Radical journal gathers support

The scientific community appears to be fighting to convince Elsevier to continue to publish its only non-peer-reviewed journal, after the publisher began to linkurl:consider installing a traditional peer review system;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/57121/ when the journal published a controversial paper supporting the arguments of AIDS deniers. Image: flicker/linkurl:meviola;http://www.flickr.com/photos/69659670@N00/ Despite the uproar that article created, the editor-in-chief of lin

By | February 26, 2010

The scientific community appears to be fighting to convince Elsevier to continue to publish its only non-peer-reviewed journal, after the publisher began to linkurl:consider installing a traditional peer review system;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/57121/ when the journal published a controversial paper supporting the arguments of AIDS deniers.
Image: flicker/linkurl:meviola;http://www.flickr.com/photos/69659670@N00/
Despite the uproar that article created, the editor-in-chief of linkurl:Medical Hypotheses;http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/journaldescription.cws_home/623059/description has received more than 150 letters of support for the journal's non-traditional publishing model, in which papers are chosen by the editor-in-chief, linkurl:Bruce Charlton.;http://www.buckingham.ac.uk/publicity/dofe/charlton.html "Medical Hypotheses has become an important vehicle for publishing exciting new ideas and information that is helping to shape the directions of medical research," linkurl:wrote;http://medicalhypotheses.blogspot.com/2010/02/medical-hypotheses-authors-letters-of.html linkurl:Paul W. Sherman;http://www.nbb.cornell.edu/sherman.shtml of Cornell University in New York. "Cancelling the journal, or massively altering its focus and editorial policies, would potentially deprive both the medical and biological communities of their only existing forum for interaction." Charlton, who has forwarded the majority of the letters on to Elsevier, is vying to keep the journal in its current form or have it discontinued altogether and not transformed into "an imposter having the same name," he wrote in an email to The Scientist. "I found it inspiring to realize that so many would take the trouble to write, and often at length," Charlton wrote. "These letters strongly reinforced my conviction that Medical Hypotheses, in its 35 years, has been a very worthwhile journal; one whose existence has made a significant and positive difference to the work of many scientists and scholars." The journal's editorial board also recently wrote to the publisher saying it did not approve of the proposals to introduce a peer-review system and exclude papers on controversial topics, linkurl:the Times Higher Education reported.;http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=410489 Elsevier has not yet responded to the letter, Tom Reller, director of Corporate Relations at Elsevier, wrote in an email to The Scientist, and the fate of the journal is still undecided.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Radical journal's fate at risk;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/57121/
[27th January 2010]*linkurl:Elsevier published 6 fake journals;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55679/
[7th May 2009]*linkurl:Journal plays with peer review;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55394/
[3rd February 2009]*linkurl:Tackling peer review bias;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/54893/
[28th July 2008]


Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 3

February 26, 2010

Let us not stamp out controversy in the name of political correctness. We, the viewers can sift thru the detritus for the morsel of value that might otherwise remain unknown.
Avatar of: Jamie Cunliffe

Jamie Cunliffe

Posts: 2

March 1, 2010

Charles Darwin had views relevant to this subject: "False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often endure long; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for everyone takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness." Peer review of consolidative science is probably very much justified - we don?t want to disseminate false facts, do we? However, heresy is the bedrock of major conceptual advances. ?It is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions" (T.H. Huxley) and ?All great truths begin as blasphemies? (George Bernard Shaw). Nowhere, to my knowledge, is there another journal that is prepared to publish articles that do not conform to what Thomas Kuhn referred to as "normal science". We must accept that the larger proportion of ?big? challenges will ultimately fail just to ensure that we catch the few important ones. My own articles (not yet classified into successful or failed) would almost certainly never have reached the printed word had they been vetted by "authoritative" peer review (search +Cunliffe +Morphostasis). Up till now peer review has NOT been practiced by Medical Hypotheses. My three pilot articles on morphostasis in Medical Hypotheses have led on to three recent articles in the Scandinavian Journal of Immunology. It seems clear to me that a large section of "normal-immunology science" wishes to continue cold shouldering these ideas (check the citations). If the emerging explosion of interest in "tissue homeostasis" is a yardstick, then this traditionalist denial is set to backfire. My ultimate heresy, of course, was to point out that there may be no such thing as a dedicated bug hunting and killing (immune) system - it is all driven largely by tissue homeostasis with phagocytes simply doing what they have traditionally done since being free living amoebocytes ? eat bacteria and biological debris for sustenance. Perhaps my seven published articles ARE just nonsense (even non-science) but the odds are shortening against that view now. What is fact is that, without Medical Hypotheses, they would probably never have seen the black and white of published print. It is interesting that Elsevier are behind this move to normalise the journal by traditional peer review. How often do you find free review articles in one of their journals? Even articles 30-40 years old are still priced as if new: I don?t remember finding many exceptions to this rule. Traditional profit making is the driving force of this organisation and maintaining the status quo is in their best interest. For a long time I have thought that Medical Hypotheses should be, as far as is possible, a free or ? at least ? very low cost access journal. Come on Elsevier ? rise to this challenge and prove your ethics extend beyond your profiteering. Do something valuable for science instead of your shareholders.


