Medical publishing, one of the oldest continuous scientific traditions, is growing exponentially. New medical journals dedicated to increasingly niche microcosms are being created every day. Yet medical publishing finds itself at a vital cross roads. This year's Nobel Prize winner in physiology, Randy Scheckman, announced his decision to boycott the three major “luxury” journals: Science, Nature, and Cell. Criticism of researchers' inability to replicate major medical findings is also gaining traction beyond scientific circles.
For an industry based on advancement, medical journals are very rigid. Take for example the impact factor, defined as the number of citations divided by the number of papers published in the journal, which is a measure to convey the influence of journals and the research they carry. Even in medical school, my friends would compare the impact factor of the journals they had published in, as though that represented the quality of the work. It is akin to what the “mega-pixel” is for digital cameras, a pithy misleading sound bite that has become an industry gold standard.
While the impact factor was originally devised in the 1970's by librarians to help them make rational choices about what journals to subscribe to, the current use is very different from that original intent. Impact factors are frequently considered for academic promotions, pressuring academics to keep targeting higher impact journals. In fact, scientists in China are paid based on the impact factor of the journals they publish in.