New open-access medical journal to be launched
Updated Wed. Apr. 18 2007 7:44 AM ET
TORONTO -- A new Canadian open-access medical journal is about to be born.
Open Medicine, to be officially launched Wednesday, was conceived in the bitter aftermath of the February 2006 firing of the editor and deputy editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The publication's business model differs greatly from standard medical journals. It will be available online only, will have no subscription fees, and no corporate or medical association ownership. It won't accept advertisements for medical devices and drugs -- the major advertisers in traditional journals. And in the first year at least, it won't charge authors the publication fees on which other open-access journals rely.
That all adds up to a modest, at best, potential revenue stream. Co-editor Dr. Anita Palepu admitted Tuesday that the word "utopian'' has come up when she talks about the project with her husband. She insisted, however, that the Open Medicine team is committed to producing a high quality, independent journal that is available to anyone who wants to read it, a journal that can't run afoul of the interests of corporate owners or the politics of an organization like the Canadian Medical Association.
"It has been hard work. But as the launch is approaching, our commitment is actually expanding. We're not feeling like it's waning,'' said Palepu, who was one of a number of former CMAJ editors and editorial board members to resign in protest over the firing of Dr. John Hoey and Anne Marie Todkill.
"We're passionate about this. I'm not sure how far passion will take us, but I just have this sense that we're on the cusp of this broader social movement about the whole open-access initiative and about accountability. I think people are sick and tired of having everything messaged for a political gain.''
Many of the people who had made the CMAJ one of the world's top five general medical journals, including Hoey and Todkill, are involved in Open Medicine.
The reason for the firings was never made public. The two editors were bound by a confidentiality agreement they'd been required to sign and the CMA said it too was constrained from revealing the reason for the dismissals.
But it was widely known Hoey and his team had had a series of run-ins with the holding company that published the journal for the CMA, including over a news article that was critical of the way pharmacists were selling the emergency contraceptive drug Plan B.
The CMA has since agreed to maintain a hands-off approach to the CMAJ. But a former editorial board member who is now on the board of Open Medicine said the history of interference at the CMAJ is one of the reasons why Canada needs another medical journal.
"I think that the reality is society and the medical community are better served by having an alternative independent medical journal in Canada to ensure that in fact stories such as last year's emergency contraceptive story don't get suppressed and that there is an alternative for those to get published and not to be influenced by political agendas of medical societies,'' said Dr. P.J. Devereaux, a researcher based at McMaster University in Hamilton."
Devereaux is also a co-author of one of the first articles to be published in Open Medicine, a value-for-money comparison of the Canadian and American health-care systems. The study, actually a review compiling the results of a number of different studies, found the level of care in Canada was comparable but cost half as much as U.S. care. The new editor of the CMAJ, Dr. Paul Hebert, wished the new publication well on Tuesday -- but demurred when asked if CMAJ was worried about having competition. "I don't consider Open Medicine our competition yet. It may be in five years but my competition is BMJ (the British Medical Journal) and Annals (of Internal Medicine) -- at that level,'' Hebert said from Ottawa.
"Launching a new journal is a huge, huge endeavour. And it takes funds, it takes commitment, full-time faculty and a lot of resources. And it will just be interesting to see how they make all that work. It's just not a small task.''
Most traditional medical journals only make their material available to subscribers, or for a per-item reprint fee -- and both types of fees can be steep. Proponents of open-access journals argue that is a barrier to the dissemination of science, much of which is generated using public funding.
These journals underwrite their costs by charging authors a publication fee which is often covered by research grants. That doesn't mean, though, that authors can simply buy their way to publication. Open-access journals rigorously vet the articles submitted to them, in the same way traditional journals do.Open Medicine will sell advertising, focusing on businesses that might want to sell services to doctors rather than businesses that want to influence the way doctors prescribe drugs or practise medicine.
It is registered as a not-for-profit enterprise and is seeking charitable status. It also hopes to follow in the footsteps of the best known of the open-access journals, the Public Library of Science journals, which were started with a US$9 million endowment.