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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2017  |  Volume : 19  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 83-86

Best practices of medical journalism: Role of editors, peer reviewers, and authors

1 SSO (Health), HQWNC, Mumbai, India
2 Research Scholar, NIE, Chennai, India
3 DADH, 2 Mtn Div, India

Date of Web Publication13-Feb-2018

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Sougat Ray
SSO (Health), HQWNC, Mumbai
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jmms.jmms_74_17

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Medical writing is an art which requires a fine blend of new scientific information and rhetorical skills. An article in a reputed journal ensures recognition and career advancement, and there has been a rush among doctors to publish their research work. Several indexed “predatory” journals have mushroomed and are accepting articles without a blinded peer review. The standard impact factor (IF) scoring for a journal has been debatable and so has been the authenticity of indexing. Awareness regarding standard guidelines is required for reliable and valid research. Evidence from a scientific research is the need of the day for an emerging economy like India to help build universal health coverage and meet sustainable developmental goals. This article analyses the concepts of IF and indexing and discusses the best practices for the editors, peer reviewers, and authors.

Keywords: Medical editor, medical journalism, medical writing, predatory

How to cite this article:
Ray S, Roy K, Vashisht S. Best practices of medical journalism: Role of editors, peer reviewers, and authors. J Mar Med Soc 2017;19:83-6

How to cite this URL:
Ray S, Roy K, Vashisht S. Best practices of medical journalism: Role of editors, peer reviewers, and authors. J Mar Med Soc [serial online] 2017 [cited 2023 Feb 6];19:83-6. Available from: https://www.marinemedicalsociety.in/text.asp?2017/19/2/83/225286

  Introduction Top

Medical writing is an art which requires a fine blend of new scientific information and rhetorical skills. Publication is essential otherwise knowledge, thoughts, and opinions emanating from the work of medical experts and doctors get lost. However, when doctors have to spend a lot of time with “pen in hand” instead of “stethoscope in hand,” it is a difficult scheme of things.

In India, there is no lack of all types of patients and talented doctors, attracting huge money for medical tourism from all across the world, but hardly any large and significant randomized controlled trial that has been conducted by public and private medical institutes, which has made a difference in disease perception.[1] It is clearly a waste of this huge talent pool, if the scientific work is not known to the world. While our country has 17% of the world's population and carries 20% disease burden, out of all the clinical trials done the world over, only 1.24% are presently being carried out in India.[2] There has not been any significant research activity from medical institutions either.[3],[4] Partly, the reason lies with inadequate funding from institutions and corporations as in the developed countries, but the crux of the problem lies in the fact that scientific writing does not boost the career of a practicing doctor significantly and is only required for academic excellence. Reliable and valid research evidence is, however, essential for an emerging economy to help build universal health coverage and meet sustainable developmental goals.

With the Medical Council of India directives for publication requirement in indexed journals for medical teachers, the situation has become a double-edged sword in this already complex scenario. There has been a rush among teachers and students to publish their research work which does not conform to the standard guidelines of study designs and use of medical statistics. Several indexed “predatory” journals have mushroomed and are accepting these articles without a blinded peer review, but with a cost, thus finally defeating the very purpose of conducting a clinical research and publishing.[5] In this review, we have explored the fundamentals of best practices and the roles of the editors, peer reviewers, and authors. Before getting into the specific roles, it is important to understand how a medical journal is rated by impact factor (IF) and indexing.

  Impact Factor Top

The IF, used by Thomson Reuters, is a measure to evaluate the relevance of a Journal. It is obtained by dividing the number of citations per year to articles from the previous 2 years out of the total number of articles that were published in the past 2 years in a particular Journal. The IF has now become a tool for determination of merit of a journal. For authors, getting an article published in a high-impact journal is an achievement. Several controversies, however, have erupted in recent times as to the reliability and statistical prudency of IF, validity of IF as a measure of journal importance and possible manipulation by reputed journals to increase IF like publishing more review articles and editorials which attract more citations than a research article and coercive citations. In fact, most of the citations originate from <25% of the articles of a journal, making the citation counts a highly skewed distribution and hence, unreliable to be summarized by a mean score as the IF.[6]

