Right now it is impossible to ignore the financial markets panicking, the breathless coverage by news media, the fearful buying at Costcos everywhere, and so many friends and family now worried about the emerging Covid-19 pandemic. Predictions of what might come next raise the specter of an historic pandemic that could literally kill millions or dare I say tens of millions before it runs its course. We are clearly living in an “interesting” time.
Double-blind and single-blind processes continue to dominate academic peer review. Too often this results in a ‘black box’ – a system without sufficient transparency for authors, readers and reviewers alike. Hopefully one day fully transparent (and even public) peer review will come to be seen as acceptable throughout the world of academic publishing. For now we must take small steps to break down this barrier, just as Cureus works to break down barriers to publication.
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?