Earlier this year a Canadian medical ethicist published a doozy of an essay claiming that the heavyweight New England Journal of Medicine was poorly vetting its authors and publishing shoddy studies.
The piece drew lots of attention for those allegations. But what went unremarked, though perhaps just as notable, is the place where they appeared: The Indian Journal of Medical Ethics (IJME).
The IJME isn’t on anyone’s list of most desirable places to publish. It’s not even indexed by Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science, which means it doesn’t have an official Impact Factor, used to rank journals. But for a relatively unknown and ostensibly local title — we hadn’t heard of it until a few months ago, and we have heard of an awful lot of journals — it has an impressive list of staff and contributors, and has been earning plaudits from the science community lately. Where did this mysterious journal come from?
Though the journal’s prominence is new, the forerunner to the IJME was actually founded more than two dozen years ago.
In the late 1980s, Amar Jesani, the journal’s current editor, and others joined the so-called Forum for Medical Ethics, an activist group pushing to reform the regulatory Maharashtra Medical Council. The Forum published the first issue of the journal — then called Medical Ethics — in August 1993.
The journal kept a local profile until about 2013, when it got involved in an effort to push the Indian government to more closely regulate clinical trials in that country. That led to Jesani’s appearance at a conference in Mexico, as well as involvement of the organization in the 2015 meeting of the World Association of Medical Editors, in Delhi. “This of course led to more closer interaction with many more people internationally on the issue of drug trials, data sharing, publication ethics, and so on,” Jesani said.
Since then they’ve published, both online and in print, some eye-catching papers. In August the IJME posted a lengthy and laudatory response to the Canadian medical ethicist Mark Wilson’s scathing essay on NEJM, by James Brophy, a highly cited cardiology researcher at McGill University. That same month it also published a letter from Ruth Macklin, a highly decorated emeritus professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, who detailed her own adventures with what she perceived as editorial conflict and bias at NEJM.
Macklin has a particularly strong link to the IJME; she has served on the journal’s editorial board and has known Jesani for 20 years. “The journal is valuable as a forum for ethics issues no matter where the authors are based,” she told STAT. “It is peer-reviewed and has a rather rapid turnaround.”
Wilson agrees. “I find the scholarship at the IJME of high quality. I also think as an ethics journal it offers informed debate on issues that other journals might be more hesitant to take on and address forthrightly.” That’s why, he says, it was the first place he submitted his provocative essay.
And, importantly for an ethics journal, the IJME seems to be operating pretty ethically. It doesn’t charge authors a fee to publish, and its articles are available online to everyone for free (the print edition carries a modest annual subscription fee). It doesn’t accept advertising from drug companies or medical device manufacturers, Jesani said. The staff is 1.5 full-time employees — whose salaries are paid for by donations from individuals and philanthropies — and a cadre of volunteers.
Future issues of the journal will include articles on transparency in research, public disclosure of raw data, euthanasia, palliative care, and the actions of regulators of both health care providers and the drug industry, in India and abroad.
In other words, a healthy dose of what science needs right now. We’ll certainly be among its growing audience.