The current insanity at JAMA has been well reported elsewhere (also see these links: here, here, here, and here). I’ll give you a thumbnail sketch. A professor from a small university wrote to JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) to let them know that an author of an antidepressant study appeared to have an undisclosed conflict of interest (COI). When he didn’t hear back from JAMA he wrote to a more prestigious journal, the British Journal of Medicine (BMJ) who published his letter. This caused the editors at JAMA to completely lose their shit, threatening the letter writer, calling his dean, insulting him with juvenile taunts (“you’re a nothing and a nobody”) and banning him from publishing in JAMA (irony alert—he had his letter published in a much better journal, BMJ).
The links above will lead you to most of the prurient details, but I’d like to look at one of the most idiotic results of this incident.
JAMA has always been a second tier journal (after the New England Journal of Medicine, Annals of Internal Medicine, the Lancet, BMJ) and JAMA has never liked this position. Despite their second-tier status (or perhaps because of it), the editors of JAMA seem to think they have some sort of superpowers, powers that allow them to reach out a punch some one in the nose publicly and then claim to be the aggrieved party. Rather than stepping back from the fray to find a way to dig themselves out of this particular cesspit, they have continued to dig furiously, compounding every error, and showing a stunning lack of competence and yes, frank stupidity.
The worst of the arrogant stupidity is to be found in an editorial in JAMA, apparently the official response to the situation.
This editorial would be amusing if it didn’t make me wonder which institution the editors had escaped from. Let’s examine it briefly (all emphasis mine):
As a result of these recent events we are making the following modifications to our already rigorous approach for investigations into allegations of unreported potential conflicts of interest. JAMA will require that the individual bringing the allegations provide a written detailed explanation of the unreported conflicts of interest and provide documentation to support the allegation. The person bringing the allegation will be specifically informed that he/she should not reveal this information to third parties or the media while the investigation is under way, will be informed about progress of the investigation, upon request, as appropriate, and will be notified when the investigation is completed. In addition, once the investigation into unreported conflicts of interest is completed and the letter of explanation and the correction are finalized, those documents will be immediately posted online and linked from the article, and then subsequently published in the print journal.
This paragraph would make sense in your basic totalitarian society. After all, one of the first rules of a dictatorship is “control the press”. The press monitors the government, and monitors its competitors. A free press is critical to democracy. If JAMA were the only medical journal in the world, they could set whatever draconian rules they wished, and the coercion to follow them would be future ability to publish in the world’s only journal. This is of course, not the case.
As this case shows, when a journal is suspected of having undisclosed COIs, its competitors can scoop them. There is no need to go directly to JAMA to complain about the error—you can go straight to another outlet. This bothers JAMA, and causes them to make ridiculous pronouncements that are sure to be laughed away in seconds. If I find an error in JAMA, I have even less incentive now to write them to let them know. I’ll just write to the New England Journal, or put it right here in my blog. In fact, I think all medical writers and bloggers should give JAMA increased scrutiny and publish every little error we can find.
If you want a piece published in a particular journal, you must follow whatever guidelines they lay down. A journal has complete control over its content. This control does not extend to the rest of the world, no matter how overblown your sense of importance is. The difference between JAMA and Superman is that when Superman leaps off a building, he flies. When JAMA’s editors jump, their is a resounding “splat” after which we all go back to drinking our coffee and reading our paper.