Parting words from the outgoing editor of Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology®

Suzette Evans reflects on her tenure as the editor of ECP.

By Suzette M. Evans

I can’t believe how quickly time passes. Over seven years ago, in May 2010, I was writing my vision statement for the position as editor of Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology® (ECP). As full disclosure, I stated upfront that I had never served as an editor or even served on the editorial board of any journal. Despite this, I was offered the job and became the incoming editor on Jan. 1, 2011. As Bill Stoops has noticed, this is an odd position to be in since you are not the editor nor on the cover of the journal, but you are responsible for every new manuscript that is submitted and doing this job with a consulting editorial board you did not pick. Thankfully we are among respected colleagues and friends so the transition was smooth.

When I wrote my vision statement many moons ago, I had several major goals:

  1. To achieve a better balance between human and laboratory animal studies. When I was writing my vision statement, only nine percent of published articles involved laboratory animals. This was essentially paralleling the decline of nonhuman researcher participation in APA, particularly attendance at the convention and membership in Div. 28. During my tenure as editor, the number of published articles involving laboratory animals increased every year, and represented 23 percent of the published articles in 2016. Moreover in 2017, we had a special issue dedicated to animal models.
  2. Include a Special Section or Special Issue each year. I didn’t quite achieve that goal due to the unexpected delays in getting special issues approved from APA. However, in 2013, we had a special issue entitled Psychopharmacology of Attention: The Impact of Drugs in an Age of Increased Distractions, with Anthony Liguori as the guest editor. In the April 2014 issue, we published a special section on ADHD, Impulsivity and Alcohol Abuse. In 2015, we had a special issue entitled Sex Differences in Drug Abuse: Etiology and Implications for Prevention and Treatment with Brady Reynolds as the guest editor. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Div. 28 in August 2016, we had a special issue entitled 50th Anniversary of APA Div. 28: The Past, Present and Future of Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse with William Stoops and Stacey Sigmon as guest editors. My last special issue was in April 2017, entitled Animal Models of Neuropsychiatric Disorders and Substance Use Disorders: Progress and Gaps with Mark Smith as the guest editor.
  3. Encourage the involvement of young investigators. Initially, I deliberately expanded the editorial board to include individuals early in their career paths. Further, each year I identified individuals who had completed the most manuscript reviews as ad hoc reviewers and invited the top two or three to become members of the consulting editorial board. Many were young, enthusiastic investigators. However, I do wish I had the foresight to institute the editorial fellowship that Bill has initiated.
  4. From my perspective, my most important goal was to encourage and include more manuscripts that addressed issues related to females and sex differences. This was clearly driven in part by the fact that women and sex differences is a focus in my research career, but I also noticed when writing my vision statement that only a single article in 2009 specifically addressed sex differences. Fortuitously, when I was serving as the incoming editor, I attended the annual meeting of the Organization for the Study of Sex Differences, and Larry Cahill gave an inspiring lecture entitled: “Why Sex Matters for Neuroscience.” This made me realize that as an editor I could institute some guidelines to make a small change in the field to fill this glaring gap. Even though it has been over 20 years (since 1993) that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) encouraged researchers to include women and examine sex differences in their research, few studies were actually doing this research. (That unfortunately still remains the case). Back in 2012, in my inaugural editorial for ECP. I noted that even among studies that included both men and women, most did not include sex as a variable in the analyses. Moreover, there was a similar lack of information on females or sex differences among laboratory animal studies. Therefore in 2012, I implemented a few changes in an attempt to remedy this oversight:
    1. If studies were only conducted in one sex, authors were asked to include this in the title and, depending on the study.
    2. Authors were asked to indicate the male/female ratio in the abstract.
    3. Depending on the nature of the study, authors were asked to address any relevant literature related to sex differences in their introduction and justification for only including one sex.
    4. Studies that had a sufficient number of both sexes were requested to provide demographic data separated by sex (for human studies) and strongly encouraged to at least conduct exploratory analyzes with sex as a factor (not simply as a covariate) and report sex differences, even if the results were not significant.
    5. In the discussion, authors were asked to integrate their sex differences results with the extant literature, or the limitations if only one sex was included.

It is interesting that finally in 2016 NIH requested that preclinical animal laboratory research include sex as a biological variable and in 2016 the SAGER guidelines were published to encourage authors and journals to address sex and gender differences in both research and publishing1. Amazingly, Table 1 in that paper codifies the recommendations I instituted back in 2012 for ECP. I strongly suggest that everyone read this article and refer to it when training students. 

One of the biggest challenges I faced was trying to increase the number of quality submissions and increase the breadth. Unfortunately, I was not as successful in those respects as I had hoped. For instance, little did I know that as an editor, you often get manuscript submissions that are totally irrelevant to the scope of the journal and interest to the readership. In some cases, manuscripts were rejected not because they were of poor quality, but because of reasons such as small sample sizes, single doses or findings that were incremental. These manuscripts would have been more suitable as brief communications or short reports but this was a mechanism that was generally discouraged in APA journals. Fortunately, Bill Stoops and I consulted together and I encouraged him to pursue including brief communications and potentially case reports to the current publishing formats acceptable for Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology. As you know, Bill Stoops included these changes as part of his revised scope for Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, and they were approved. We have already seen the benefits of this. Again, something I should have pursued.

Naturally, a good part of the job as editor was “herding cats” (that is probably why I was offered the position) in terms of identifying qualified reviewers for manuscripts, hoping they wouldn’t decline (always dicey around grant deadlines and major holidays) and ensuring that reviewers and authors submitted reviews and revisions in a timely manner. I’m sure in the process I probably annoyed or disappointed some of my colleagues. I apologize if this was the case, but please don’t take it personally.

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed being the editor of Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology. (It also helped build my wine collection). In fact, I would have been more than willing to do another six-year term, but APA policy doesn’t allow that. In many ways that it a good thing. The field is constantly evolving, and so should the journal. Too many journals keep the same editors for decades. I felt honored to serve as the editor, and I want to extend my gratitude to all of the individuals who served as consulting editors under my term, all of the ad hoc reviewers that I called upon, all of the individuals who contributed manuscripts to Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology and all of the staff at APA, particularly the manuscript coordinators. As I end my term (I’ve had a pretty cushy job this year) I could not think of a more qualified person to take the helm of Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology than William Stoops. Bill is already breathing new life into Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, and with his boundless energy, the journal will thrive under his editorship.

1 Heidari, Babor, De Castro, Tort & Curno. (2016). Sex and gender equity in research: Rationale for the SAGER guidelines and recommended us. Research Integrity and Peer Review, 1:2.