One month into my role at Oxford PharmaGenesis has taught me more about scientific and medical publishing than 6 years in the world of academic research. Here, I discuss some of the key issues around academic publishing, and how some researchers in academia could learn from best practices developed to ensure compliance, transparency and integrity in the medical communications industry.
Publications are key to a successful career in academia. Although journal impact factor is important for career progression, universities and research institutes are now emphasizing the importance of open science and open access publishing. However, during my time in academia, the practicalities of open science were poorly explained. I knew that the overall aim was to increase transparency in the reporting of experimental protocols, data, code and software, but, when it came to submitting my own manuscript to a journal, I hadn’t realized that in order for it to be available open access, it needed to be published under a Creative Commons (CC) licence and that there were multiple CC licences to choose from. Even though both the university and the funder strongly encouraged open access publishing, additional education or materials would have been beneficial.
Despite academia moving towards transparent and accessible research, some journals and researchers are often still reluctant to publish negative results. Academic positions are usually competitive and to be successful, researchers are often required to have authored publications in high-impact journals with novel findings that are of interest to the scientific field. This often leads to researchers ‘cherry-picking’ certain results for publication, introducing a publication bias. As a result of this bias, well-designed studies that yield negative results that could be useful in informing research design go unpublished. As someone who used to work as a bench scientist, I find it frustrating to think of how many times negative data have been duplicated, wasting time and resources, owing to the scientific community’s reluctance to publish it. Another issue with the drive to publish in high-impact journals is that it can lead to academic research groups accumulating vast amounts of data ready for that ‘big’ publication. Not only does this slow overall progress in the field, but it can also lead to difficulties when trying to publish other articles, with the absence of published data making it challenging for concepts and hypotheses to be accepted by the wider scientific community. A model that puts more emphasis on timely reporting of research would help solve this issue.
When I left academia to join Oxford PharmaGenesis as an Associate Medical Writer, my previous research group asked me why authors in pharma would use and pay professional medical writers to help prepare publications (such as manuscripts, abstracts and poster presentations) as, traditionally, academic researchers write such content without specialized support. Medical writers are trained in communications, are familiar with authorship guidelines such as the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT), and spend most of their time writing and preparing publications, whereas academics are expected to fit writing around their research. Oxford PharmaGenesis has shown that professional medical writing support is associated with more complete and timely reporting of clinical trials and with higher quality of written English. Furthermore, articles that had received support were associated with a greater adherence to CONSORT guidelines than those developed without support.
In my role as a medical writer, I have already received training on the Good Publication Practice guidelines and open access, which allows me to advise authors on opportunities to publish open access. Given the fact that pharma-sponsored research has a higher rate of clinical trial results disclosure (74%) than non-pharma sponsored research (46%), I would encourage academic researchers to study the best practice documents and guidelines.