Are journals losing their credibility?

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Medical journals have taken a lot of flack lately, from the NEJM's handling of Vioxx to questions about drug company influence on editorial content and accusations of politicking. Are journals in danger of losing their credibility with doctors?

Cam Bishop
President & CEO
Ascend Media

In a word, no. Controversy and extremes have, since the advent of newspapers, captured the headlines. But just as the consumer press reports on extremes, the exceptions have dominated the news in the medical media. I work with editors and journalists representing our company's 27 medical publications, and have worked with many more in my 30 years in publishing. My experience with these professionals is that they are exactly that—professional. They are passionate about their work and the educational mission they serve. They place great value and personal pride on creating a credible and essential publication. A number of friends are doctors, and they all state that they use medical media on a regular, if not daily, basis. Their opinion is validated in AMP/ABM's recent study (MM&M, October 2005, April 2006) on the value of medical journals.

Mike Tansey
Jobson Medical Information

Recent reports of inaccuracies are largely exaggerated and do not reflect the reality of the integrity of journals. More than a million scientific journal articles are published each year, and they represent the core mechanism for scientific communication. Journal publishing has evolved over hundreds of years and is unequaled in delivering validated information with exceptional peer-based controls. While the peer-review process prevents publication of fraudulent results, the occurrence of fraud is extremely rare. As can be seen in the case of Hwang Woo-suk's human cloning fraud, the impact of detection is career-ending and it is almost always detected. A bigger threat to journals than their integrity is their share of a physician's attention. There is a growing desire among physicians to have evidence-based information delivered in a curated format rather than as the raw data of clinical trials.

Robert Edsall
Editorial director, American
Academy of Family Physicians

I doubt it. Many physicians are rightly concerned about the potential for drug-company influence on research. But they recognize that this is just one of many sources of potential bias and error, and they know that science is not a source of truth but a continuing and probably endless evolution of our understanding of the world. They are sophisticated enough to understand that researchers, peer reviewers and editors, while generally dedicated and well-intentioned, are only human. Similarly, they know that peer review and editing, while the best mechanism we've come up with, is no more a guarantee of truth than anything else in science. If revelations of bias or error shake anyone's faith, it will be that of the hypothetical lay reader who believes implicitly in the latest study because of some naïve or cynically oversimplified newspaper story. That reader's faith needs a little shaking.

R. Steve Morris
Executive vice president
Advanstar Life Sciences

No. Media always seems to attack itself, especially where there are vested interests. (Consumer media and many academic institutions want to replace journals as a source of quality information). Journals are partners with the whole life science profession in keeping up with science, while institutions, such as government and much of academia, have core constraints holding them to older processes. An independent press has always been faster to adapt to market and scientific change because of its freedom to change focus and re-invent its audience. Over time, those publications that squander their credibility lose reader share and an economic platform. We do not see this changing, just intensifying, especially with Web delivery systems enabling even faster response

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