These biases have led to publishers such as Elsevier, Research Gate (RG), and Google Scholar to use alternate impact metrics such as Impact per Publication, Eigenfactor score, SCImago Journal Rank, and Source Normalized Impact per Paper, which are subject or journal specific and RG Score and H index, which are author specific.[7]

In fact, if the article is visible in the worldwide web, it can always be cited by other researchers, making IF superfluous. Evidence shows that postdigitization of indexed journals in 1990s, the strength of association between IF and the citation rates of the papers has steadily decreased.[8]

This has led prominent journals such as The Nature, Science, and Public Library of Science to advocate the use of distribution metric as an alternative to IF. In fact, in 2012, a group of researchers from San Francisco published The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment which was conceptualized by the American Society for Cell Biology, and it recommends the need to move away from the journal IF. This has been endorsed by the League of European Research Universities.[9],[10],[11]

  Indexed Journals Top

Web-based, peer reviewed, and timeliness are requirements of indexing in known databases but is not the essence or meaning of indexing. Indexing as a practice was introduced to achieve wider accessibility and availability among readers as it acts like a catalog. Secondly, indexing was conceived to act as a platform to streamline information on a topic, based on keywords, as database research for background information is the first activity, any researcher or practitioner undertakes. Being indexed in a known database helps the journal's readership and makes it an authoritative source of scientific information. Being accessible in turn improves the journal's reputation as a reliable source of high-quality information and the chances of being cited. However, with indexation of certain so-called predatory journals into large indexing databases, the matter is alarming.[12]

  Role of the Author Top

For authors, an article ensures career advancement and recognition, and for the pharmaceutical industry, an article enhances global attention to the research, thereby boosting sales.[13] When planning to write a scientific paper, getting things right the first time improves chances of acceptance. Accordingly, the specific objectives of the article are to be defined and accurate study design and statistics are assigned. The manuscript excels in its content when it is revised, revised, and revised.[14],[15] The reviewer considers the content and scientific validity of the study and hence a few checklists may be kept in mind while preparing an article [Table 1].
Table 1: Checklist for the author and the reviewer

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To judge the strength, weakness, and the potential impact of a scientific study, the reader must know how the study was carried out and what the results were and whether the results can be effectively used in medical practice. This has led to the introduction of guidelines for improving the reporting quality of medical research. These guidelines, endorsed by the Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research [16] network, include Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses (PRISM), Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT), STrengthening the Reporting of OBservational studies in Epidemiology (STROBE), STAndards for the Reporting of Diagnostic (STARD) accuracy studies, Meta-analysis Of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (MOOSE), and Consensus-Based Clinical Case Reporting. These guidelines are needed to be used for accurate reporting and transparency.[16]

  Role of the Peer Reviewer Top

Historically, peer reviewing was introduced in 1731 by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which published a collection of peer-reviewed medical articles in The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. However, editors have been deciding on the fate of an article until after World War II. In fact, The Lancet published its first peer-reviewed issue only in 1976.[17] Peer reviewing is a process whereby an article is scrutinized by a third party, who is neither the author nor the editor, on the merits of scientific quality, validity, originality, and publication potential. The objective is to maintain the scientific integrity and weed out poor quality articles. However, the million dollar question remains as to who is a peer and what is the process of review. There are no scientific data to validate the efficiency of the process and check for levels of agreement and sometimes disagreement involved in the process.[18]

Peer review is thus a bottleneck in medical journalism. Peer reviewers are also criticized for both failing to identify flaws in the scientific content of the study and its design and also for finding flaws that are not there.[19] Despite all the criticism, peer review is the process by which Nobel prizes and Oscars are won. Referees in their own wisdom provide a detailed criticism, and editors tend to reject not so well-prepared medical articles. A publication that has been peer reviewed is respected and accepted. Publication in a peer-reviewed journal is an important criterion for admissibility of scientific evidence in courts of law, and therefore, peer review is a gold standard in medical journalism. Reviewers, however, should be responsible for a proper analysis of the scientific content and details of methodology of the research article [Table 1].[1]

