Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Reblog] Last week “clinical trial system broken”; this week “luxury journals distort/damage science”

From the 10 December 2013 post 

In the BMJ recently:

“The clinical trial system is broken and it’s getting worse, according to longstanding Food and Drug Administration investigator, Thomas Marciniak. …

“Drug companies have turned into marketing machines. They’ve kind of lost sight of the fact that they’re actually doing something which involves your health,” Marciniak says. “You’ve got to take away the key components of the trials from drug companies.”

Now, in The Guardian, Nobel Prize winner Randy Schekman writes, “How journals like Nature, Cell and Science are damaging science: The incentives offered by top journals distort science.” Excerpt:

“These luxury journals are supposed to be the epitome of quality, publishing only the best research. Because funding and appointment panels often use place of publication as a proxy for quality of science, appearing in these titles often leads to grants and professorships. But the big journals’ reputations are only partly warranted. While they publish many outstanding papers, they do not publish only outstanding papers. Neither are they the only publishers of outstanding research.

These journals aggressively curate their brands, in ways more conducive to selling subscriptions than to stimulating the most important research.”

And he goes on to state that he will avoid such journals in the future.

“Like many successful researchers, I have published in the big brands, including the papers that won me the Nobel prize for medicine, which I will be honoured to collect tomorrow.. But no longer. I have now committed my lab to avoiding luxury journals, and I encourage others to do likewise.”

Note:  in case you missed it, yesterday I linked to Dr. Richard Lehman’s BMJ journal review blog, in which he wrote:

“The Lancet is a very odd journal, in case you hadn’t noticed. Some weeks it contains pharma-funded phase 2 trials of astounding clinical irrelevance.”

One of my boilerplate slides in talks I give to journalists is the following, cautioning them not to treat journal publications as if they were Moses bringing the stone tablets from the mountaintop to the people.

Addendum on December 11:  The Retraction Watch blog states that Schekman’s “argument isn’t airtight” and that “the picture may be a bit more complicated than his Guardian piece let on.”  Excerpt:

“…just how many retractions have these journals had? And how does that compare to the number in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) while one Randy Schekman was editor? Here’s the 2006-2011 data, analyzed according to Ferric Fang and Arturo Casadevall’s Retraction Index, which calculates the rate of retraction per 1,000 papers published:




Retraction Index

Impact Factor





















So yes, PNAS had a lower Retraction Index than the other journals, but not really that much lower than Nature. Put another way, however, PNAS retracted 23 papers from 2006 to 2011, while Cell, Nature, and Science retracted 28. And perhaps even more important, there were 1,300 retractions in journals other than those four.

“Wait,” you’re saying, “are more retractions really a bad thing? Didn’t you just publish a post about a study that said the opposite?” Well yes, yes we did. But Schekman is suggesting retractions are a mark against a journal, which we think makes PNAS’s record of retractions fair game.”




December 16, 2013 - Posted by | health care | , , , , ,

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