2 Sep 2007

Journalology roundup #10

I've built up a bit of a backlog with these snippets. Lord knows how some bloggers manage daily updates!

Should medical journals carry drug advertising?
Yes: Richard Smith (former-Editor of the BMJ). "Major journals like the BMJ have multiple sources of income-subscriptions, classified advertising, non-pharmaceutical advertising, reprints, and sales of articles to other publications. These multiple sources bring independence from each, but at least one is, I believe, much more pernicious than advertising-and that is reprints (sales of large numbers of copies of individual articles)".
No: Gareth Williams. "Editors set high standards for their publications, and contributors who fall short on evidence, honesty, clarity of writing, and professionalism can expect to face the full wrath of peer review. How peculiar that the journals feel able to relax their principles and print, alongside the research papers, material that would not look out of place in a glossy tabloid and that often raises two fingers to evidence based medicine".

Richard Smith's description of the BMJ as an 'open access journal' is slightly inaccurate, given that BMJ Unlocked doesn't allow redistribution and reuse...

The conflict vitae: a CV for the new millennium. "I propose that the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, the American Academy of Continuing Medical Education, and other interested parties endorse a single document with a single set of definitions for disclosure of financial conflicts of interest. This conflict vitae would not be revised for specific presentations or papers, but would simply be updated like an academic curriculum vitae and submitted in its entirety when requested.....Importantly, it would be easy to configure the standardised elements of the conflict vitae into a searchable online database maintained by an independent organisation such as ClinicalTrials.gov. This would facilitate an exciting and novel body of meta-research linking studies and conflicts."
There's a blog post on the topic here.

Going all the way: how Hindawi became an open access publisher. "As the Hindawi Publishing Corporation approaches its tenth anniversary, the author looks back at the history of Hindawi and examines a number of challenges that the company has faced over the past decade. These challenges include the rapid expansion of the company's workforce, the establishment of a standard editorial system for its journals, and the conversion of Hindawi's entire operation to an open access publication model. Although some of Hindawi's characteristics may not be common among other publishers, many of the challenges that Hindawi has faced are the result of recent developments within the scholarly publishing market that have implications for the entire industry".

Preston McAfee Shakes Things Up in Academic Publishing
. "Journal time to publication lags have become embarrassing…. The system is broken. Consequently, Economic Inquiry is starting an experiment. In this experiment, an author can submit under a “no revisions” policy... I (or the co-editor) will either accept or reject. What will not happen is a request for a revision… Authors who receive an acceptance would have the option of publishing without changes. If a referee noticed a minor problem and put it in the report, self-respecting authors would fix the problem. But such fixes would not be a condition of publication".
My tuppence-worth - this sounds a bit like Biology Direct, but retaining the option to reject if flawed - this system should stop the endless cycling that can occur in a review process. It might also make authors tighten up their work before submitting. I wonder though how many authors would subsequently resubmit quite quickly once they'd fixed the problems? Is this to be banned under this system? i.e. is it literally 'one strike and you're out' as far as that journal is concerned? Part of the blame for endless rounds of revision is the authors not knowing when to cut their losses. Any author could instigate this rule by themselves, and some do in order to try to 'game' the peer review process - if they get comments they don't like, they withdraw the manuscript, and try elsewhere in the hope of coming across more lenient reviewers.

The effect of Web 2.0 on the future of medical practice and education: Darwikinian evolution or folksonomic revolution? "[Few] clinicians will probably know about or have used health-related podcasts, blogs or wikis. Even fewer will know about collabularies, folksonomies, and mashups. In short, most will not be aware of the emergence of “Web 2.0”... The term Web 2.0 does not refer to new technical standards, but to new ways of using the Internet as a platform for interactive applications. A distinguishing characteristic of Web 2.0 is the concept of online social networking — the use of Internet technologies to create value through mass user participation. These technologies are characterised by constant development and enrichment (evolution) as a result of user interaction (the so-called perpetual beta). Those who use these services assist with their development and are part of the “collective intelligence” which is harnessed to make the services better and more responsive. Web 2.0 phenomena that are particularly relevant to the dissemination of medical information include blogs, wikis and podcasts (or their visual equivalent, vodcasts)".

