Blog for the day: BMJ brings to heel the pompous snobbery that is our academic press

Academic journals are the last bastion of the closed shop mentality of science.

I am sure the irony is not lost on anyone that the science press – which is supposedly about capturing if not tub thumping about the latest world-changing insights – has resolutely remained unenlightened about its role in serving the public interest.

The open access movement has begun to change this. But a bigger game-changer in the long-term will be how they involve the public in their editorial and publishing practices. As ever, it comes down to governance. And particularly in those journals that focus on health, social care and public health research.

This need grows each day, as more and more academic papers get picked up by mainstream media. Their provenance is important. The wanton landing of new findings on an ever-more confused nation without any effort to help translate their significance for you and I is negligence of the highest order. People haven’t got a bloody clue what’s going on. Shame on us that we have not arrived at some notion of responsible publishing that all should aspire too.

It would be too kind to say that there has been more shade than light in this area. Black hole comes closer. In my opinion there are six main problems:

– The lack of public input into editorial and publishing policies and industry-wide practices
– The need for more patient editors
– The absence of a ‘news-you-can-use’ mentality to publication in recognition that patients and the public are a growing component of the readership
– The fact that many papers do not include any information on how the public were involved in making the study happen (particularly trials). Or the patient experience in their own voice.
– The long-standing sniffiness of journals about publishing papers on public involvement. Pompous snobs!
– The absence of a journal dedicated to public involvement in health research.

Occasionally we have seen a slight interest in doing things like improving lay summaries (the Lancet at the beginning of the year). But nothing happens.

So three cheers to the BMJ for publishing its patient strategy yesterday.

The strategy includes having patient reviewers, patients as part of its editorial make-up, asking authors to write-up how they have involved the public, having patient co-authors of pieces, including commentary on the burden of new treatments and an open call for more articles etc on patient participation in the design and delivery of health and social care.

This editorial explains more and you can also apply to become a patient reviewer.

There is light at the end of the tunnel!

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