Why Open Access really matters

From Peter Suber’s blog. This time a real threat to peer review and quality control

22:26 01/10/2007, Peter Suber, Open Access News
Sergio Sismondo, Ghost Management: How Much of the Medical Literature Is Shaped Behind the Scenes by the Pharmaceutical Industry?  PLoS Medicine, September 25, 2007.  Excerpt:

There are many reports of medical journal articles being researched and written by or on behalf of pharmaceutical companies, and then published under the name of academics who had played little role earlier in the research and writing process. In extreme cases, drug companies pay for trials by contract research organizations (CROs), analyze the data in-house, have professionals write manuscripts, ask academics to serve as authors of those manuscripts, and pay communication companies to shepherd them through publication in the best journals. The resulting articles affect the conclusions found in the medical literature, and are used in promoting drugs to doctors….
This article enlarges the focus from ghost writing to the more general ghost management of medical research and publishing….
Several of the publication planning firms identified are owned by major publishing houses. For example, Excerpta Medica is “an Elsevier business” and writes that its “relationship with Elsevier allows… access to editors and editorial boards who provide professional advice and deep opinion leader networks”. Wolters Kluwer Health draws attention to its publisher Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, with “nearly 275 periodicals and 1,500 books in more than 100 disciplines,” and to Ovid and its other medical information providers, emphasizing the links it can make between its different arms. Vertical integration is attractive in the industry as a whole: at least three of the world’s largest advertising agencies own not only MECCs [medical education and communication companies], but also CROs….
The CMD [an MECC working for Pfizer] document obtained by [David] Healy suggests that during key marketing periods as many as 40% of published articles focusing on specific drugs are ghost managed….

PS: Comment.  What’s the OA connection?  Some publishers worry out loud and groundlessly that OA will undermine peer review and quality control, but then work with pharma companies to undermine peer review and quality control themselves and profit handsomely from it.

PMR: I have nothing to add except that this is very serious and very depressing. If you want a moral reason why we should adopt OA, this is a large part of it.

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2 Responses to Why Open Access really matters

  1. There was an interesting Blog entry on Nature Networks on the other perspective of this specific issue. I think there is a fair point made there that it is unreasonable to demand that trials get published and then make it difficult to publish them in the ‘conventional’ way. I realise this doesn’t address the ‘ghosting’ issue and that really, the best thing would be a transparent open access journal where trials could be published with a clear policy on attribution. I wonder how the pharma scientists feel about others getting credit for their work?

  2. pm286 says:

    (1) I think the point was not so much that OA would automatically make things better, but that “peer review” was not always the flawless object it is held up to be. The PRISM syllogism – such as it is – reads:
    * “Peer review prevents junk science”,
    * “open access has no peer review”
    * “therefore open access is junk science”
    This syllogism is, of course broken as the second premise is false.
    PeterS was promoting the syllogism:
    * some closed access peer-review is flawed.
    * flawed peer review allows junk science
    * some closed access publications allow junk science

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