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AFRO-NETS> Invitation to peer-review the AIDS-Orphans Whitepaper

  • Subject: AFRO-NETS> Invitation to peer-review the AIDS-Orphans Whitepaper
  • From: Silvia Jarchow <sjarchow@zmml.uni-bremen.de>
  • Date: Wed, 20 Feb 2002 04:38:19 -0500 (EST)

Invitation to peer-review the AIDS-Orphans Whitepaper


Beginning of March 1st, 2002, the contributions submitted for the AIDS-
Orphans Whitepaper(*) will be available for peer-review. On this occa-
sion, I wish to test an alternative review process attempting to ad-
dress the growing concern about the traditional academic peer-review

The peer-review system of academic research publications is the subject
of an increasing criticism, blamed of being no longer a guaranty of
scientific integrity and independent research. The underlying question
of possible conflicts of interest stretches well beyond simple rival-
ries as it became apparent in the context of the AIDS tragedy with the
publication of an article of Gallo versus Montagnier dating back to the
beginning of the AIDS research[1], or recently with the diffusion and
translations of the best-seller novel of John le Carré[2], and with the
publication of feature articles revealing scandalous situations, sug-
gesting that it could only be the tip of an iceberg[3,4,5]. It is ur-
gent that the young generations know, practise and value the guiding
principles of scientific evaluation.

For decades the self-censorship system of the scientific literature
(peer-review) has been an effective tool to collaboratively establish
scientific truth, from which derives the progress of exciting technolo-
gies. Many factors have contributed to the decay of its effectiveness.
Pressure from giant corporations, budget cuts in public funding are the
most commonly mentioned. The traditional anonymity of the referees gave
place to numerous kinds of abuses which could justify its lifting. One
may expect in a near future that the public access to raw research data
will become a pre-condition of academic publications, in order to avoid
abuses such as ghostwritten papers mentioned by Sarah Boseley [4].

The unconditional transfer of copyrights to the prestigious scientific
publishers may have indirectly contributed to the appearance of these
abuses, by transforming scientific knowledge into an electronic product
purchasable from a single online Internet-resource, and as a result
disempowering the public libraries from their role of knowledge evalua-
tion, diffusion and conservation (scarcity of knowledge that penalises
the public reader). In addition, the number of publications has been
employed as a criterium for scientific achievement. Facing an exponen-
tially increasing number of submitted manuscripts publishers are pro-
viding incentives for their review in the form of a credit to purchase
books, something that affects the motives for accepting to review a
given paper. There is a growing awareness among academics of the need
to consider a qualitative analysis of the citations and of the cited
references as a more reliable indicator of academic work.

The new media offer new possibilities of sharing progress, of exchang-
ing and reflecting ideas and of transmitting knowledge and technologi-
cal skills. Given the current plethora of electronic publications, the
quality of the electronic content will gradually become the subject of
a review process, one that should ensure at the same time transparency,
responsibility and freedom of expression.

With the peer-review of the AIDS-Orphans Whitepaper(*), I wish to try
out a new web/e-mail based process that will emphasise the need for
transparency and for a broad consultation (academics, NGOs, dedicated
citizens, etc.). The reader should be offered means of assessing the
possible bias of a referee (one may easily admit that any referee in-
troduces a bias). This will require more visibility of the referees;
anonymous referees may have been necessary when their role involved au-
thorizing or refusing the publication of an article, but as online edi-
tors are no longer limited in physical printing space and time (print
rush) typical to paper-based printed periodicals, the need to establish
a priority of publication has become relatively obsolete. The referee
could be given not only a name but a voice that may enlighten the
reader with review comments and a limited number of literature refer-
ences (an epistemological definition of the referee bias).

These are the ideas that I try to implement in inviting you to take
part to the peer-review of the AIDS-Orphans Whitepaper(*). To become a
referee, please kindly:

1. choose a submitted contribution from the current list:
2. prepare an evaluation including:
a) private recommendations to authors (correction, improvement,
b) public comments of ca. 100 words (opinion, criticism, praise,
c) a maximum of three additional cited references
d) your name and academic title
3. send your review to <sjarchow@zmml.uni-bremen.de>

Looking forward to your participation.

Dr. rer.nat. Silvia Jarchow
Centre for Multimedia in Education (ZMML)
University of Bremen
Bibliothekstr. MZH
28359 Bremen, Germany

(*) The AIDS-Orphans Whitepaper is an informal brainstorming project
inviting contributors to describe which role the general public (e.g.
dedicated persons or tourists) could play to help the 16 Million AIDS-
Orphans who are struggling world-wide for basic human needs such as the
right to life, freedom, health-care and education (deadline to contrib-
ute has been extended until 31 March 2002):

[1] The chronology of AIDS research, Gallo, R.C. and Montagnier, L.,
1987, Nature, vol. 326, pp.435-436

[2] The Constant Gardener, by John le Carré, published in 2001 by Hod-
der and Stoughton, ISBN 0-340-73339-X. A novel inspired by the ar-
ticle 'Drug Firm Put Patients at Risk in Hospital Trials' by Paul
Nuki, David Leppard, Gareth Walsh and Guy Dennis, The Sunday Times,
London, May 14, 2000.

[3] Bitter pill, by Sarah Boseley, The Guardian, Monday May 7, 2001:
"David Healy claims that Prozac, the bestselling drug of all time,
can drive people to suicide - even if they aren't depressed. The
company that makes the drug (and earns £1.8bn a year from it) says
that's rubbish. So have his views just cost him a job?"

[4] Scandal of scientists who take money for papers ghost-written by
drug companies, by Sarah Boseley, health editor, The Guardian,
Thursday February 7, 2002 : "Doctors named as authors may not have
seen raw data - Scientists are accepting large sums of money from
drug companies to put their names to articles endorsing new medi-
cines that they have not written - a growing practice that some
fear is putting scientific integrity in jeopardy." (reproduced in
the Guardian Weekly vol. 166, No 8, p.25)

[5] Le scandale staduvine - Ces profiteurs du sida, by Philippe Deme-
net, Le Monde diplomatique, February 2002, p.1,22-23: "In the rich
countries, the choices of production and the price policies of
pharmaceuticals involve a true racket; in the poor countries, these
decisions prevent the greatest number from access to care. The
story of staduvine, an AIDS drug, is exemplary: an outcome of uni-
versity research, the exclusivity of this molecule was licensed to
the firm Bristol-Myers Squibb, which blocked its marketing in the
countries most affected by the pandemic..."

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