Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Medical Hypotheses

Medical Hypotheses is a non-peer reviewed journal founded by the late David Horrobin. The way Dr. Horrobin is described varies greatly. I have heard him described as a brilliant, if somewhat eccentric scientist. A serious researcher with over 900 peer reviewed articles. An entrepreneur who marketed his products without having demonstrated their safety. And according to an obituary published in the British Medical Journal “he may prove to be the greatest snake oil salesman of his age”.

Dr. Horrobin founded Medical Hypotheses in part to serve a unique niche. It was to be a place where hypotheses and ideas could be published in the absence of a sometimes stifling peer review process. It was a sort of book of the month club, with articles picked by the editor because they were “interesting and important”. And to be fair, some undoubtedly produced good in the world.

However, this journal also left the door open for quacks. It gave the appearance of “science” without its discipline or rigor. And while maybe something like Medical Hypotheses was necessary in 1975 to serve as the coffee house for novel scientific ideas, it is obsolete in 2010. That role is better served by the internet; which is more accessible, has a bigger audience, is even less censored, and lacks stifling page limits. The only thing that an internet blog lacks is the assumed stamp of quality science.

Long story short, Elsevier, the publisher of Medical Hypotheses has had enough. They fired the current editor and are about implement peer review. In my view this came a dollar short and day late, but I am genuinely glad. It strips away an undeserved authenticity for those using Medical Hypotheses to promote autism quackery.

Full story here


Blogger María Luján said...

Hi Jonathan
It all depends on the quality of the peer review to be implemented.

7:44 AM  
Blogger Joseph said...

I tend to agree. I don't see that having a paper in Medical Hypotheses would be more credible than having a blog post with an explanation of the hypothesis. Indeed, the blog post is even more visible.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Interverbal said...

Hi Maria,

True, although the potential problems of peer review are outside the scope of the current article. Reviewing that issue would be a whole post all to itself.

5:05 PM  
Blogger María Luján said...

Reviewing that issue would be a whole post all to itself.
True; but being hypothesis the editorial policy is crucial. Now, time will tell if the journal will become a first presentation of theories that later have further research and are part of scientific revolutions- in a Kuhnian way- or if only reflects some kind of ambit for tolerance for further improvements of the scientific consensus in their framework only.

7:49 PM  
Blogger Lindsay said...

Wow, I didn't know Medical Hypotheses wasn't peer-reviewed.

I knew it was more for coming up with hypotheses than for testing them, and thus a paper submitted to it couldn't be judged by the same criteria as it might if it had gone to another journal, but I had thought there must be *some* oversight.

7:04 PM  

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