Sunday, November 28, 2004

I watched NBC news tonight (are we getting tired of the history lessons on Tom Brokaw's 40 year coverage of the news yet?) and their Fleecing of America story was in connection with a decision by the Federal Government to start publishing all federally funded medical studies on the Internet free of charge. The reason is fairly obvious - taxpayers have already paid for them and should have the benefit of what they have already paid for without some intermediary charging hundreds to thousands of dollars to subscribe to the magazines that have some special privilege for publishing them.

Of course, the medical journals have a seemly reasonable defense for the status quo. They vet the studies; there's a system of peer review. That, too, seems reasonable. Do we really want to have all sorts of studies dumped into the public square where they might live forever, when they rightly ought to die a quiet death at home unseen?

Then you see a story like this one in the NYT (reg req'd) on the CDC obesity study. So much for JAMA helping sustain the 'professional publisher is a must' defense. For that matter, the CDC didn't help the 'let's have the feds fund medical research' argument, either.

By the way, I'm none to happy about the story either. The lead is that the CDC will "submit a new, lower figure to the medical journal that published its original estimate last March." The CDC didn't send an original figure as in "Memo to JAMA: 400,000 deaths per year from obesity." like some NYSE stock quote on a ticker tape. It was a study supposedly with all sorts of substaniation and presumably with lots of back up calculation, units included just the way kids in school are taught or they get credit off on the tests, right??? Oh thanks for starting to let the reader know by the fourth paragraph it was a study which is screwed up and not some insignificant little number and about mid-way through the article note the CDC isn't even sure what statistical method should be used. Sheesh.

But I am off on a tangent, so back to the JAMA and the CDC. If the NYT's story is accurate, how come JAMA's peer review pool didn't even catch what sounds like something approaching an order of magnitude error and something as easily found to be in questionable by ballparking methods. And if it is a case of checking for accuracy by such methods, there are a few supervisors at CDC in need a remedial class in supervising.

All in all, though, there doesn't seem to be a need for JAMA. I'm for cutting out the middleman.


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