Re: Medical journals are dead. Long live medical journals

From: Albert Henderson <NobleStation_at_COMPUSERVE.COM>
Date: Mon, 28 Feb 2000 18:12:20 -0500

on Fri, 25 Feb 2000 Jim Till <till_at_OCI.UTORONTO.CA> wrote:

> My thanks to my colleague Peter Singer for his provocative article in
> CMAJ, and for pointing me toward this forum.
> It's still far from clear (at least, to me!) why members of the physics
> research community seem, in general, to be more comfortable with eprints
> than are (as yet?) many members of the biomedical research community.

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.

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 The publications involved were not
peer-reviewed in manner of scientific research.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.

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.

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)

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.

Albert Henderson

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

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