Re: Medical journals are dead. Long live medical journals

From: Albert Henderson <NobleStation_at_COMPUSERVE.COM>
Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2000 10:10:33 -0500

re: the Information Exchange Groups experiment

E A Confrey promised a full report of the IEG
experiment based on evaluations by each member.
It never came. (Perhaps Confrey was too busy
circulating his resume.) In spite of searches by
NIH and NTIS librarians, no such report could be

Confrey's brave claim of success is inconsistent
with NIH dropping what should have been a popular
program -- the toll-free circulation of research
-- at a time when research funding was on its way
up. That fact should indicate that the project was
not a success in the eyes of anyone but its mentors.
If the research mainstream wanted the service, it
would be with us today.

IEG was never a threat to any journal, since it
offered only unreviewed drafts. Authors compete to
be recognized via journal publication. Anything
worth while is submitted to an editor.

I would like to make clear that the main reason
given by medical journals for denying consideration
to reports released prematurely is the danger to
public safety inherent in "findings" that have not
been thoroughly vetted.

In spite of its name, the IEG offered little in
the way of exchange. Papers were mimeographed and
mailed, rapidly stuffing mailboxes with
unreliable material of infrequent interest.

Real exchanges occur in meetings convened by
research sponsors, associations, etc. Even papers
that are rejected by journals include experts'

Clearly, before (before the Royal Society) and
after IEG, researchers and research groups
circulated informal communications, meeting
abstracts, letters, conference papers, etc.
Much such material never finds its way into the
formal literature -- nor should it. For reasons
that are difficult to justify, lots of
"research" lacks an intellectual foundation, is
poorly conceived, badly executed, and turgidly
written. Price points out that most authors are
responsible for only one or two "published"
papers in their lifetime. The most successful
researchers are prolific.

Citation of unrefereed material would not be a
problem if readers could find the originals. The
failure here is of universities that don't allow
their libraries to acquire and catalog the entire
output of billions of dollars of research. I also
blame science agencies that pay less attention to
the libraries used by their researchers than they
pay to the library overhead reimbursement rate.

The personal libraries of researchers, which
include both formal and informal publications, are
where the real action is. Researchers use libraries
more than ever, of course, as a source for
photocopies and reference services. When a
researcher retires, his/her personal library is
trashed because libraries cannot afford to catalog
such material.

The main challenge of the literature is to evaluate
the work reported. Formal publication is only the
beginning of the evaluation process. Researchers
have called for more reviews, rather than more
preprints, for the last half-century.

Albert Henderson

-------------Forwarded Message-----------------

Date: 3/3/00 5:28 PM

RE: Re: Medical journals are dead. Long live medical journals

I've tried to obtain a copy of the paper by David Green, referred to by
Steve Hitchcock. I've been unsuccessful so far, but I did find a review by
Anne B. Piterick (Attempt to find alternatives to the scientific journal: a
brief review, The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 1989; 15(5): 269-266).
She comments that the IEG experiment was "virtually killed when it appeared
to threaten formal publication". even though "it was agreed to cite them
[preprints] as 'personal communications' and it was expected that formal
publication in refereed journals would follow. (In most cases, it did)". Her
reference list includes a citation of the paper by Green.

I've also looked at several letters published in Science in 1966, including
a very interesting series of evaluations of IEGs in Science 1966; 154:
332-336 (21 October), and the letter by Eugene Confrey in Science 1966; 154:
843 (18 November).

Confrey (of NIH) provided two main reasons why the IEG experiment was
'discontinued': 1) "the original purpose of the experiemnt has been
achieved"; and, 2) "the rapid growth of IEG in the last two years has now
reached the threshold limit for the NIH facilites to accomodate". Confrey
went on to suggest some lessons that were learned from the IEG experiment,
such as: "The [information exchange] group should be kept as small as
possible by the choice of scope of the phenomenon or problem encompassed",
and, "The area chosen should be characterized by a high energy of scientific

There's no mention in the Confrey letter about concerns that the IEG
experiment might threaten formal publication. Instead, Confrey wrote:
"Under suitable control, an IEG could serve as an adjunct system to
complement existing journals and periodicals in critical areas determined by
responsible officials of a society, or an organized group of the scientific

However the 'threat' is described, a key word seems to be 'control'!

--Jim Till

On Tue, 29 Feb 2000 15:22:46 +0000, Steve Hitchcock <sh94r_at_ECS.SOTON.AC.UK>
wrote [in part]:

>At 08:23 AM 2/29/00 -0500, Albert Henderson wrote:
>>Actually, the National Institutes of Health sponsored preprint
>>distribution in the 1960s, much like one in high energy physics
>>funded by the Atomic Energy Commission and run by the American
>>Institute of Physics. As described above, it involved paper
>>copies sent by mail and was not available to the general public.
>>The "Information Exchange Groups" (IEG) experiment went down in
>>flames amidst complaints about the deteriorating quality of its
>>content. See P H Abelson (SCIENCE 1966;154:727) or E A Confrey
>>(SCIENCE 1966;154:843) for some details.
>Or see Green, Death of an experiment, International Science and Technology,
>May 1967, 82-88.
>I can't instantly retrieve the Science articles cited above so I'm
>guessing, but I suspect Green has a different point of view.
>"The editors of five biomedical journals met and agreed to refuse
>publication of any manuscript previously circulated via IEG. This
>unaccountable decision turned out to be lethal to the IEG."
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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