Balancing Speed and Rigor at NEJM

By Peter Steinberg

Are medical journals slipping in relevance and reputation? ProPublica, an investigative journalism site, tackled this question in a recent report, “Amid Public Feuds, A Venerated Medical Journal Finds Itself Under Attack.” Critics claim that the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) has been failing in three areas: embracing open access to data, improving transparency in disclosing conflicts of interest, and making timely corrections to erroneous articles.

As you might expect, the NEJM editors staunchly defend their actions and policies, and the journal remains a widely respected source of medical information. The ongoing controversy highlights the escalating tension within the scientific community over how and when to share information. While a growing number of critics advocate for more open access, shorter publication timelines and greater transparency, others say these trends could compromise scientific rigor and credibility.

As professional communicators, we believe the answer lies in striking the proper balance between open, transparent communications and rigorous, methodical vetting of scientific data. Granted, such a balance is often elusive, especially as greater volumes of medical information become available at an accelerating pace.

Part of our mandate is to help clients strike this balance as a means to serve the interests of public health, medical research and ethical journalism, as well as their own commercial interests. As the NEJM controversy continues to unfold, we will apply lessons and insights to our work. Stay tuned.