Skeptical, but Hope Springs Eternal.
The heaviest of the heavy-hitter science journals in the US is Science Magazine, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). It publishes in all aspects of science. Its main competitor is the venerable Nature magazine in the UK. I subscribe to both. They come every week. Since I am overwhelmed by work and scientific papers in general and have a journal of my own to edit (full disclosure), these weekly news and science sources more likely than not pile up unread. But because I subscribe I can easily get the latest hot paper off their website or an old one I see cited, so I keep my subscriptions. Both have excellent science journalists and both commission perspective pieces to provide background and context written by experts. Now we learn (through Science magazine’s blog, ScienceInsider; Nature’s counterpart is called The Great Beyond) that AAAS/Science magazine is launching a new journal, Science Translational Medicine.
With all the journals out there, and so many unread (even though subscribed to), why do we need this journal? Here’s the rationale:
Moving discoveries out of the lab and into clinics has become one of the top goals of biomedical research leaders. They’ve called for programs to deploy research findings more rapidly and get young investigators interested in the nitty-gritty work of developing a new drug or treatment. Today AAAS, publisher of ScienceInsider, is stepping into this area with a new journal called Science Translational Medicine.
The journal’s home page explains that translational medicine “builds on basic research advances – studies of biological processes using cell cultures, for example, or animal models – and uses them to develop new therapies or medical procedures.” Science Translational Medicine will publish research and commentary every Wednesday, and selected papers will appear in a monthly print edition. (Jocelyn Kaiser, ScienceInsider)
That’s the idea. It’s not new, even for a journal. There’s been a Journal of Translational Medicine published for six years. You can go and read it any time you want because all its content is Open Access. The new journal from AAAS will be subscription only.
The phrase “translational medicine” seems to make sense on its surface but once you scratch the surface you see multiple meanings and complexities. You’d think that if anything tied the different meanings together it would be at minimum that translational medicine would try to reduce barriers between science at the bench and the rest of the world. You don’t do that by publishing on a subscription only model. Subscription to Science Magazine supports its many other functions (news and commentary, for example) but it is a barrier. Why not make the new journal completely Open Access if you want the world of entrepreneurs and governments and non-profits to be able to see and figure out new ways to apply science?
The Senior Advisor to the new journal is Elias Zerhouni, Bush’s NIH Director. “Bench to bedside” was a favorite topic of his and he moved NIH in that direction, arguing it could be done without compromising the basic science that has always been NIH’s strength. Some of us feared (with some justification, I think) that the result was going to turn NIH into the Pharm Team for the drug industry. Already it is a scandal that taxpayer dollars underwrite research that Big Pharma scarfs up and profits from, selling it back to us at a premium. To his credit, Zerhouni pushed for requiring NIH funded research papers to go Open Access, and although he wasn’t completely successful in resisting the influence of the big scientific publishers (including AAAS) for whom Open Access is a perceived threat, he did make a limited form happen. Yet now he is presiding over a subscription-only journal whose objective is allegedly to make science more accessible.
The question that remains to be seen is exactly what kind of science will be translated into what kind of applications. We have no shortage of high technology high cost applications already. What we need is a journal that will push low cost low technology applications. This doesn’t mean simple science. It could be very sophisticated science. This is the kind of thing that the MIT Media Lab has been doing for years. But somehow I don’t feel confident this subscription-only offshoot of a journal known for the fanciest kind of science will go in that direction. They are already talking about articles on regulation and patent law along with science.
That’s translation, all right. Bench to bucks.