The New England Journal of Medicine is arguably the best-known and most venerated medical journal in the world. Studies featured in its pages are cited more often, on average, than those of any of its peers. And the careers of young researchers can take off if their work is deemed worthy of appearing in it.
But following a series of well-publicized feuds with prominent medical researchers and former editors of the Journal, some are questioning whether the publication is slipping in relevancy and reputation. The Journal and its top editor, critics say, have resisted correcting errors and lag behind others in an industry-wide push for more openness in medical research. And dissent has been dismissed with a paternalistic arrogance, they say.
Like the larger publishing world, their traditionally slow pace and often imperious control have been jolted by the freedom and brashness of the Internet. So-called open-access journals, which publish online and don’t charge for subscriptions, are proliferating, as are websites that allow researchers to post their results before they have been externally vetted. Respected academics, including Harvard’s medical school dean Dr. Jeffrey Flier, are calling for fundamental changes in the way research is reviewed and published, even proposing that peer reviewers give up their historic anonymity.
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