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January 25, 2010 9:51 PM Peer Review Forced on Radical Journal

By Daniel Luzer

Elsevier, the Dutch-based publisher of medical and scientific information, owns exactly one journal that isn’t subject to peer review: Medical Hypotheses. The journal, founded in 1975, is a slightly irreverent periodical that exists to publish “radical, interesting and well argued” medical articles. The trouble is that “radical and interesting” also often meant offensive and inaccurate. Well now, according to a piece in Times Higher Education, Elsevier aims to make its publication more traditional:

Elsevier proposes a “revised and more focused aim and scope” for the journal and a “peer-review process for all submitted articles”.
To achieve this, it suggests a “review of editorial board membership” and development of a “wide pool of reviewers”.
“We would plan a relaunch once these changes have been implemented,” Elsevier says in the letter seen by Times Higher Education.

This change comes after Medical Hypotheses published what journalist Ben Goldacre once characterized as:

An almost surreally crass paper in which two Italian doctors argued “mongoloid” really was an appropriate term for people with Down’s syndrome after all, because they share many characteristics with oriental populations (including: sitting cross-legged; eating small amounts of lots of types of food with MSG in it; and an enjoyment of handicrafts).

But the most serious violation at Medical Hypotheses, the one that probably provoked Elsevier’s decision to revamp the publication, occurred in 2009 when the journal published an article arguing that there is “as yet no proof that HIV causes Aids.” The author characterized the claim that HIV has killed millions of people as “unconfirmed”.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

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