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    Thursday, December 02, 2004

    Acknowledging Responsibility: From an editorial in today's New England Journal of Medicine (full text requires subscription):

    Knowing that the media are primed and poised to focus on what we publish only increases the responsibilities of medical journals to maintain rigorous peer review and critical examination of how researchers interpret their findings. The media and the public see publication in peer-reviewed journals as validation of the research. Diligent reviewers and careful editors can identify mistakes, provide balance, and restrain overinterpretation. At this journal we go to great lengths to provide accompanying commentary from experts who can offer critical perspective and qualification. We urge the news media to try to do the same. Ironically, physicians tend to blame the journal when the media publicizes and misinterprets a research report.

    Investigators see attention in the media as a valuable professional opportunity, as do their academic institutions, their funding sources (both public and private), and even their specialty societies, not to mention the pharmaceutical and medical-device industries. For private companies, publication and a positive press have cash value, which only further increases the need for peer-reviewed journals to remain critical and for policies such as ours that ensure that editors remain free of financial ties to those whose work they publish. Journals and those who write for them should be judged by the most critical standards of the medical profession, which has a memory that endures long after the flashes in the news media have faded.

    They pat themselves a little too much on the back, but at least it's a start. Here's to the hope that future issues of the Journal will embrace an editorial policy of restraining statistical and rhetorical excesses in the papers they publish. It's not enough to provide accompanying commentary. The media and the public don't read those. They must also actually function as editors to the papers they publish and not fear telling an author, no matter how respected they are, that their analysis is flawed or their claims excessive. Once a paper gets published, it becomes gospel. The time to exercise editorial responsibility is before publication, not after.

    posted by Sydney on 12/02/2004 07:24:00 AM 0 comments


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