Open Medicine opened for business today. It is a peer-reviewed open-access medical journal, and its launch made national headlines in Canada. Why? Because its publishers are defectors from editorial staff of the Canadian Medical Association Journal: editorial independence was the main issue of contention. The dispute between the Canadian Medical Association and the CMAJ editors (2 were fired, 15 resigned in protest) is chronicled in this CBC backgrounder. The British Medical Journal has coverage here and here.
Threats to the integrity of scientific and medical journals are not unique to the CMAJ. Consider the row between The Lancet and Reed Elsevier when people began to question the ethics of the publisher hosting arms fairs – but for weapons, not limbs. The CMAJ links to a PDF of the Open Letter from The Lancet’s Editorial Consultants to Reed Elsevier. Consider also, the problem faced by the New England Journal of Medicine and other journals in their attempts to assert independence from pharmaceutical companies.
Is open access publishing the way to solve these problems? Open Medicine thinks so, and uses Open Journal Systems, publishing software made available by the Public Knowledge Project under a GNU General Public License. The project is a collaboration between the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia, the Simon Fraser University Library, and the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing at Simon Fraser University.
The journal’s first editorial presents a powerful argument for open access to medical information. It should not be ignored.
Medical knowledge should be public and free from undeclared influence. When possible, it should be free for those who apply it. Since people’s lives depend on it, that knowledge must be filtered several times before it is ready to use. Studies need to be peer reviewed, to have their statistics analyzed, their content edited, then copy edited, then published quickly for as wide an audience as possible. The prospect of having a high-quality source of information that held true to these principles but was also free and globally accessible was impossible to imagine 20 years ago. Paper and postage are simply too expensive. The landscape is different today. An ideal medical journal — a truly open one — is not only within our sight, it is within our reach.
To open access journal editors everywhere: Thanks, and good luck. You are the vanguard.