Posts: 69

March 2, 2010

I have seen interesting, indifferent and even bad papers in Medical Hypotheses (MH) over years. But then, so have we all in most journals including Nature. Since many people are happy with the journal, even if it is not peer reviewed, much credit should go the editor who sustained the scientific spirit. I have never published any in that journal, but, peer reviewed or not, that is not the only journal that accepts well thought out new ideas. I have had excellent experience (with one rare exception, no longer relevant) with Journal of Theoretical Biology. What makes any journal a great experience is the quality of review and I have had some of the most critical and helpful remarks for some papers. Our very first paper in 70?s on acclimatory phenomena in biology modeled and interpreted in terms of hierarchical systems biology (long before its current popularization) was cited by a referee even before it was published! For instance, when we showed that drought tolerance is a thermodynamic problem and not a routine physiological problem, no experimental journal would touch it since most plant physiologists have deep problems with thermodynamic formalisms. When we first showed that sucrose quantitatively enters cells and organelles on centrifugation and therefore much of De Duve's Nobel lecture or measurements used for Mitchell's chemiosmotic theory were wrong, the very first paper was published in JTB along with an experimental proof in PNAS. More recently, when we completed thermodynamic formalisms for biopolymers, that these are not diads of solvent and polymer but a triad of solvent(water), polymer and voids (which variously get written in literature as cavities, faults, rafts and so on without a formal theory), we were more than happy to see that the referees shared our enthusiasm no less. \nThere is a small but significant distinction between a (medical) hypothesis and a theoretical paper and that does not reside its radical nature. Far from it. A theoretical paper is not just detail of some phenomenon and would require some effort at showing that the consequences of a hypothesis are palpable even in the available data and testable by some means. In other words, it should mature itself by incubation of the ideas. It is a pity that we have not developed theoretical biology to the extent we should have, largely due to absence of primitives in biology characteristic of other disciplines such as physics and chemistry. \nBut what does the enthusiasm shown for this journal, MH, mean? One is a good job well done, as already mentioned. On the other hand, it could mean that routine journals spew venom for any new idea, which is difficult to justify. Most of the journals belong to clubs and they maintain some degree of professionalism as long as the proposed work does not threaten their kin seriously. It is time we realize that all is not well with the publication world as much as the practice of science itself and that we tend to put blinkers on the minute we believe that we succeeded in something. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar wrote of the comparative sterility of once great minds...a great idea is like flying too close to sun...one could no longer fly when the wings are singed! We are all guilty. It is a rare mind that can evaluate an idea for its intrinsic worth without burying it in a lot baggage we carry, calling it experience.\n
Avatar of: Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee

Posts: 50

March 2, 2010

There's certainly a need for means of publishing views that are outlandish, iconoclastic or downright cranky. I'm a bit surprised, though, that Elsevier has got involved in the controversy, because they have acquired a contrary reputation for appearing to favour some of the more conservative and unsavoury industrial lobbies.\n\nI had a bust-up with one of their less sexy peer-reviewed journals (Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis) which published, in an apparantly concerted manner, some articles that found imaginary deficiencies in one of my own publications. When I contacted Elsevier directly, my polemic was promptly accepted for publication, unfortunately without peer review (Determination of polar alkylating agents, In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 18 November 2009).\n\nI'm not interested in taking sides on this matter. All that is required is for every article, published in whatever journal, to carry a mention of its status: who sponsors and/or publishes the journal; whether or not the article was submitted to peer review.\n\nFinally, I still believe that most scientific publications should be filtered through some kind of editorial process. That's why I refrained from starting a blog or something similar in response to editorial delaying tactics. The catch is that journals and magazines are published to earn money, which means that most people can't read what's published.
Avatar of: Steven Brenner

Steven Brenner

Posts: 14

March 3, 2010

As long as there has not been a single case of AIDS which has been cured as yet, I don't think the establishment in the field has any laurels to rest on. In such a situation, I think all avenues, even the unconventional, need to be explored. \n There are a lot of diseases such as Alzheimer's, ALS, Parkinsons, and even many forms of neoplasms and, lung and GI diseases where there has not been a single case cure or only rare unusual cures. \n The unknown in Biology and Medicine remains, and so the least traveled path, the unexpected idea should probably have an opportunity for publication, even if seen as rediculous by authorities in the field. \n There is that old saying, "We'll put up a trial balloon and see what happens". Certainly the idea can be shot down but still probably most ideas which have some credibility at least should have the opportunity for review by the community involved. Sometimes the idea will not in and of itself lead to a new solution, but might promote further investigation or thinking about a subject from some different angle which might lead to a solution to some given problem. \n Publications in their current use primarily promote scientific investigation or solutions to problems. The scientific publication industry is undergoing rapid change due to the electronic revolution, so anyone can guess what the future will bring.\nThanks
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

March 17, 2010

AIDS researcher John Moore said it best: Keep the journal but replace its current editor, who never should have chosen the AIDS articles for publication as they contained no hypotheses, just rantings against the AIDS establishment.

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