Ornithologists have seen opportunities to speculate in print all but disappear in recent years, and there has been a reluctance to publish new ideas, especially controversial ones. I believe that a certain amount of speculation is good for our science, because it stimulates others to think beyond their data and to ask new questions, thus possibly generating new research. Some ideas lead nowhere, but we should be able to take some risks and make mistakes occasionally. Thus, I am introducing a section called “Letters to The Auk.” In addition to promoting new ideas, readers will be able to comment on recent issues, topics, and methodologies, as with the “Commentaries” currently published, but in a much shorter form. “Letters” also can be used to provide information of historical or taxonomic interest and for commenting briefly on papers published in The Auk or responding to such comments. Letters will not replace scientific notes or short communications that were published previously.
This section revives a feature of The Auk that ran from 1884 to 1948. The first Editor, Joel Asaph Allen, requested correspondents (Auk 1:100) “…to write briefly and to the point. No attention will be paid to anonymous communications.” Montague Chamberlain published the first letter (pp. 100–101), saying he was perplexed by the use of trinomials by American ornithologists. The Editor responded to the contrary and, in the following issue, two more letters addressed this subject: Elliott Coues (pp. 197–198) cited a draft of his “Key” in supporting Allen; Chamberlain (pp. 101–102) thanked Allen for clarification but remained unconvinced. Allen stood his ground and cut off correspondence on the subject after that. This exchange is a good example of the kind of dialogue we hope to encourage.
Letters should be submitted directly to the Editor by mail, fax, or e-mail, but not through Rapid Review. Manuscripts should not be more than 3–4 pages in length and will be reviewed by the Editor and at least one outside reviewer. Letters will be published at the discretion of the Editor and exchanges concerning published papers will be strictly limited.