Online trolls who have wreaked havoc on traditional news sources also are bedeviling scientific and medical publications. Although experts have benefited from much greater access to information about studies and key developments in their field, they’re also struggling to ensure the articles they get on the Internet are accurate, fair, and responsible. This battle over the credibility of information is critical not just to academics in ivy towers. It could affect science, medicine, and the public’s health care. Some recent reports illustrate why.
Let’s start with some Polish researchers’ light-hearted way to lance, in deadly serious fashion, a nasty boil in medical-scientific publication—the viral spread of “predatory” journals. These online outlets have proliferated partly in response to an imperative in academia (including in medical-scientific research) to “publish or perish.” Rising PhDs and even many MDs are under incredible pressure to build their credentials and institutional standing by showing they can get their studies disseminated in professional journals.
But gone are the days when these publications were scarce, based often in elite institutions, and engaged in glacial peer reviews, which often were back-scratching exercises among cadres of medical or scientific good ol’ guys, all familiar with each other dating, perhaps, from their days in prep schools.