Publication Practices Distort Science


  • scientific information is an economic commodity, and that scientific journals are a medium for its dissemination and exchange.
  • as such it is subject to economic factors that affect the value of scientific information and how it is exchanged.


Based on Young et al (2008), the following economic factors are at play:

  • Winner’s curse — the small proportion of results chosen for publication are unrepresentative of scientists’ repeated samplings of the real world
  • Oligopoly — a few journals with the highest impact factors rule the roost; publication outside of these amounts to being consigned to oblivion
  • Artificial scarcity — any situation where, even though a commodity exists in abundance, restrictions of access, distribution, or availability make it seem rare, and thus overpriced: with journals “page space” is used to confer selectivity, low acceptance rates creates the illusion of a meritocracy
  • Herding — the actions of a few prominent individuals rather than the cumulative input of many independent agents drives people’s valuations of a commodity (in this case, an area of research)
  • Uncertainty — usually we do not know what information will be most useful (valuable) eventually
  • Branding — branding is marking the product as valuable, it is important when a commodity cannot easily be assigned much intrinsic value and when we fear the exchange environment will be flooded with an overabundance of redundant, useless, and misleading product

References and Links

Journal articles

  • Young NS, Ioannidis JP, Al-Ubaydli O. Why current publication practices may distort science. PLoS Med. 2008 Oct 7;5(10):e201. PMC2561077.

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Critical Care


Chris is an Intensivist and ECMO specialist at the Alfred ICU in Melbourne. He is also a Clinical Adjunct Associate Professor at Monash University. He is a co-founder of the Australia and New Zealand Clinician Educator Network (ANZCEN) and is the Lead for the ANZCEN Clinician Educator Incubator programme. He is on the Board of Directors for the Intensive Care Foundation and is a First Part Examiner for the College of Intensive Care Medicine. He is an internationally recognised Clinician Educator with a passion for helping clinicians learn and for improving the clinical performance of individuals and collectives.

After finishing his medical degree at the University of Auckland, he continued post-graduate training in New Zealand as well as Australia’s Northern Territory, Perth and Melbourne. He has completed fellowship training in both intensive care medicine and emergency medicine, as well as post-graduate training in biochemistry, clinical toxicology, clinical epidemiology, and health professional education.

He is actively involved in in using translational simulation to improve patient care and the design of processes and systems at Alfred Health. He coordinates the Alfred ICU’s education and simulation programmes and runs the unit’s education website, INTENSIVE.  He created the ‘Critically Ill Airway’ course and teaches on numerous courses around the world. He is one of the founders of the FOAM movement (Free Open-Access Medical education) and is co-creator of litfl.com, the RAGE podcast, the Resuscitology course, and the SMACC conference.

His one great achievement is being the father of three amazing children.

On Twitter, he is @precordialthump.

| INTENSIVE | RAGE | Resuscitology | SMACC

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