How to cite this article: Álvarez I. Recommendations to improve the scientific comunication process in the Revista Médica del IMSS. Rev Med Inst Mex Seguro Soc. 2016;54(1):4-7.
aÁrea de Producción Editorial, División de Innovación Educativa, Coordinación de Educación en Salud, Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social, Distrito Federal, México
Communication with: Iván Álvarez
Thelephone: (55) 5578 3617
Correos electrónicos: firstname.lastname@example.org
In order for the Revista Médica del Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social to achieve a more privileged position among the different journals, in this editorial we enumerate a series of recommendations to ameliorate the practices of the different actors who participate in the scientific communication process of this journal.
Keywords: Publishing; Editorial policies; Plagiarism; Translation; Scientific communication and diffusion
Editing a journal offers a privileged place from which to observe in detail the behavior of the various links that make up the chain of scientific communication. This is because those of us who do the editing can make note of a number of features derived from the practices carried out by authors, editors in chief, associate editors, peer reviewers, librarians, editorial designers, and the very editors / proofreaders who take care of the issue.
However, several of the traits we have mentioned, many of which are actually vices, acquire the status of patterns that hinder and stultify the ideal flow of the chain of scientific communication, a flow that should cascade in publications like this one so that our journal may grow stronger and gain a more privileged place among the various scientific journals, databases, and the most prestigious indices.
But what are these specific patterns to which we are referring? Below we list several of those inconsistencies and make appropriate recommendations.
This is what Catherine D. DeAngelis, former editor in chief of the renowned Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), has to say about the authors of medical journal articles, in the preface to the tenth edition of the AMA Manual of Style. A Guide for Authors and Editors:
I never cease to be amazed by the general inability of physicians, other health professionals, and scientists to communicate through the written word. Their scholarly and creative ideas and insightful data interpretation often seem to get lost in the translation from brain to page.1
The former editor in chief of JAMA is a little hard on her medical colleagues, since it is clear that not everyone has this inability to reflect their ideas in an article. However, DeAngelis’ quote comes up because of a pattern we have begun to see more and more frequently in the Revista Médica.
As we have reviewed articles for publication in some issue, we have already noted several instances in which the authors plagiarize several paragraphs from other articles to add to the introduction to their article. This happens most in the articles that are original contributions. And although the type of plagiarism does not have the degree of sophistication of a salami slicing (a technique in which an author uses in a new article the hypothesis or methodology from an article they previously wrote, and simply retouches it),2 we are dealing with the theft of the ideas of others to argumentatively support something that "we say" in our own article.
In cases where we have found plagiarism (when we are preparing an issue of the Revista Médica), abrupt changes in register or tone in the plagiarized paragraphs have been very evident, besides the fact that perpetrators who commit this error often forget style features, such as decimal points in the data (as we know, in Mexico the use of the decimal point is dominant) or usage that corresponds to other dialects of Spanish, such as the use of coste rather than costo, or reporting on something rather than reporting something, terms used in peninsular Spanish. Well, what we found when we reviewed these plagiarized articles are polyphonic texts in the sense that the Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin gave the term, i.e., they are texts that include a remarkable diversity of voices; colloquially, they are Frankensteins that stick out because it is clear that they are made from different parts of other texts.
Once we notice this type of mistake, we inform the editor in chief, who contacts the authors to clarify the matter.
We already know the implications of stealing others' ideas to pass them off as our own, especially in the field of scientific communication,3 in which plagiarism is severely punished. It is barely worth mentioning the case of the German minister of defense, Ursula von der Leyen, who was charged a couple of months ago with plagiarizing her doctoral thesis (which curiously was in medicine).4 How can we trust someone who copies and pastes text from other authors to pass it off as their own? Where is the undoubtedly noble objective of science and scientific communication when we place ourselves as the authors of ideas that are not our own? In many ways Dr. DeAngelis, former JAMA editor in chief, is right, and her emphatic affirmation shows the reason that pressures many doctors-authors to plagiarize other people's ideas.
As a suggestion for physicians to improve the writing of their articles, we will recommend, besides the aforementioned AMA Manual of Style,1 which focuses squarely on the issue of scientific communication, three books that are valuable tools for better writing: La cocina de la escritura by Daniel Cassany (published by Anagram), Redacción sin dolor by Sandro Cohen (Planeta) and On writing well by William Zinsser (HarperCollins) (the latter is in English with no translation into Spanish). All three focus on plain prose, which is to say they have clarity as the premise.
This is one of the features that most characterizes the articles that come to our journal, and Catherine D. DeAngelis’ remark that we quoted a few lines above could be applied more fully to many doctors who are careless in writing their abstracts in English.
If the authors seek to have better visibility in a scientific field whose greatest contributions are made in the English language, the best thing is, if not fluent in English, to pay a professional translator specialized in medical texts to do the work. The translation is only 250 words, which represents a minimal expense when compared to the benefits that it will bring to have an abstract impeccably translated into English, because, as we know, the second part of an article that readers notice, after the title, is, of course, the abstract.
It is noteworthy that many authors and also some translators tend to base their English translations on articles found in PubMed. However, this database is full of research done by authors with non-native English who translate their abstracts from Spanish into this language. And many of these abstracts often include terms that are not idiomatic in medical English or uses that are not appropriate or correct in English. We could say, without trying to offend, and although this sounds a bit strong, that the English used by some of these authors is an attempt at English. It is therefore important to check, in case of using that database as a reference to translate a concept, if the authors of the article we are checking are native speakers of English.