Thomas Stossel argues in two articles against the current obsession with COI disclosure:
Conflicts of Interest in Dermatology: More than Skin Deep? The monies that industry contributes to education and research mean more of these activities take place. If dermatologists cannot sort out promotion from substance, it is the fault of their character, their training programs, or both—not of companies.
Divergent Views on Managing Clinical Conflicts of Interest. "Lacking data—the essence of rigor and evidence-based medicine—commentators turn to conjecture and taste. Commercial involvement “might” detract from patient care (which is always possible), for which reason such involvement is inherently distasteful, and therefore its mere “appearance” deserves censure and prohibition. Rules based on the possibility of harm are fine as long as the rules themselves are not harmful. But these rules are harmful, and proposing to preserve rigor and evidence-based medicine by regulating subjective appearances violates that which is to be preserved".
And here are two replies to him:
Full Disclosure—Nothing Less Will Do. "The question remains as to whether COI is a problem in dermatology. I cannot think of any logical reason why those of us in dermatology should be exempt from human nature. Money makes the world go round, and the sums of money involved in drug-company research are vast".
Divergent Views on Managing Clinical Conflicts of Interest—Reply. "Dr Stossel’s recent statement in an article in The Wall Street Journal resonates with us too: “If a physician can be influenced into prescribing certain drugs just because he had pizza with a pharmaceutical guy, then it’s the fault of his training and not the drug company.” However, there is a fundamental and strategic difference between Dr Stossel’s approach and the one reached by broad consensus at Mayo Clinic. Dr Stossel favors empowering staff and students to report un-warranted claims in marketing, to interrogate offending companies, and to inflict severe punishments for severe misbehavior. Mayo Clinic has adopted a more proactive approach, developing policies that encourage recognition and management of COIs in leadership, research, purchasing, and clinical practice activities, thereby avoiding the need for punitive consequences which by definition occur after the damage is done".

Human-subjects research: Trial and error. "The ethics committees that oversee research done in humans have been attacked from all sides. Heidi Ledford recounts the struggle to come up with alternatives".

WHO database to include drug trials in China and India. "Researchers, funders, and patients will soon be able to find out which clinical trials are being held in China and India, the World Health Organization announced".

Compete, collaborate, compel. "Procedures for microattribution need to be established by journals and databases so that data producers have an overwhelming incentive to deposit their results in public databases and thereby to receive quantitative credit for the use of every published data accession"

Post-publication review could aid skills and quality. Journals could institute periodic post-publication review, in which the journal would solicit formal review of the article, focusing on how well its methods and results have held up, given the research that has been published in the intervening period... Young scientists participating in journal clubs could be asked to derive and post a consensus comment on the article under discussion.

Former UPenn postdoc faked images. "A University of Pennsylvania postdoc extensively manipulated data in three published papers according to an Office of Research Integrity (ORI) announcement released last month".

Yale and BioMed Central. Yale have not renewed their BMC membership. Their reasoning is that the costs to the library of article processing charges for Yale authors have risen, and thus our business model is allegedly unsustainable.
Two quick points:

1. Costs of article-processing charges scale with the number of articles published, which will scale with research funding. This is inherently sustainable!
2. Traditional publishing costs have also risen - they really are unsustainable.
Here are some links about this story:
Yale announcement.
Matt Cockerill's response on the BMC blog.
The Scientist's story (ouch).
Bill Hooker's blog (thanks Bill!).

Academic accused of living on borrowed lines. "A shockwave could be about to hit the normally tranquil waters of social science. A German economist, specializing in environmental science and technology, has allegedly committed serial plagiarism and invented academic affiliations going back decades. The case should act as a warning sign to editors about how widespread plagiarism and deception may be".

