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Not Keeping Up

The New England Journal of Medicine may be losing its relevance, ProPublica's Charles Ornstein reports. While getting an article published in the journal may make a young researcher's career, Ornstein writes that NEJM is resistant to ongoing changes in academic publishing, such as calls for increased openness in research.

"They basically have a view that … they don't need to change or adapt. It's their way or the highway," Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute and chief academic officer at Scripps Health, tells ProPublica.

Ornstein notes that the journal has loosened conflict-of-interest rules, declined to correct issues raised about published articles or publish criticisms of those articles, and has been critical of wider efforts to support clinical research data sharing.

For instance, in an editorial appearing in NEJM in January, Jeffrey Drazen, the editor-in-chief of NEJM, and a colleague wrote that, though data sharing sounds like a good idea, it would lead to the creation of "research parasites" who use data collected by others "for their own ends." This led, Ornstein notes, led to a backlash, and Drazen clarified that he and his journal supported data sharing.

Drazen tells Ornstein that he was trying to highlight the concern that researchers who perform secondary analyses might not fully understand the data and take credit away from the original researchers who may have spent considerable time on it.

"The datasets are very, very, very complex," he says. "You don't want someone to analyze the dataset not fully understanding it."

Drazen also says the criticisms of NEJM are unfounded, Ornstein writes. He says that the journal strives to publish accurate research and that the editorial are often meant to be controversial to spark discussion.

"If there's anything that I have a passion for, it's getting it right," he adds. "We work very hard at that. We're not arrogant. We're not dismissive."