Diana Frame [EMPH ’09] decided to ask the New York Times Deputy Science Editor, Barbara Strauch, a little something about editorial decisions.. see below…
Q. Thank you for taking the time to answer reader’s inquiries regarding health and science coverage. I have a question on editorial decisions to publish clinical research findings based on articles in scientific journals. Specifically, how and why are articles deemed newsworthy, and is there any consideration of whether readers are able to obtain additional information beyond what is presented in the news report?
One case in point (of numerous examples I could have selected) is a recent New York Times piece on ovarian cancer screening (“Screening can detect early ovarian cancer,” March 11, 2009).
Because the topic is of considerable interest to me and the news item left important data unstated, I immediately looked up the original research article on which the story was based. I was disappointed to find that the article was available only by subscription or pay-per-view ($31.50 for the single article). In fact, although I am a student at Columbia University and have access to one of the world’s best health science libraries, I was not even able to access the article through Columbia’s online journal subscriptions because of the article’s “Online First” status. This is a sad state of affairs, particularly for scientific research which has often been funded by public entities.
My question for you is, would The New York Times consider refusing to carry news stories that promote scientific findings unless the source article is freely available? Although the article referenced above was performed in the United Kingdom, all research financed by the National Institutes of Health is now required to be made available upon publication. The news media can be an important part of enforcing and building on this policy. Alternatively, news articles could at least include a link to the publisher’s Web site and note the fact that a subscription or payment is required to access the full research report. I feel that only when we begin rewarding open access journals and repositories (such as the Public Library of Science and PubMed Central) is there hope that the best scientific evidence will be available to all citizens.
A. Believe me, we share your frustration. We, too, sometimes have a hard time getting access to original research articles because most journals are privately owned. If I could wave a magic wand, all research would be free and open access. Unfortunately, we are not there yet and we have to live with the world as it is.