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 While they publish many outstanding papers, they do not publish only outstanding papers.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 | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Open science: change is coming to how scientists communicate research findings

English: Open Access logo and text

Image via WikipediaAuthor - art designer at PLoS, I converted a pdf into svg

How Scientists Communicate Affects How Research Results Are Applied …as FDA approved drugs, nutrition values, violence prevention, and climate change models

Past blog postings (see below) here have often touched on the difficulties of  obtaining recent scientific and medical findings in original biomedical articles.  Most of these research articles are only found in journals that charge high annual subscription rates ($600.00/ year and up) or an access fee of about $20.00 per article.

Not only is this pricing arrangement making it difficult for scientists to get needed information, but it is becoming nearly impossible for even university and research libraries to buy subscription to the journals their customers want. Additionally article authors must pay publication fees to the journals which range from $1,000  to $5,000 per article.

Most stakeholders (researchers, librarians, publishing companies) believe that the relatively high costs of publishing articles is a major flaw of the current publishing system. These publishing costs used to be born by the researcher in centuries past and were relatively cheap and involved much fewer scientists in tight knit groups. But with the sheer numbers of those wanting information, the many biomedical specialities, and the sophistication of article content (images, videos, and audios), the cost per article has dramatically risen.

Some related statistics (from the posting How many science journals at Science Intelligence and InfoPros)

  • Estimation: <> 25-40,000 journals
  • 96% are published online
  • 8-10% are published under Open Access models
  • 20% of science articles are available free of charge
  • How many articles have been published ever (means since 1665)? est. 50 millions
  • Growth: 1.4 million of articles per year
  • There are 2,000 publishers but Top 3 (Elsevier, Springer, Wiley)  account for 42% of articles published

The open science model is one initiative which may reduce costs and increase readership. This approach may well also drastically reduce the time from article completion by the scientist to article publication. It is currently not uncommon for an article in a peer reviewed journal to take up to  1 1/2 years to be published after submission.

In a recent New York Times article (Cracking Open the Scientific Process), the conservative culture of science is outlined, as well as the plausibility of using social media as vehicles of communicating research results. The article also summarizes another fear of scientists. While social media is a less costly and speedier way to communicate research approaches and results, it currently lacks the quality control and trustability of the peer review process in selecting and editing articles for publication.

While Open Science overwhelmingly is geared for  scientist participation only, the way scientists communicate does ultimately affect the application of research. Examples in consumer health  include the drugs we take, the way treatments are prescribed, and the make up of a well balanced diet.  Current questions about the Open Science model include how wise is the scientific equivalent of crowdsourcing? and who will pay for the costs involved and how much?

Some excerpts from the article

The system is hidebound, expensive and elitist, they say. Peer review can take months, journal subscriptions can be prohibitively costly, and a handful of gatekeepers limit the flow of information. It is an ideal system for sharing knowledge, said the quantum physicist Michael Nielsen, only “if you’re stuck with 17th-century technology.”

Dr. Nielsen and other advocates for “open science” say science can accomplish much more, much faster, in an environment of friction-free collaboration over the Internet. And despite a host of obstacles, including the skepticism of many established scientists, their ideas are gaining traction.

Open-access archives and journals like arXiv and thePublic Library of Science (PLoS) have sprung up in recent years. GalaxyZoo, a citizen-science site, has classified millions of objects in space, discovering characteristics that have led to a raft of scientific papers….

…a social networking site called ResearchGate — where scientists can answer one another’s questions, share papers and find collaborators — is rapidly gaining popularity…

ScienceOnline2012  …On Thursday [January 19] , 450 bloggers, journalists, students, scientists, librarians and programmers will converge on North Carolina State University (and thousands more will join in online) for the sixth annual ScienceOnline conference. Science is moving to a collaborative model, said Bora Zivkovic, a chronobiology blogger who is a founder of the conference, “because it works better in the current ecosystem, in the Web-connected world.”…

ResearchGate…[The Research Gate] Web site is a sort of mash-up of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, with profile pages, comments, groups, job listings, and “like” and “follow” buttons (but without baby photos, cat videos and thinly veiled self-praise). Only scientists are invited to pose and answer questions — a rule that should not be hard to enforce, with discussion threads about topics like polymerase chain reactions that only a scientist could love….

Related past postings at Health and Medical News…

January 21, 2012 Posted by | Biomedical Research Resources | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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