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Journals: an antiquated medium?

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No one likes sharing bad news,but that's exactly what the BMJ says is necessary to improve medicine.  They call the reluctance to publish data fromunsuccessful clinical trials "a threat to the integrity of evidence basedmedicine" and a breach of "ethical duty to trial participants".  They pull no punches then, but why is it sucha contentious issue?

You'd think that in the digitalage disseminating information would be an easy task, a simple matter of settingup a website.  But as every student whohits the frustrating ‘pay wall' on a journals website knows, that isn't the wayaccess to scientific studies works.

Instead we have what seems an antiquatedjournal based system.  The majority ofcompanies which form it charge exorbitant fees for access.  There's an interesting article on theacademic publishing industry here.

Academic publishing was at firsta non-profit enterprise.  But commercialpublishers recognised the industries unusual business model could be exploited.  Academics need, and in some cases aredesperate for, journals to publish their work. They therefore provide their work for free or at nominal cost.  As journals are the predominate method ofdisseminating scientific information, academic institutions cannot functionwithout them.

This combination of free contentand, more importantly, captive buyers has led to relentlessly increasingprices.  The academic publishing industryhas the highest profit margin of any other, at 53.1%.  Can publishers justify this?  A report by Deutsche Bank argues not statingthat "the publisher adds relatively little value to the publishing process" andthat "if the process really were as complex, costly and value-added as thepublishers protest that it is, 40% margins wouldn't be available".

The non-reporting of unsuccessfulclinical trials is partly, along with many other reasons, a consequence of the current system which has tojustify the price charged by only providing ‘interesting' content.  The difficulty in accessing scientific work behindpay walls is no doubt hindering the advance of science.  It's also diverting scarce academic resourceswhich could be better used elsewhere. Surely there's a better way?

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