University of Minnesota

“If It Isn’t Fun.” – Howard Burchell and Circulation

Howard Burchell, great and gentle scholar, came to the University of Minnesota from the Mayo Clinic in 1967, at age 60, after serving for 30 years as senior consultant at the clinic. He made the move because, as he quietly put it, the clinic had such a poor retirement program. But, in fact, he was ready for a new challenge, and for this we at the University were fortunate. For many years thereafter Burchell guided cardiology at Minnesota, and, as editor of Circulation, enriched medical culture and raised the level of cardiovascular science internationally. More than 30 years later he continues actively to observe, advise, and write on the cardiovascular scene.

At my urging, Ancel Keys and Paul White included Howard Burchell in the deliberations of the International Society of Cardiology Scientific Council on Epidemiology and Prevention, successor to the Research Committee and organized at the Delhi World Congress in 1966. As a result, Burchell came to the council’s fall 1967 meeting at Keys’s home in Pioppi, Italy, where our discussions produced a wide-ranging report of research recommendations. Directly following this seminar, Burchell participated in the Minneapolis symposium titled “Measurement in Exercise Electrocardiography,” which I had arranged to honor physiologist-electrocardiographer Ernst Simonson.

In the course of that meeting, Burchell asked me to serve as associate editor of Circulation. I accepted with pleasure, of course, but wondered where he got such an unusual idea. I speculated later that he might have responded to my would-be scholarly introduction to the Simonson meeting, which quoted Pascal on the uncertainty principle. I’ve never asked him.

Serving as associate to Howard Burchell on Circulation was a profound lesson in science and humanism, fairness and industry. He read every article submitted to the journal on receipt and again after getting the opinions of his editorial consultants. His criticism was ever constructive, ever positive, always expanding the views of the authors. He was consistently supportive and encouraging while he strengthened the science submitted for publication. Because of the thoroughness of his criticism, and the gentility of his personal letters of reply, authors felt benefitted and uplifted by his review, even when it resulted in a rejection.

Of the untold lessons from my association with Howard Burchell, then and now, the strongest is that scientific criticism is among the highest human faculties — and is a deep obligation for all investigators–to the common good.

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