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Journals: an antiquated medium?

Blogs are not edited by PJ staff*. The opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of The Pharmaceutical Journal.

*Blog pieces that have previously been printed in the PJ and Clinical Pharmacist are edited.

By Ranveer Bassey
10 Jan 2012

No one likes sharing bad news, but that's exactly what the BMJ says is necessary to improve medicine.  They call the reluctance to publish data from unsuccessful clinical trials "a threat to the integrity of evidence based medicine" and a breach of "ethical duty to trial participants".  They pull no punches then, but why is it such a contentious issue?

You'd think that in the digital age disseminating information would be an easy task, a simple matter of setting up a website.  But as every student who hits the frustrating ‘pay wall' on a journals website knows, that isn't the way access to scientific studies works.

Instead we have what seems an antiquated journal based system.  The majority of companies which form it charge exorbitant fees for access.  There's an interesting article on the academic publishing industry here.

Academic publishing was at first a non-profit enterprise.  But commercial publishers recognised the industries unusual business model could be exploited.  Academics need, and in some cases are desperate for, journals to publish their work.  They therefore provide their work for free or at nominal cost.  As journals are the predominate method of disseminating scientific information, academic institutions cannot function without them.

This combination of free content and, more importantly, captive buyers has led to relentlessly increasing prices.  The academic publishing industry has the highest profit margin of any other, at 53.1%.  Can publishers justify this?  A report by Deutsche Bank argues not stating that "the publisher adds relatively little value to the publishing process" and that "if the process really were as complex, costly and value-added as the publishers protest that it is, 40% margins wouldn't be available".

The non-reporting of unsuccessful clinical trials is partly, along with many other reasons, a consequence of the current system which has to justify the price charged by only providing ‘interesting' content.  The difficulty in accessing scientific work behind pay walls is no doubt hindering the advance of science.  It's also diverting scarce academic resources which could be better used elsewhere.  Surely there's a better way?

Further information

Excellent blog. This was an issue reported by the Guardian today:

And something blogged about by a Professor at Cardiff University:

"Academics write the papers, do the refereeing and provide the editorial oversight for free and we then buy back the product of our labours at an astronomical price."

Unpublished data

This is a really interesting topic for me and very painful.

For a start in Sahaja Yoga we struggle to find places that will publish our material,the newspapers have a problem as the guru Shri Mataji pointed out.

In my schizophrenia I found real difficulty speaking to doctors and others about issues of vulnerability to the sound of coughing and traffic and feelings of guilt.Fine,I accept there is a reticence to open out on embarrassing subjects that one can feel ashamed of,but it is hard.

As Shri Mataji said,"If you see your countrymen treating a leper badly,you should do something about it and gather doctors and nurses and social workers around."

When I finally managed to speak out on my schizophrenia it felt like a release for a soul long suppressed.In 2003 I was "highly commended" for courage by the Beacon Fellowship Trust for writing some articles on my schizophrenia and for spreading Sahaja Yoga.