Re: Medical journals are dead. Long live medical journals

From: Albert Henderson <NobleStation_at_COMPUSERVE.COM>
Date: Wed, 1 Mar 2000 08:37:45 -0500

on 29 Feb 2000 Stevan Harnad <> wrote:
> 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...

Researchers don't give away "free for all" their best papers.
They exchange them for the dissemination and recognition that
can be provided only by the investment of their peers in an
intensive review, publication, and citation in the formal
literature. Financing has to come from somewhere. Ever since
Henry Oldenburg founded the Philosophical Transactions in 1665,
subscribers have underwritten dissemination and given the
publishers (indluding nonprofits) returns on their investments.

Dissatisfaction with this arrangement has come primarily from
university managers who have added to their profits by cutting
library spending for 30 years. (see my article in AGAINST THE
GRAIN. Dec 1999/Jan 2000 p. 32)


> > 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:

For many readers, the two are indistinguishable particularly
when they are used as reference sources for promotional claims
that use phrases like "studies show that...." Such claims in an
article in PHYSICS TODAY, asserting superior cost-effectiveness
of AIP's journals, was amplified without reservation by the
Association of Research Libraries SERIALS PRICES PROJECT REPORT
(1989) and an editorial in SCIENCE by Philip H. Abelson
(1989;244:1125). You can read my review of all the errors in
that study and the circumstances surrounding it in THE SCIENTIST

In other words, you cannot hold up Ginsparg's preprint server
as a model of success and then claim your only interest is
the refereed literature.

Have a nice day,

Albert Henderson

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

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