This reinforces the idea that a licensed professional should check or translate our abstracts in English so that anyone reading us (say, an American doctor or Australian one) has a clear and lucid idea of what we are saying in our article, and are not left thinking, "What?".
As for our journal, since mid-2015 we have had an external team of translators devoted to translating all the issues from this year (although to be clear they do not revise and edit abstracts in English due to issues of logistics and production design). These English versions of all the issues and supplements of the 2015 Revista Médica, as well as the three issues of the Revista de Enfermería del Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social from that year, will be available online once we make the adjustments to our website. And we should also mention that the editorial managers review the abstracts; however, if the authors deliver an impeccably translated summary, that will help create a positive cycle that will always have positive results (not only regarding abstracts in English; the idea is to make the flow of the chain of scientific communication more harmonious).
The various spellings that an author uses to write their name in the different articles they produce is perhaps one of the problems that we notice most when editing. In our journal we have come to see the author’s name spelled more than six ways. This leads to many problems, and especially means that the author, as we say colloquially, shoots themselves in the foot, because what happens with this carelessness is that the knowledge of their work fragments, fades, and eventually is lost. Consider an example. If the author Juan José López Díaz signs as Juan J. López-Diaz and then feels like signing as Juan J. López (perhaps because he doesn’t like the hyphen we use to link the paternal and maternal surnames), and later is co-author on another article and his partner, the main author, writes Juan Jose Lopez (sic), then we have a problem, because now we have three spellings representing the work of one author.
One solution to this problem is offered by ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID), which is a unique identifier with alphanumeric characters, which allows authors to avoid the fragmentation of their work as researchers. In the words of the people of ORCID: "As researchers and scholars, you face the ongoing challenge of distinguishing your research activities from those of others with similar names".5
It is needless to say that we have on several occasions received the request from an author to change their name because it is "written wrong" and, in the case of the print issue, we often cannot do anything because the file that includes the article from that author has already been delivered to the printer...
For that reason the use of an identifier like ORCID is of paramount importance in this field of scientific communication.
Many authors write keywords that are not necessarily MeSH indicators, and that therefore are not really keywords, since they do not fulfill that function (to guide, to beckon to other researchers for the article to have visibility).
Let’s look at a specific case at hand: continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion is a keyword that a group of authors put it in their article; however, the equivalent MeSH indicator is insulin infusion systems or some synonym like artificial endocrine pancreas.
There is also the case of using older adult, which is a euphemism widely used in the Institute to refer to the elderly (we noticed that it is also often used in countries like Chile). In this case, the indicator is elderly and all we do is put the latter as the keyword, since the reader relates the ideas once they are reading the article; i.e. within the article we leave older adult as used by the author, and for the keyword we put elderly.
Fortunately, at the Revista Médica del Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social we have the support of our librarian colleagues, who are responsible for revising so that the keywords are properly put as MeSH terms and can be searched in databases and search engines. And also in the Editorial production area we make sure that the keywords are written as they should be.
As a side note, we should mention that our journal is one of the few journals that has librarians responsible for reviewing references and keywords.
Of course no one is "safe" in this short entry, which aims to promote good practice among those of us who make up the chain of scientific communication at the Revista Médica del Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social. We the editorial staff must also do more on our part to make the chain work better.
Day to day we have to make many decisions related to the use of one word or another: if it is in Latin it must use italics, but if it is repeated often it fills the paragraph with a mix of italic and round, which can disfigure the paragraph and affect readability; what if a number in a table does not match the one in the body of the text; what if the author spoke in English in the abstract about nosocomial infections and then called it hospital infections and later hospital-acquired infections...; what if there were 91 citations to references, but the article had 99 references; what if ...
Let’s briefly recall that there was a controversy between some authors and the team of this journal regarding the hispanicizing of the word chikungunya (which is the English adaptation and use of that virus and fever). The authors complained when they saw that we use chikunguña use instead of chikungunya, because as they argued, this was the dominant use in the texts of the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization. We explained why we use the eñe instead of the digraph ny, which is not used in Spanish. And to support our decision, we appealed to a source that has been making its first steps as an authority on the Spanish language: Fundéu (Fundación del Español Urgente). However, in our rush to give our response in an editorial,6 we neglected another authority that was more relevant and authoritative, as medical Spanish is a type of specialized Spanish within what is known as professional and academic Spanish (also known as EPA). And the controversy grew because from across the pond, from Cabrerizos in Salamanca, Spain, came constructive and unexpected criticism from that authority who is one of the most authoritative people in the world to discuss medical Spanish: Fernando Navarrese. The Spanish translator burst into the debate and told the authors and us that it is neither chikungunya or chikunguña, rather: chicunguña.7 From this healthy debate we could conclude that both hispanicized constructions are valid, just not chikungunya. We take this opportunity to express our admiration for Fernando Navarro, whom we follow at Panace@ and in the Laboratorio del lenguaje (Laboratory of language), and who teaches us, among many other things, to use diacrisis in complex spellings of genes and proteins.
From the editorial perspective, we have listed five traits where we see stagnation in the flow of the chain of scientific communication in the Revista Médica (no doubt there are many more and it would be good to know, for example, the perspective from library sciences). We believe that if we improve on these and other aspects, we will have the journal that we deserve, and this strength we gain will put us in a better place among biomedical scientific journals, and why not?, among all journals.
I want to thank Ana María López Jasso, my librarian colleague, who gave me very timely comments on the part related to the keywords. Thank you, Ana!
Conflict of interest statement: The authors have completed and submitted the form translated into Spanish for the declaration of potential conflicts of interest of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, and none were reported in relation to this article.