Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A paper of mine was published. Did anyone read it?

An orthopedist asked me if I could explain why a couple of papers of his did not generate any feedback. He wasn't even sure that anyone had read them. He enclosed PDFs for me.

Not being an orthopedist, I cannot comment on their validity.

But I think I can explain why the papers have not created much interest.

Are you familiar with the term "impact factor"? If not, here is a link explaining what it is:

A journal's impact factor is an indication of how widely cited its articles are. One can also assume that it is a good indication of how popular the journal is and by inference, how many people read its papers. The impact factor has been criticized, but it is one of the few measures of a journal's influence.

The two papers in question were published in Orthopaedics & Traumatology: Surgery & Research. A list of the top 40 orthopedic journals ranked by impact factor in 2013 showed that it ranked 37th with an impact factor of 1.061. That means the average number of citations for any paper published in OTSR was about 1, and 36 orthopedic journals were more widely cited than OTSR.

A paper in Physics World claims that that 90% of published papers are never cited and 50% are never read by anyone but the authors and the journals' peer reviewers. I believe this is true of papers in medical journals too. [Update: This paragraph is untrue. See my post of 3/23/17.]

I was unable to obtain any figures regarding the number of subscribers to OTSR, but I suspect it is not large. This may also account for the lack of responses to the papers. My own experience is similar. It was very rare to receive any feedback about any of the over 90 peer-reviewed papers, editorials, or reviews that I had written.

Consider this. A blog post of mine "Appendicitis: Diagnosis, CT Scans and Reality" which I wrote 4 years ago has received over 77,000 [Updated on 3/23/17] page views and more than 100 comments. I am certain that post has been read far more than all of my published research papers combined. In fact, my 550 blog posts have recorded over 1 million page views.

What does it all mean?

Journals may have to adapt and become more like blogs. In the future, medical information may be disseminated by blogs and comments rather than journal articles and letters to the editor.

Will scientists' CVs be valued more for the number of page views their papers receive than the number of peer-reviewed papers they publish?


Anonymous said...

Will this be the journal of the future: ?

Jeff Matthews said...

See the Altmetrics "manifesto":

Mike McInnis MD said...

Would that blogs could be peer-reviewed...

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Anon, thanks for the link. That is one of many such new online journals.

Jeff, thanks for the explanation of Altimetrics. Maybe it's the answer.

Mike, blogs are already sort of peer reviewed. I get many comments both pro and con about my posts.

Anonymous said...

PubMed recently added a new feature, PubMed Commons. This "...set the stage for commenting on any publication in PubMed...". "Pilot" is still listed on the header but I hope it will become a permanent feature. --Audrey the Librarian

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Audrey, thanks for the info and the link.

Anonymous said...

The link to the Physics World paper seems to be broken. Could you please check it or simply refer to the corresponding DOI? Hoping that it is not paywalled ;-)

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Unfortunately, I can't find the original paper. Here's a link to an article in Pacific Standard which refers to it in the third paragraph. The link to the original doesn't work from it either.

Christian Sinclair said...

Excellent point - Your post inspired me to include a similar sentiment in an upcoming "Social Media as Public Health" talk I'm giving next week. Looking at a team site I help run (Pallimed) - we've had nearly 2 million views since 2005

2 million views with avg 1:30 visit time on page = 3 million minutes = 50,000 hours = 2,083 days = 5.7 years of 24/7/365 informal learning on hospice and palliative care topics.

And somehow academic positions don't see this as impact for advancement. But please "write another paper or chapter and get it published" a journal no one reads, and a expensive book no one will buy. "Then we'll know you are contributing to the world."

Skeptical Scalpel said...

I agree with you. I had never thought of totaling the time. Very clever. There will come a time when social media will be valued by academic establishments. I just can say when.

Jason C. Levine said...

"blogs are already sort of peer reviewed"

This sort of dovetails with what sites like StackExchange are attempting to do. Publish content with voting tools so visitors can up/downvote the content and provide a crowdsourced peer-review platform where good information is promoted and poor information is suppressed. Extending the voting concept to medical blogs or even open access journals wouldn't present a tremendous technical challenge (the biggest one I could think of would be qualifying voters) but the end result would go a long way towards establishing the validity discussed above.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Jason, I would not be surprised to see your concept of voting happen eventually.

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