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.
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.
We are delighted to announce that Cureus Founder and Editor-in-Chief Dr. John Adler was presented with the American Association of Neurological Surgeons’ Cushing Award for Technical Excellence and Innovation in Neurosurgery!
Presented at the 2018 AANS annual meeting in New Orleans on Monday April 30th, the Cushing Award could well be considered the Nobel Prize for Neurosurgery. The award was established in 2013 to honor innovation, skill and technical prowess in the development of new procedures which have become part of the arsenal neurosurgeons use to treat disease or trauma. John’s formative role in founding Cureus, “a disruptive platform for creating and sharing medical knowledge” was cited during the award presentation. Here at Cureus we are proud to call John our leader as his lifetime of professional accomplishments, including the creation of Cureus, led him to this point.
Founded by Harvey Cushing, after which the award is named, the 2018 AANS Annual Scientific Meeting is attended by neurosurgeons, neurosurgical residents, medical students, neuroscience nurses, clinical specialists, physician assistants, allied health professionals and other medical professionals, the AANS Annual Scientific Meeting is the largest gathering of neurosurgeons in the nation, with an emphasis on the field’s latest research and technological advances.
A friend and colleague referred me to a recent publication that represents a major indictment of the peer-reviewed journal cartel.
This article summarizes a blog published by what is arguably a Cureus competitor, the open access-publishing house, Frontiers, which in this study could find no correlation between rates of rejection and journal impact factor.
Just for argument’s sake, let’s assume that impact factor does correlate with scientific quality. So if this study is correct, it means by extension that the rate of rejection also doesn’t correlate with quality. In turn this means that the standard peer review process (which totally dominates the journal industry) has no bearing on article quality. In other words, getting published, or not, appears to be a random event.
Accepting this fact (parenthetically one which I already subscribe to) means that despite all the process and rituals of scientific journal publishing, and the huge importance of this matter to society and academic tenure decisions, there is currently no objective index for assessing research article quality. Of course if one believes that impact factor is not a measure of quality, then the above random publication process is even more random than I implied in my argument! Based on this observation, I would like to sarcastically suggest we should rename this current process “scholarly roulette.”
Clearly there are huge shortcomings to the Frontiers study, such as selection bias and the non-medical nature of many scholarly journals. However, to a huge research community that has invested so much of their lives into the existing peer review process these type of findings must be dispiriting. Nevertheless, this current set of observations does resonate with our philosophy at Cureus, where we subscribe to the belief that as long as the medical science within is credible, there is no reason not to publish an article. In other words, we believe that we are, on average, no better equipped to discern quality than any other journal.
A big part of our confidence stems from Cureus’ unique post-publication SIQ scoring system. Although we are no smarter in finding scientific quality up front, we do believe that it is quite possible for the medical community-at-large to find quality over time, post publication. Nevertheless, to make this a reality, every reader has a role to play, which of course includes you!