Thursday, December 07, 2006

Go Blackwell

Blackwell Publishing has issued a set of guidelines for its journal editors in order to increase transparency and smoke out conflicts of interest. They advise their editors to make sure that authors describe their contributions to the research project in order to lessen the frequency of ghost authorship and honorary authorship.

They also mention that duplicate publication is a no-no and insist that editors be free of influence from business managers. Consider the following situation: Both a journal editor and the journal’s business manager are aware that a clinical trial (well-designed or not) can bring in beaucoup bucks in reprints (to be distributed to docs by drug reps) whereas another study, that may be more scientifically sound, may yield zilch in reprint income. Financially, the choice is obvious, but the scientific choice may yield an opposite conclusion. I thank Richard Smith as well as Lexchin and Light for bringing the issue of journal reprints to the fore.

I sincerely hope that this is more than window dressing. Blackwell stopped short of actually inserting teeth into the guidelines by refusing to advise editors to ban bad actors. So if an author hides conflicts of interest, selectively reports data (e.g., 10 measures are used but only five are actually mentioned as being used when the study is written up), uses an unacknowledged ghostwriter, tags a big name coauthor onto a study though the coauthor does not merit authorship, and so forth, there is no real punishment. Without teeth, regulations often end up as just a way for an organization to say “Look how hard we’re trying to combat the problem” while giving a wink and a nod to the offending parties. Without either tight enforcement of punitive policies, such as banning offending authors from future publication, or a huge groundswell of ethics, I'm afraid the policy will have little effect.

Nonetheless, I commend Blackwell for their effort. It's a good step. Kudos.

Please read the whole story at Inside Higher Education. There’s much more to it than I’ve written in this post.

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