Re: Medical journals are dead. Long live medical journals

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 29 Feb 2000 10:47:46 +0000

On Mon, 28 Feb 2000, Albert Henderson wrote:

> There are many differences between bioscience and
> physics. The most important is is the problem of
> (and sensitivity to) conflict of interest. The
> commercial opportunities available for quack health
> remedies, devices, and preventions are huge. The health
> audience, which includes physicians and consumers, is
> large and naive. There is also a mass media eagerly
> waiting to amplify the thinnest correlation into "tips"
> that can attract readers and viewers. Health claims can
> be made on the basis of poor experimental work and
> unsupportable theories. Physicists, who have little to
> sell, often rely on mathematical proofs that make their
> work more reliable even if it may be less useful and
> interesting to the general public.

So biomedical science, which its researchers give away for free for all,
exactly as physical scientists do, should continue to be held hostage to
access-blocking tolls, because there's money to be made there...

(Money for whom? And of what benefit to science and scientists?)

> Demonstrating the blindness of non-life sciences to such
> ethical issues,


> the American Society of Mechanical Engineers
> fought its way to the US Supreme court defending standards
> that had been written by Hydrolevel engineers to favor
> their own gizmos. The American Institute of Physics
> went to court to defend claims by a member of its own
> Governing Board that AIP publications were more cost-
> effective than competitors' (based solely on price-
> per-kiloword). The publications involved were not
> peer-reviewed in manner of scientific research. The editors
> made no effort to disclose the interest of the author in
> the commercial effect of the article.

We have no idea what this in-fight was actually about, but if
unrefereed research was at issue, it's irrelevant to this Forum, which
is about freeing the refereed literature.

> It was just this sort of issue that forced the
> resignation of Dr Jerome P. Kassirer, editor of New
> England Journal of Medicine. It seems the publishers,
> Massachusetts Medical Society wished to use the
> journal's name to brand other ventures.

Again, other people's battles, other people's issues.

> The Food and Drug Administration has opposed industry
> promotional reprinting and distribution of peer-reviewed
> articles covering off-label (such as pediatric doses)
> uses of pharmaceutals. It seems that drug manufacturers
> choose only the most favorable studies to reprint. Not
> long ago J A M A published a study indicating that
> industry-sponsored studies produced more results
> favorable to industry than other studies (1999;282:1453-1457
> editorial 1474-1475)

The issue here is not the use and misuse of peer-reviewed research in
sales and advertising to consumers. It is the free dissemination of peer
reviewed research to researchers online.

> Clearly, an unrefereed bioscience forum presents an
> opportunity for self-serving propaganda aimed at peddling
> bogus health products. The original NIH proposal for
> E-Biomed to circulate unreviewed material was vigorously
> opposed for this reason by every editor who understands
> the dangers involved.

The clinical risks of publicising UNrefereed results are real and can
and will be dealt with. At issue here are the scientific benefits of
free online dissemination of REFEREED research. Let us not confuse the
issue by conflating the two:

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
             Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton

NOTE: A complete archive of this ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature is available at the American
Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00):

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Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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