–8 weeks to first decision. For those authors invited to make revisions and resubmit after peer review, turnaround time from initial submission to final decision on acceptance can be as little as 2–4 months.
The convenience of online submission has very substantially increased our volume of submissions, giving all of us editors a significantly increased workload. We are bearing it cheerfully, however, because we realize that this change is an overall improvement. The only downside, apart from the increased workload, is that your editor personally finds the "impersonality" of the system a bit off-putting. A flagship journal such as The American Journal of Psychiatry must maintain a rejection rate of 80%–90%, requiring all of us editors to reject high-quality articles that we know will be published somewhere and that are often written by people whom we know quite well or even who are our close friends. The online system makes it nearly impossible for us to write the handwritten personal notes, inspired by the tradition of John Nemiah, to add a human touch to the pain of rejection. For me, this is a real loss, since I understand how hard it is to have a manuscript turned down.
Because of the increased volume of submissions, we have made changes in some aspects of the review process. Whereas we once sent all submitted manuscripts to outside reviewers, we have now decided to have the editors (i.e., the Editor-in-Chief and the Deputy Editors) make an initial decision on whether a manuscript will be sent out for further review or returned to the author. In general, these latter manuscripts are those that have been judged to be more suitable for a specialty journal. While this procedure will be disappointing for some authors, it nevertheless has benefits. Rather than having a manuscript tied up for several months of outside review, they will be able to resubmit to another journal immediately. These early editorial decisions, as well as those reached after a more extensive peer review, should be considered irrevocable, as is the standard policy for most high-quality journals in science and medicine.
However, The American Journal of Psychiatry can offer a benefit not available to most other journals. That is, we have an affiliation with the "family of journals" published directly under the sponsorship of American Psychiatric Publishing: Psychiatric Services, Academic Psychiatry, The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, Psychosomatics, and The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. All of them are also available for online submission at Manuscript Central, and any of these specialty journals can be a potential candidate for resubmission. In addition, if authors wish, we would be happy to transfer the peer reviews for those manuscripts that are not considered "AJP-appropriate" after the extensive outside peer review to any of these specialty journals under APPI sponsorship, thereby reducing the workload for everyone and potentially speeding up the publication process.
We are also having a change in staff for the Journal. After many years of outstanding and much valued service, Jack Gorman has decided to step down as Deputy Editor because of his increased responsibilities as Chair of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Medical School. Because we both had separation anxiety, he will stay on as an Associate Editor and also continue to handle Letters to the Editor. Because handling the area of psychopharmacology was one of Jack’s major responsibilities, we have selected Carol Tamminga—a very distinguished psychopharmacologist—to become his successor. She was a logical choice for many reasons. She has been affiliated with the Journal for many years, is familiar with its procedures, and has done an outstanding job of running our "Images in Neuroscience" section. Carol will also take over some of my work with schizophrenia manuscripts, while I will take on more of the papers on mood and anxiety disorders, since I spent many years primarily doing mood disorder research and also even wrote the original DSM definition of PTSD. Drs. Lewis and Michels will also pick up some more papers in those areas.
While I am reflecting on the state of the Journal, I want to take this opportunity to convey my personal thanks to all of you who help out so willingly in our peer review process. This is a genuinely noble contribution. We would not have good psychiatric science if we did not have a large group of altruistic peer reviewers who donate their time and intelligence in order to assist us in reaching editorial judgments.
So that’s the "state of the journal" as of July 2004. We editors all hope that you enjoy reading the Journal as much as we enjoy creating it.