New student-led public health publication looks for an edge

Andrew Boozary and Circe Le Compte

HPHR Editor-in-Chief Andrew Boozary, SM '14, with Circe Le Compte, SM '14, who serves as a deputy editor along with James Yeh, MPH '15 (not pictured).

June 17, 2014 — A new publication based at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) aims to tackle tough, timely questions facing the public health community and provide a platform for debate, according to its editor and founder, newly minted HSPH graduate Andrew Boozary.

The Harvard Public Health Review (HPHR) was launched on May 25 “in the spirit of the Harvard Law Review and the Harvard Kennedy School Review,” said Boozary, SM ’14. The new online publication is intended “as a vehicle to help readers navigate the complex world of public health, while placing a serious premium on evidence,” he said.

Helming HPHR are 10 HSPH students and an advisory board of prominent HSPH faculty members, including Dean [[Julio Frenk]]. Boozary and his HPHR colleagues plan to solicit articles from students from the School, across Harvard, and eventually other universities; from faculty at Harvard and other academic institutions; and from public health leaders, policy experts, politicians, and thought leaders.

“Imagine if the New England Journal of Medicine and had a baby—that’s our vision for HPHR,” Boozary said. HPHR articles will have features similar to those of traditional journal articles—they’ll be evidence-based and footnoted—but they’ll also have a decidedly modern feel. “We’re looking for commentaries and points of view, but with evidence to inform the arguments or angles,” said Boozary.

One of the first articles in HPHR—“Was Mayor Bloomberg a Nanny?” by Cass Sunstein, from Harvard Law School—debates the pros and cons of the former New York City mayor’s effort to ban super-large sizes of sugary drinks. (The measure was struck down in lower courts but is currently under review by the state’s Court of Appeals.) In another article, HSPH health policy expert Ben Sommers gives Obamacare a grade of “incomplete, but promising” and says it will take time to assess the law’s full impact.

An upcoming feature will be a student-written piece about the impact of the Arab Spring on public health.

Moving beyond the insular

Boozary came up with the idea for the new publication last fall. After listening to a guest speaker declare, “We are on the side of angels”—and after chatting with HSPH classmates about it—he realized that in the sometimes insular world of public health, “you can get in trouble subscribing to one ideology. Discussing big public health questions, are we only hearing one side? There needs to be a place for debate.”

Over the next several months, Boozary worked on starting the publication with help from Leah Kane, associate director for student affairs, who thought the idea was “fantastic” because “we’re always looking for ways to highlight our students’ work.”

Other encouragement came from faculty members, including [[Ashish Jha]] (for whom Boozary will work as a visiting scientist), [[Robert Blendon]], [[Ichiro Kawachi]], and [[John McDonough]]—all of whom serve on HPHR’s 11-member advisory board. McDonough, director of HSPH’s Center for Public Health Leadership and a former Boston Globe health blogger, said the new journal offers “a useful array of commentary and analysis that touches on some of the most compelling issues in health policy today.” He said he’s been impressed with “the initiative of Andrew and his colleagues to create a cross-Harvard vehicle for the exploration of important public health issues and challenges.”

Calling all voices

Boozary and his co-editors hope that potential contributors to HPHR will see the value in adding their voices to a Harvard-based publication that is academically oriented but can publish articles more quickly than traditional academic journals, which require an often lengthy peer review process. Although HPHR will appear in print occasionally—perhaps to highlight the “Best of”—it will be primarily an online venture.

HPHR’s two deputy editors are Circe Le Compte, SM ’14, who is continuing at HSPH to earn a doctor of science in social and behavioral sciences, and James Yeh, who expects to earn his MPH in clinical effectiveness in May 2015. Le Compte called HPHR “a publication for a new day.”

HPHR “will give voice to students at HSPH and around the country,” she said. “It’s a way to tap into the pulse of the big concerns in public health of the moment, to start online conversations, and to generate new ideas and new research.”

Karen Feldscher

photo: Mike Mazzanti