  Role of Editors Top

The quality of the editorial work must reflect objectivity and credibility. The most important task of the editors is to create each issue of the journal with informative and interesting articles.[20] The editor needs to ensure a foolproof ethical process, free of biases.[21] There is a uniform requirement of submission of articles in a medical journal as approved by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors.[22] A standard guideline, for the basic minimum standard to be followed by editors, has been developed by the Committee on Publication Ethics on the Code of Conduct and Best Practices Guidelines for Editors.[23] Improvements notwithstanding, the inner mechanism and decision-making processes of editors, remain a mystery to authors and readers.[20]

  Conclusion Top

Writing and publishing are not only integral for enhancing research-based knowledge but also build up the profile of a doctor. Scientific writing has a required structure and style which are not mandated during the undergraduate curriculum. However, the available literature provides adequate guidelines, and these should be followed by authors and editors alike. Blinded peer review is an essential ingredient in this exercise. Only when these three cogs work in unison, will it make an interesting article with high scientific standards, thereby raising the bar of the journal. Lack of transparency of what improves the likelihood of acceptance is the cause of rejection. Common reasons for the rejection should be identified and worked upon by the authors and by the editors. Immaculate scientific research, precise review, and uniform editorial standards are more important than issues such as IF in determining scientific value.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Mayden KD. Peer review: Publication's gold standard. J Adv Pract Oncol 2012;3:117-22.  Back to cited text no. 1
Map of All Studies. Available from: https://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/search/map. [Last accessed on 2017 Nov 17].  Back to cited text no. 2
Ray S, Shah I, Nundy S. The research output from Indian medical institutions between 2005 and 2014. Curr Med Res Pract 2016;6:49-58.  Back to cited text no. 3
Sharma DC. Poor research output from India's medical schools. Lancet 2016;387:e28.  Back to cited text no. 4
Kumar P, Saxena D. Pandemic of publications and predatory journals: Another nail in the coffin of academics. Indian J Community Med 2016;41:169-71.  Back to cited text no. 5
[PUBMED]  [Full text]  
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Lozano GA, Larivière V, Yves G. The weakening relationship between the impact factor and papers' citations in the digital age. J Am Soc Inf Sci Technol 2012;63:2140-5.  Back to cited text no. 8
Waltman L, Traag V. Impact factors: Is the nature index at odds with DORA? Nature 2017;545:412.  Back to cited text no. 9
The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA). Available from: http://www.ascb.org/dora/. [Last accessed on 2017 Nov 14].  Back to cited text no. 10
Manca A, Cugusi L, Dvir Z, Deriu F. PubMed should raise the bar for journal inclusion. Lancet 2017;390:734-5.  Back to cited text no. 12
Liu JJ, Bell CM, Matelski JJ, Detsky AS, Cram P. Payments by US pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers to US medical journal editors: Retrospective observational study. BMJ 2017;359:j4619.  Back to cited text no. 13
Berk RN. Preparation of manuscripts for radiology journals: Advice to first-time authors. AJR Am J Roentgenol 1992;158:203-8.  Back to cited text no. 14
Provenzale JM. Ten principles to improve the likelihood of publication of a scientific manuscript. AJR Am J Roentgenol 2007;188:1179-82.  Back to cited text no. 15
Enhancing the Quality and Transparency of Health Research. Available from: http://www.equator-network.org/. [Last accessed on 2017 Dec 09].  Back to cited text no. 16
Benos DJ, Bashari E, Chaves JM, Gaggar A, Kapoor N, LaFrance M, et al. The ups and downs of peer review. Adv Physiol Educ 2007;31:145-52.  Back to cited text no. 17
Smith R. Peer review: A flawed process at the heart of science and journals. J R Soc Med 2006;99:178-82.  Back to cited text no. 18
Bacchetti P. Peer review of statistics in medical research: The other problem. BMJ 2002;324:1271-3.  Back to cited text no. 19
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Kapoor PM. Editor's importunate role towards medical journalism in 2016-way to go! Ann Card Anaesth 2016;19:1-3.  Back to cited text no. 21
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