1. Mason, Diana J. PhD, RN, FAAN, AJN Editor-in-Chief

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Last week, I received three letters from readers requesting that we cancel their subscriptions. They were appalled that AJN would publish the March Viewpoint by Hillel Cohen and Sharon Eolis, who oppose the smallpox vaccination program. The letter writers said the authors' beliefs about the motivation of the vaccination program were political and unfitting of inclusion in a professional journal, particularly outside of its editorial and letters pages.


In this month's Letters (page 15), we publish a letter from a reader who has challenged the journal's decision to publish in the February issue four letters in support of and only one in opposition to the November Viewpoint by Susan O'Neill, "War Is Unhealthy." The letter writer chastised us for not publishing more letters that disagreed with O'Neil. The letter writer's impression is that the journal is promoting a political point of view.


We publish letters in proportion to the number received and that represent varying points of view. Letters reflects the views of readers who write to us. Opinion does have a place in the journal, most obviously on this page and in Letters. And in order to continue to stimulate dialogue on important issues confronting nurses, we devised Viewpoint. We review both solicited and unsolicited manuscripts for this department, with the belief that what is published in AJN-whether or not I agree with it-should challenge all of us to reconsider our values and positions.


But is this what readers want?


Perhaps not. After receiving the letters opposed to Cohen and Eolis's Viewpoint, I attended a planning meeting for a nurses' writing conference. We discussed why nurses don't write more than they do. One journalist argued that nurses don't like controversy and taking risks; the nurses in the group agreed. Some claimed that nursing education quashes risk taking. An editorial staff member argued that avoiding controversy is characteristic of the generation of women that has now reached middle age. Whatever the reason, I'm sure it doesn't serve the profession, our patients, or society.


The war against Iraq and the smallpox vaccination program are examples of issues that are both controversial and highly relevant to nursing. But not all nurses agree. If you don't, consider this story: When I was an undergraduate nursing student, Claire Mailloux was my first community health nursing instructor at West Virginia University. One lesson that has stayed with me for more than 30 years is a discussion of a family whose car had broken down. We talked about the many implications that broken car had on the family's health: if the car wasn't working, the father couldn't get to work and provide financially for his wife and six children. The family might not be able to make it to a scheduled health care appointment or to the pharmacy to fill prescriptions. It was clear that a broken car could be a public health nurse's priority on a home care visit.


If a broken car can be a nursing concern, how can war not be one? And if you don't feel free to speak about your position on the war-and won't listen to the positions of others-then how can we say we're fighting for others' freedoms?


AJN will publish letters critical of the journal's contents. You may also expect balance in our news reporting. And while we encourage balance in clinical articles, we realize that even evidence-based discussions may not represent all points of view on a topic. Sometimes we solicit a commentary to present another view of a subject; other times, we look to you-our readers- to write to us about other points of view.


I encourage you to write about what you read in AJN that enrages, disappoints, amazes, or stirs other emotions. Do so knowing that articulation of a clear position and compelling argument can inform a debate and just might change someone's mind-including mine. Send letters intended for publication to