Re: ClinMed NetPrints

From: Jim Till <till_at_UHNRES.UTORONTO.CA>
Date: Tue, 4 Apr 2000 12:06:32 -0400

On Tue, 4 Apr 2000, Stevan Harnad responded to a message of mine:

> [jt] If the code numbers assigned to NetPrints are assigned
> [jt] sequentially, then it appears that at least 32 eprints were
> [jt] submitted to the ClinMed NetPrints website between December 13,
> [jt] 1999 and March 21, 2000. Of these, only 13 have been posted.
> [jt] Thus, the acceptance rate appears to be about 40%. It seems
> [jt] that, so far, the rejection rates for ClinMed NetPrints have been
> [jt] quite high.
> [sh] (1) Clinical medicine (because of possible dangers to public
> [sh] health) has a special pre-screening problem even for unrefereed
> [sh] preprints; other disciplines do not have this risk or this
> [sh] problem.

In the editorial announcing the launch of NetPrints, the editors and
publishers stated (see BMJ 1999;319:1515-1516, 11 December; full text

"Articles will be screened for breaches of confidentiality and libel
before we post them".


"Opponents of free availability place a high value on peer review,
regardless of the contrary evidence. They argue that it efficiently
winnows out the wheat from the chaff and that articles not yet through
the mill of peer review may harm public health or even science itself.
Yet many unreviewed findings already find their way into the public
arena with the connivance of researchers and conference organisers,
usually in an uninterpretable form. Far better, we believe, for a
study to appear in full, with the opportunity for readers to assess
its claims and append their criticisms. We are alert to the danger
that members of the public may be misled by what they read on the
website, but an explicit warning appears on its opening screen and is
repeated above every article ...".

It appears from these quotations that the editors and publishers didn't
have any prior intent to pre-screen in order to avoid possible harm to
public health. Instead, they made it rather clear that they didn't
intend to perform pre-screening for this reason. Although pre-screening
is clearly being done (acceptance rates appear to be no higher than 40%),
it's not at all clear (at least, not to me) exactly what pre-screening
criteria are actually being applied.

Two safeguards are mentioned in the excerpt quoted above: 1) the explicit
warning repeated above every article; 2) criticisms appended by readers.
It may be difficult to evaluate the impact of the former safeguard.
However, so far, the latter seems to be underused, because very few
criticisms or commentaries have been posted (via the 'rapid responses'
feature of the ClinMed NetPrints website).

> [sh] (2) There seems to be some confusion here between pre-screening
> [sh] and refereeing. For a high-quality, high-impact journal, its
> [sh] rejection rate is a reflection of its high quality standards. It
> [sh] means selectivity is being exercised and only the very best work
> [sh] is being accepted.

Although pre-screening and refereeing clearly are different processes,
there's likely to be some overlap in the criteria that are used, and
the end result can be exactly the same: acceptance or rejection of an

In my NetPrint I mention the concept of 'scholarly consensus' (see

"Interdisciplinary variation in scholarly consensus involves the
extent to which scholars share conceptions of appropriate research
problems, theoretical approaches, or research techniques. When scholars
do not share such conceptions, "they tend to view each other's work as
deficient and unworthy of publication" [reference to Hargens]".

"Scholarly consensus seems likely to continue to be an important
variable in the evaluation of eprints".

Perhaps there's some kind of 'scholarly consensus' underlying the
criteria for pre-screening that are being applied by the editors of
ClinMed NetPrints. But, what are the criteria?

> [jt] It's also noteworthy that the number of 'rapid responses' to the
> [jt] posted NetPrints seems to have been very low. Not what I would
> [jt] have predicted.
> [sh] It's early days yet. But the confusion (conflation) between the
> [sh] archiving, pre-screening and refereeing functions must be
> [sh] resolved if potential submitters and responders are to know what
> [sh] to make of services like this.

Perhaps explicit statements need to be made about the criteria that will
be used during the pre-screening, refereeing and archiving functions?

My thanks also to Stephen Heller for his message (Subject: ACS meeting
comments on e-prints), and the url:

This url provides access to an article by Chris Leonard ("Leave Us
Alone!"). The article includes a comment attributed to Ralph Youngen
(ACS Publications):

"Journal/database blurring - as journals are increasingly available in
electronic format and it becomes easier to search across journal titles,
the notion of what a journal is starts to become vague. Scientists may
well end up publishing their paper not with a journal, but with a
publisher who maintains a database of different manuscripts".

It remains to be seen whether or not the ClinMed NetPrints website will
gain acceptance as a database of this kind. In the meantime, perhaps
there needs to be as little blurring as possible with regard to the
criteria applied for inclusion of articles into such databases?

Jim Till
Joint Centre for Bioethics
University of Toronto
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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