NET NEWS: E-Biomed Under Fire

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Science  18 Jun 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5422, pp. 1887
DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5422.1887c

It wasn't the sizzling hot temperatures in Washington, D.C. earlier this month that scorched National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Harold Varmus: Rather, a gang of fire-breathing scientific publishers lined up to torch his idea for an electronic publishing database called E-Biomed. Heat shields up, Varmus is plowing ahead and intends to respond to his critics.

Under a proposal released by Varmus in April, NIH would set up two routes to publication in E-Biomed: Manuscripts could be vetted by reviewers chosen by a governing board; or they could be posted in a preprint archive after being “validated” by two scientists (Science, 30 April, p. 718). Along with attacking the proposal through statements in the press, paper publishers have begun firing off official salvos. On 4 June, Journal of the American Medical Association editors wrote Varmus that E-Biomed “would undermine clinical journals”; the two-person cursory review, The New England Journal of Medicine warned in an editorial last week, “might well fill the clinical databases with misleading and inadequately evaluated information.”

Many scientists have weighed in against the idea at a forum on an NIH Web site, which had posted dozens of comments as of last week. Others were supportive, however, and some suggested an alternative: Find a way to add full text to MEDLINE, NIH's free abstracts database. “In the end it will be (or should be) simply PubMed with text and figures,” wrote Harvard biochemist Kathleen J. Sweadner.

Varmus was unavailable for a rebuttal. However, spokesperson Anne Thomas said he plans to post “an addendum” to his E-Biomed proposal on the Web soon.

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