Rant: If a journal article is published in the forest and no one reads it, does it exist?

June 4, 2010, 1:31 pm

It sounded like a must-read article. The title: “Fatal 2,3-dinitrophenol poisoning . . . coming to a hospital near you”.  Dinitrophenol (DNP) is a particularly nasty, scary toxin.  It uncouples mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation, and can rapidly cause seizures, coma and death.  Used as an insecticide and herbicide, DNP is also sold over the internet as a weight-reduction aid. (Go figure!)  The article’s abstract promised that the authors would discuss the use of dantrolene in treating DNP poisoning, as well as critically evaluate recommendations for treatment contained in the UK National Poison Information Service guidelines.

The article was published in Emergency Medical Journal. Yet when I tried to retrieve it through our university library computer database, I was informed that it was not available in electronic form.  Going to the journal’s website, it appeared that it would cost $224 for a year’s subscription to access content.  I gave up.  In the old days, I would simply go to the medical library, get the issue from the “new periodicals” section, and read the article.  But now, with all libraries cutting back drastically on hard copy subscriptions, that is no longer an option.  And I would suggest that not only are very few people willing to pay $224 a year for medical content, very little literature is actually worth that amount.

Because of this situation, I think that many very good medical journals are risking becoming irrelevant because, increasingly, they are publishing in a vacuum.  If no one can easily access their content, no one will read them.  I understand the economic realities and the fact that publishing a journal costs money, but it would be a pity if the potential for increased accessibility afforded by the internet actually ended up in some way decreasing the amount of new medical information.

I am going to try to order this article through our medical library. A cumbersome procedure, but I really want to read what the authors say about dantrolene and DNP.


One Comment:

  1. Pieter Says:

    This is unsustainable, I agree. As print costs are gradually eliminated by free distribution, the only remaning costs will be editorial costs. This can potentially be covered by sponsorship or voluntary editorialists (they also might do a better job on a voluntary basis)