The push for speed and quantity of publications may threaten the credibility of research reports and bring into question the ethical values
behind the rapid acceleration of new medical journals and their publishing values. An article in the Economist printed on March 25, 2017 stated, “Scientific journals were once a great idea. Now, though, they are slowing progress.” It is an opinion that is increasingly articulated by scientists themselves. But there is no evidence that it is true or that it is the problem. Even as the public now acknowledges the hazards of minimally substantiated rapid communications originating at the highest levels of governance, the concept that speed trumps truth is catching on in the academy with little resistance. Research articles from select researchers and their institutions often receive priority publication of their research results as well as authorship of editorials and communications. Now some foundations are encouraging journals to give priority to articles written by individuals who they support by offering them funds for free distribution of the articles. This may be attractive to journals that need money to continue their publication but adds to the commercializing of medical journals and raises issues of fairness
A solution offered by one of the largest charities in the world, the Gates Foundation, is to have the results of research they support available free by paying the journal Science to do it. This assumes that the intentions of charities are purer than pharmaceutical companies who might also want research they support published freely in prodigious journals. As an editor and reviewer of research articles, I and many of my fellow editors, see the problem differently. Many of us assume that the publication of research is to accurately inform, and in the instance of clinical research, to impact the health and well being of individuals outside the research community. However, what some of us are witnessing is a “march to irrelevance” in clinical research articles submitted for review. Paradoxically, many of the articles are scientifically sound, well-designed, utilize the best biomedical advances, and employ the most sophisticated statistical programs. But the quandary is that too many of the articles are not relevant to the readership of the journals—both for basic and clinical research.
There are additional issues in publishing research studies too quickly or publishing too many. A study conducted by Dumas-Mallet and coworkers from the University of Bordeaux followed 156 biomedical research studies that had been the subject of media articles. They reported that over half of the studies were overturned by subsequent research reports.1,2 In addition, the pharmaceutical company Bayer reported that they could reproduce only 25% of the research studies that had been published. Amgen, another pharmaceutical company, reported that they could confirm only 6 of 53 research studies even after engaging the assistance of some of the original scientists.3,4 The pharmaceutical companies replicated the studies to prevent their following false pathways of drug discovery that would result in failure.
Increasing the number of these articles and making them available more rapidly takes us down the path of more information without being certain what is credible or relevant. There already is a broad concern regarding the reproducible of published research results. If the claim of Ioannidis at Stanford University that most clinical research is false and most not useful is correct, then the risk of trying to fix the wrong target is that it will foster the proliferation of more false and unuseful research but do it more quickly 5
*A letter to the Editor of the Economist commenting on the article “ The findings of medical research are disseminated too slowly” is reproduced below.
From the Economist. Letters to the Editor. April 22, 2017
Arthur Ammann. http://www.economist.com/news/letters/21721117-trade-horses-legal-aid-science-pronouns-united-airlines-letters-editor
* The notion that scientific journals are slowing progress is an opinion that is increasingly articulated by scientists themselves (“Time’s up”, March 25th). As an editor and reviewer of research articles, I see the problem differently. Many of us assume that the publication of research is to inform accurately, and in the instance of clinical research, to improve the health of people. But many clinical-research papers submitted for review are on the march to irrelevance. These articles are scientifically sound, well-designed, utilise the best biomedical advances and employ the most sophisticated statistical programmes. The problem is that too many of them are not relevant to the readership of the journals. If the claim is correct that most clinical research is false and most of it not useful, then the risk of trying to fix the wrong target is that it will foster the proliferation of more false and non-useful research, but do so more quickly.
- Errington TM, Iorns, E., Gunn, W., Tan, F. E., Lomax, J., & Nosek, B. A. . An open investigation of the reproducibility of cancer biology research2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4270077/ (accessed.
- Harris R. Dismal Science. In the Searh for Cures. Wall Street Journal. 2017 April 8-9, 2017.
- Begley CG, Buchan AM, Dirnagl U. Robust research: Institutions must do their part for reproducibility. Nature 2015; 525(7567): 25-7.
- Begley CG, Ellis LM. Drug development: Raise standards for preclinical cancer research. Nature 2012; 483(7391): 531-3.
- Ioannidis JP. Acknowledging and Overcoming Nonreproducibility in Basic and Preclinical Research. Jama 2017.