Ken Gillman: Medical science publishing: A slow-motion train wreck

Samuel Gershon’s comment on Ken Gillman’s essay and Hector Warnes’ comment on it


        I appreciate and congratulate Ken Gillman for his essay and Hector Warnes for his comment on it. I also appreciate their remembrance note on Barney Carroll. I have known Barney for about 55 years. We first met when he obtained a research fellowship at the end of his three preclinical years in medical  school  and came to work with our psychopharmacology research group in the Pharmacology Department at the University of Melbourne. He was immediately recognized as a bright outstanding student, who was there to find out about everything and question everything. He was also involved in medical student affairs socially and politically, both in Australia and internationally. As you all know, he would have eagerly supported the views expressed  in your two articles  and of course would have added his voice to support them.

        I also strongly support  your views in these two excellent analyses of the problems in scientific publication that have gradually taken over this business. Moreover, the changes that you describe have done more damage than you describe and more broadly affect medical education. These damages must be carefully evaluated and made an issue of concern for all of us involved in the broadest aspects of medical education.

        Gillman and Warnes have done a comprehensive job. However, I would like to add my experience as an editor of a small psychiatric journal 25 years ago which worked out very well. We negotiated a plan for the journal with a mid-sized publisher in Europe on a personal and friendly level. They agreed to provide us the rent for an office at the University of Pittsburgh and pay for all the equipment necessary for it to function, as well as pay for a managing editor and a junior assistant.

        When this publisher was taken over by a large international “house” things began to  gradually change. We began getting instructions about the various aspects of policy changes they would be suggesting, including that we respond to authors of rejected papers (by us) that they could resubmit them to another person in the company for reconsideration and publication in another of their journals; publication of these papers would incur a fee to the author. We refused to send such letters out to any authors. This caused some disagreements with the publisher and they proposed to deal with it by stopping the rent payment for our journal office and requiring the managing editor work from home after firing her assistant; eventually they also wanted us to fire our managing editor. So, after all the fixtures and staff of the office were removed  another question became apparent: What do we do with all the files accumulated over the many years? Their suggestion: dump them all — which we had to do. Now, this one very  respectable journal that had to jettison all their facilities and archives, is what  Gillman and Warnes said were needed to address the goals of the journals they are criticizing. 

        I don’t want to belabor this small example other than  to point out that even this level of dismantling resources from an active and productive journal will quickly and definitely result in defects  in the product of the journal, as described  by the authors above. On a larger scale, these actions effect  many journals throughout the whole discipline resulting in the removal of many components of medical information that will impact all levels of medical education.


September 19, 2019