In many domains of modern public discourse and opinion, there appears to have arisen willful ignorance of science, and perhaps even worse in many situations, outright hostility to scientific knowledge. This is most visible in government inaction towards a number of looming crises, most notably manmade global warming, but it’s also widely felt in the public health arena with vaccinations, drug addiction and over-utilization of antibiotics. Scientists and physicians remain frustrated and puzzled that obvious scientific arguments can be so baldly dismissed in the public arena, and in the face of such great collective peril. At the core of this modern tragic dilemma seems to lie a fundamental mistrust of science.
During my halcyon college days, long before I knew I would “grow up” to be a surgeon, I was a huge fan of Star Trek. Although the ideas behind warp speed travel and teleportation were mind blowing, I was even more captivated by “Bones” McCoy’s Tricorder. This and other similarly nifty little medical devices could in the hands of the right doctor affect surgical-like cures for most any disease non-invasively and without pain.
Who wouldn’t want to embrace such a future for medicine?
Why do we publish? As the editor-in-chief of a medical journal, I struggle a lot with this question. After more than 200 years, peer-reviewed journals have clearly established themselves as medicine’s best arbitrator of truth. They are, or at least ideally should be, at the center of everything we practice in our clinics. Yet somehow we physicians, even those of us in academia, are blind to many of the important roles that journals serve in medicine today.
It’s that time of the year. As Halloween decorations give way to Thanksgiving and now Christmas ornamentation, I, like many other American academic physicians, am sent an array of end-of-the-year email reminders from hospital and medical school leadership about sundry matters ranging from holiday parties to Press Ganey Scores. However none of these notifications stands out quite like being urged to update my membership with Doximity and thereby ensure my good standing with the social media network.
And what lofty academic or clinical function is being served? None other than the academic medical community’s best effort to get out the faculty vote for Doximity’s upcoming and all-important hospital and departmental yearly reputation scoring – a number which ultimately feeds into the even more important, annual hospital rankings among the US News and World Report.
Yet again the edifices of peer review were shaken by recent retractions in The New England Journal of Medicine and Cochrane Reviews. The article (and another “expression of concern publication”) retracted in the NEJM was authored by a Brigham and Women’s Hospital researcher (an institution of which I am a graduate), Dr. Piero Anversa, who has been implicated in the fraudulent publication of as many as 31 cardiac stem cell articles. Meanwhile, under seeming political pressures from a group of patient activists that decried an analysis entitled: “Exercise as treatment for patients with chronic fatigue syndrome,” deeming it a personal affront to their suffering, the editors of the prestigious Cochrane Reviews decided to withdraw it. The scientist who did the actual review for the journal lodged a bitter complaint about this “editorial” decision; it is hard to miss the irony here of Cochrane Reviews being a supposed impartial arbitrator of medical scientific quality that drives clinical decision-making. Fraudulent scientific results, politics trumping science, what is a reader to believe?
*Co-authored by John R. Adler & Achim Schweikard
Most scientific articles come with some form of data. For Cureus, our data includes medical images, graphics, drawings and tables. Access to such data enables a reader to verify the content and credibility of an article while also better understanding it. Many types of data, provided they are findable via search, can have value to readers independent of the article with which it was originally connected; medical imagery and genetic sequencing information being cases in point. For example, with modern methods of machine learning requiring large data sets for training, journals are a logical repository for such information. Therefore a peer-reviewed article that provides access to data will oftentimes prove much more valuable than that same article without data. Especially for internet-based media with access to large amounts of digital storage space, data sharing between authors and readers would and should become a standard. As an example, instead of showing data for a single representative case in an article, which is typical for traditional journals, we could make data for all cases in this article available to readers. Readers could then download such enhanced data sets directly in electronic format.
The recent announcement that the Chief Medical Officer of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center failed multiple times to report significant financial conflicts of interest in journal articles and letters authored or co-authored by him has justifiably stirred up quite a hornets nest of controversy.
Truth be told, I too am personally quite angry about his glaring oversight, which at its worst, involved opinions communicated broadly to the medical community via the New England Journal of Medicine. As a physician innovator, entrepreneur and scholar I have sought to play by these disclosure rules, which simply mandate transparency, because I think they are the best tools for fairly communicating possible bias to readers.