Monday, November 29, 2010

Citizen Journalism: Why I Blog on Healthcare Informatics

I am teaching my current students about alternate media, a.k.a. citizen journalism, also known as "blogging", in a course on organizational and social aspects of healthcare informatics.

I am using a (de-identified) personal experience as an example of why alternate media is valuable in getting "inconvenient" memes into circulation.

In addition to recent articles such as "The Problems with Peer Review" (in the British Medical Journal by Mark Henderson, Science Editor, the Times, London. BMJ 2010;340:c1409), "Ghostwriting at Elite Academic Medical Centers in the United States" (LaCasse & Leo, PLoS Medicine, February 2010, Volume 7, Issue 2) and others about ghostwriting and other ills affecting the conventional biomedical literature, I provided my students the personal example below.

I thought the example might be interesting to blog readers as well.

Here is the example I used with my students:

Regarding a paper I wrote a few years ago and that I ultimately simply posted on Scribd, "Remediating an Unintended Consequence of Healthcare IT: A Dearth of Data on Unintended Consequences of Healthcare IT" (link), an anonymous peer reviewer had this to say when I submitted it to "journal XYZ":

Comments to the Author

This paper addresses a potentially important issue but adds little that is new or that goes beyond what a reader might find in a major city newspaper. Proposing a classification of sources of UC and analysis of reasons for undereporting of each type in the resulting classification could be a useful addition to the field.

This was certainly an ironic if not bizarre comment. A paper on a scarcity of data on unintended consequences of health IT due to a "closed culture" in the HIT industry does not add anything new "beyond what one might find in a major city newspaper?"

Unfortunately, the anonymous peer review process does not allow me to ask what newspaper this reviewer reads, but it was clear to me this reviewer was 1) attempting to prevent the paper's publication and 2) "moving the goalposts" to delay it or have the focus on scarcity removed by seeking for me to "propose a classification of sources of UC" (tangential or even irrelevant to the paper's topic).

I felt it likely the review of a revised paper by this reviewer would have led to negative comments on any proposed classification schema.

Worse, was this, in a dialog via several emails I've condensed for readability. It is very likely it came from the same reviewer above:

EDITOR OF JOURNAL XYZ: I suggest Scot that you modify this into an editorial. One reviewer recognized the writing and asked me if this may have been pre-published on a blog. Any possibility for that?

In other words, I was being accused by the anonymous reviewer of possibly violating the ethics of journal publication and the contract I signed to not pre-publish (the journal has exclusive rights).

My response:

SS: No, this work was entirely original, written from a clean slate, and was not pre-published on a blog. I would think the reviewers would know me better than that in terms of integrity.

The editor shot back:

EDITOR: My response as well. Good - looking forward to the edits. Happy snow day

I reminded the editor:

SS: Not to mention the extensive footnotes showing where I sourced my material. In an age of search engines, I have to ask the following:

- was the person who raised this concern so technologically limited they were unable to search themselves to answer their own question?
- did this person have such a lack of trust they felt compelled to make such a statement?
- did this person raise this due to bias against the fundamental thesis of the paper?

I think it's fair to say there is very, very strong pushback against articles such as this being published. I have to consider whether it's worth my while to continue, or to withdraw the paper.

At which point I received the following revealing comment from the editor:

EDITOR: I think, Scot, that you have a talent for sniffing out problems, dangers, risk, failures and by addressing them in your head on ways, you are likely to make enemies. You are doing a valuable job, but you have to realize that people are threatened by you. That's why the respond in this manner. Not that it is excusable, but it is understandable.

I decided it was not worth revising the paper due to that reviewer's comments and the editor's observations, and therefore disseminated the paper via the Healthcare Renewal blog and Scribd.

(I note that "making enemies" by directly confronting possible risks of a new technology in healthcare suggests skewed priorities among those so affected.)

While I believe the current Wikileaks web exposures have gone insanely too far, as those incidents involved exposure of sensitive material held illegally that could people to be harmed, damage international relations, and cause other unforeseen ill effects, the web has proven valuable for dissemination of one's ideas that have not been able to escape the gravity of the sometimes "peer review Black Hole."

-- SS

1 comment:

Haj Carr said...

Good Post! I truly love how it is simple on my eyes and the data are well written. I’m wondering how I might be notified when a new post has been made.