Why review? Good reviewers underpin the quality of a journal. At Nature Medicine, what do we seek in our reviewers? And how do we retain the best in the face of the plethora of requests from an increasing number of journals?

Selling the self-evident. 'press releases about self-evident findings, and the news stories they engender, can be comforting to the public, since they give people faith in their knowledge of the world. "You think the whole point of news is that it's supposed to be something new or exciting, but the obvious findings remove the alien and difficult side of science that people often see."'

Statistically significant papers in psychiatry were cited more often than others. Authors cite studies based on their P-value rather than intrinsic scientific merit. This practice skews the research evidence.

OReFiL: an online resource finder for life sciences. "We developed OReFiL, a search system for online life science resources, which is freely available. The system's distinctive features include the ability to return up-to-date query-relevant online resources introduced in peer-reviewed papers; the ability to search using free words, MeSH terms, or author names; easy verification of each hit following links to the corresponding PubMed entry or to papers citing the URL through the search systems of BioMed Central, Scirus, HighWire Press, or Google Scholar; and quick confirmation of the existence of an online resource web page". This is cool! Enter search terms, and it finds software tools and databases that match those terms!

Authors' financial interests should be made known to manuscript reviewers. Yup. We do this on our medical journals, and we'll be doing it on the biology ones too.

Words, words, words
. "Wilcken et al. refer to two observations on the use of tamoxifen changing clinical practice, “and thousands of lives were potentially saved”. Are we fooling ourselves? Surely it is more accurate to say, in the situation of breast cancer in lives already well advanced, that thousands of deaths were postponed? ... Could we leave “lives saved” to the populist sensationalist media, and only use it in medicine for interventions in trauma, and possibly infection, in young people whose life expectancy is otherwise so good that their life has been truly “saved”?"

Neuroscientist censured for misconduct. "Researcher falsified data while a postdoc at Dartmouth, according to ORI".

Scientific publishing stagnates in the US. "US scientists and engineers have not increased the rate at which they publish papers in peer-reviewed journals since the 1990s despite rising research and development funding, reports the National Scientific Foundation (NSF). Meanwhile, the total number of papers published across Asian nations and the European Union has increased".

The Coming Revolution in Scholarly Communications & Cyberinfrastructure. "That's the title for the collection of essays in the most recent CTWatch Quarterly v3i3. There's an incredible array of essays on the future of scholarly publishing, all of them very interesting and worthwhile (I've not read all of the essays yet, but I will). Authors include such notables as Clifford Lynch, Paul Ginsparg, Timo Hannay, Stevan Harnad, Peter Suber and others. This is must-read stuff for everybody in science and libraries as changes to the way scholarship is published will affect virtually everything we do".

Web sites and publishers plan video offerings, but will researchers embrace the new medium? Ten months after the launch of the first life sciences video journal, scientists are cautiously embracing online video to provide detailed demonstrations of experimental protocols or explanations of results. But so far, Web sites offering such videos get few visitors compared to journals and other online resources.

And finally...

The first article from JORASS. An Investigation Into Whether The Prices Charged for the Same Item by the Staff at the University Refectory Fluctuate More Wildly Than The Stock Market. It has been noticed by many that the prices charged for like items on a day to day basis at the university refectory can fluctuate dramatically. This study investigates those pricing fluctuations and compares them over a one week period to the variation displayed in the stock markets of the UK, Japan and the United States.

Sample Cover Letter for Journal Manuscript Resubmissions. Enclosed is our latest version of Ms # 85-02-22-RRRRR, that is, the re-re-re-revised revision of our paper. Choke on it. We have again rewritten the entire manuscript from start to finish. We even changed the goddamn running head! Hopefully we have suffered enough by now to satisfy even you and your bloodthirsty reviewers.

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