One of the really interesting trends in science that has been emerging over the past few years is the move toward online and open access publications. Access to scientific journals is incredibly expensive, and can chew up a large chunk of a universities’ budget very quickly. The idea behind many of these journals is that access to the journal is free to anyone, but that the universities pay for their researchers to publish.
On the face of it, it seems a nice step toward science being more accessible to everyone. However, the potential for a conflict of interest is obvious. Rather than peer review being used to ensure that only the highest quality science is published, there is a risk that these journals will publish anything in order to ensure their bottom line is protected.
This risk has now been tested, and the results are in. A paper in the October issue of “Science” (one of the most highly regarded journal in the world) tested whether or not online journals were maintaining the high standards of their more traditional counterparts.
A dummy paper was invented with fake data, two serious methodological flaws, and conclusions that did not stem from the data presented. The study in question looked purported to look at a particular new molecule and how it had cancer-fighting properties.
304 version of the paper were submitted to various online journals in the field of science, medicine, cancer and immunology. 157 accepted the article for publication, 98 rejected it, and the remainder was two slow with their response to be included in analysis.
Everyone is in favor of open access, and making science more available to everyone. But until the current situation improves, clinicians and researchers in all medical and allied health fields need to be very careful that the evidence base they are relying on has not been compromised.