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Are medical journals fit for purpose in the modern world?

Medical journal

Since their foundation in the 17th century, medical journals have enabled communication amongst doctors and scientists and permitted the dissemination of medical knowledge. With thousands of titles available, covering all aspects of biomedical science, journals do much more than ‘simply’ publish science. In a recent blog, Richard Smith, an open access advocate and former editor of the BMJ, considers how well current medical journals carry out such functions in the modern world.

With the sheer volume of studies published today and the inadequacies of the peer review system, Richard believes that medical journals fail to effectively carry out their primary functions of publishing, organising, and promoting high quality science in a widely accessible and entertaining manner. Nevertheless, he asserts that journals do perform several functions well, including investigating malpractice, campaigning about major issues such as climate change and positioning such issues on the global agenda. However, he notes that only a few journals attempt these undertakings or have the resources to do them effectively.

Richard predicts that the future of science publishing will involve a move away from the traditional journal-based model towards an open publishing platform, such as that provided by F1000Research. However, he suggests that this may take some time due to the profitability of journals, the mass employment they provide and the fact that they afford a means, albeit flawed, for institutions to judge the performance of academics.

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Summary by Alice Wareham, PhD from Aspire Scientific.

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