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Monday, March 14, 2011

Cargo Cult Journals

I've come across a most interesting contributor to the idea that science is simply the pursuit of the truth. Bruce G. Charlton is a Professor of Theoretical Medicine, University of Buckingham, and was formerly the editor of the journal Medical Hypothesis. He was fired from his position after the journal was taken over by Elsevier and Dr. Charlton had decided to publish a paper from Peter Duesburg.

In their actions towards Medical Hypotheses, the publishers (Reed-Elsevier - who publish about 20 percent of the world scholarly journals, and a higher proportion of those journals with high impact in their fields) decided what went into the scholarly literature and what did not.

One of the great threats to science (the truth) comes from the demands of a large group of human beings. Many will engage in the competition to be in charge of the group. Elsevier executives must know what the corporate identity is and what they can do to preserve it. Mentioning Peter Duesburg is taboo within Elsevier so they had to remove Dr. Charlton from his position as editor. The next generation of scientists are also effected. They rely on being published by Elsevier journals. They too mustn't upset the non-living entity known as Elsevier. Their livelihoods depend upon understanding what is acceptable. The most successful will pursue what is not just acceptable, but what is favorable.

I'm going to explore some of the ideas (as I interpret them) presented by Dr. Charlton in greater detail later. The moral of todays post is that we are facing a monopoly in science. Executives at a large corporation are making decisions that should be left up to the talent. Elsevier took control of a journal and control of editorial decision making. Warren Buffet doesn't even operate this way. Buffet researches companies and buys the good ones. He leaves the management in place and lets them do their job. Science needs to learn this lesson. Smaller groups of humans means more groups of leadership. More groups of leadership assures a diversity of ideas. Since scientists are good at convincing people of both good and bad ideas, diversity is needed to get at the truth. When leadership is consolidated into one group we have lost a battle.

We here at the CCS dream of a journal of negative results. By asking scientists to write about things that did not work, we can get a fresh perspective on things like RNAi.


bgc said...

Thanks for blogging on this!

How things have changed since Feynman was writing - now we have a multinational government-funded Cargo Cult for sure; but I'm not at all confident that there is any science.

BTW I have also written about a journal of negative results, e.g.:

Bruce Charlton

Ginsberg said...

Your welcome Dr. Charlton. Great article on the JNR. I love the concept of authors publishing, not out of desperation, but for the joy of science.