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EDITORIAL
Year : 2018  |  Volume : 12  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 609-610  

Nepotism in publication of medical literature! does it exist? may be it does!!


Department of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care, Adesh Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Dean Academic Affairs, Adesh University, Bathinda, Punjab, India

Date of Web Publication11-Sep-2018

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Mridul M Panditrao
Department of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care, Adesh Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Dean Academic Affairs, Adesh University, Bathinda, Punjab
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/aer.AER_120_18

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How to cite this article:
Panditrao MM. Nepotism in publication of medical literature! does it exist? may be it does!!. Anesth Essays Res 2018;12:609-10

How to cite this URL:
Panditrao MM. Nepotism in publication of medical literature! does it exist? may be it does!!. Anesth Essays Res [serial online] 2018 [cited 2018 Sep 21];12:609-10. Available from: http://www.aeronline.org/text.asp?2018/12/3/609/240870

Recently, this author had an opportunity to do the peer review an offbeat but interesting article, in fact, an analytical observational study. The title of the study was “Possible Bias in the Publication Trends of High Impact Factor Anesthesiology and Gastroenterology journals –An analysis of 5 years' data.”

The author/s whoever they are, in their earnestness, have tried to explore the “uncharted territories” of the medical research and its publication. It dwells on an open but “closely guarded” topic of preferentiality,[1] postulating that it might be existing in the process of publishing the articles in high-impact factor (IF) journals. The preferentiality was hypothesized to have happened in these journals in favor of their editorial board members (EBMs), those being in a position to influence the decision of “acceptance” or “rejection” of their manuscripts. This obviously would mean compromising or completely bypassing the standard process of “peer reviewing.” In other words, this could almost be considered as coming close to “nepotism.” To prove this, the authors established an elaborate and systematic process of collecting and analyzing the available data from ten different journals belonging to anesthesiology and gastroenterology. In the last 6 months of 2015, a total of previous 5 years' publications which might have appeared in PubMed were compiled, and the names of authors, who were also the EBMs, were entered in an excel sheet as follows and numbered as:

  • Number of publications in the journal in which the EBM served (N1)
  • Number of publications by the same author in the other four highest IF journals (N2), and
  • Number of publications in all the other journals (N3).


The probability of the observed distribution of publications in the five highest IF journals happening by chance alone, assuming that all the EBMs had the same opportunity of publishing in any of these journals, was evaluated. The probability of publishing in their own journal was assumed to be one-fifth.

After a proper statistical analysis, the conclusions were more or less irrefutable in confirming the obvious and stark reality. They were as quoted below:

”The correlation between being an EBM in a high IF journal and the frequency of publishing their work in that journal is very strong and unlikely to be by chance alone.”

”Further, it is possible that the EBM might have an undue advantage because of their position in the board that might have increased the chances of publication in that journal.”

”Although the study was restricted to the top five journals rated by IF in the fields of gastroenterology and anesthesiology, the practice might easily be widespread.”

”This practice might be deemed to violate publication ethics and probably requires an investigation by an independent federal agency.”

It is to be clearly understood that an average medical person belonging to any gender, specialty, country ( first/third world), generally puts an absolute trust in the clinical literature, guidelines, judgments published in these so-called “high IF” journals. It is taken for granted that the reliability and authenticity of these articles are sacrosanct. Higher the IF, more the trust. More the visible the authors, more the faith invested in their findings and conclusions. This would mean if the article has not undergone a “fair trial” of unbiased, impartial, and the blinded process of peer reviewing, then the reliability of such an article would be questionable. This then obviously be taking the gullible readers for a ride.

In fact, let us try to find the “exactness” of this process of this peer reviewing. It is defined as, a process by which something proposed (as for research or publication) is evaluated by a group of experts in the appropriate field.[2] Another definition says peer review is the evaluation of work by one or more people of similar competence to the producers of the work (peers). It constitutes a form of self-regulation by qualified members of a profession within the relevant field.[3] The next one says, the process of someone reading, checking, and giving his or her opinion about something that has been written by another scientist or expert working in the same subject area, or a piece of work in which this is done.[4]

Hence, it is amply clear that implicit and inherent to the entire process are the elements of confidentiality, impartiality, and complete secrecy about the identity of the authors and the peer reviewers. Apparently, some of these norms may have been flouted by some high IF journals in favor of their EBMs. This may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Let us consider the entire spectacle from a different angle. It would not be an exaggeration to assume that when considering the number of articles actually published in the journals, there are multitudes of them, which were submitted, rejected, and never ever saw the light of the day again. In the above-mentioned reviewed article, the authors mention about a study carried out by Siler et al.,[5] the high IF journals many a times do not inform the submitting “commonplace authors,” the reason/rationale or factuality of the outright rejection of their submitted article. By the same criteria, it would be essentially very interesting, to find, have they been so stringent while doing a similar process to their “preferential” authors?? If such evidence is emerging about the high IF journals, it is really horrifying to consider the low or no IF journals.

”Nepotism” of any kind is to be abhorred in a civilized society. If it is encroaching upon the “sanctum sanctorum” of the medical sciences, that is, the publication of medical research, depending on this evidence, and the current medical/therapeutic/diagnostic practices are to be based, then it is to be shunned and curbed absolutely. In fact, the most opportune time is now, to have the process of deep introspection by all the concerned and to weed out such practices which reek of favoritism for select few. The only criterion to be applied must be the quality, which has been clearly brought out by a transparent process of peer reviewing.

It is the strong conviction of this author that until and unless, we, the medical researchers do not uplift ourselves, beyond, the petty biases and vested interests, the future of publishing medical research will remain bleak, to say the least. However, considering the current trends of the compulsion for publishing at any cost, any price because of the compulsion of “publish or perish,” it would be an uphill task to overcome them. The younger generation, emulating their superiors and peers may end up in the same predicament. The well-entrenched system of “peer reviewing” requires to be revisited and tightened up.

 
   References Top

1.
Available from: https://www.en.wiktionary.org/wiki/preferntiality. [Last accessed on 2018 Jul 27].  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.
Available from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/peer%20review. [Last accessed on 2018 Jul 27].  Back to cited text no. 2
    
3.
4.
Available from: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/peer-review. [Last accessed on 2018 Jul 27].  Back to cited text no. 4
    
5.
Siler K, Lee K, Bero L. Measuring the effectiveness of scientific gatekeeping. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2015;112:360-5.  Back to cited text no. 5
    




 

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