September 5, 2012 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

I have not been identified as a bioethicist for most of my career. I am a scientist. I trained in physiology and also worked in the realms of biochemistry and cell biology. Just like others in the disciplines a big part of my job was research and to be successful it was necessary to publish my findings. One of the determinations I needed to make on a regular basis was which journals did I submit my work to for consideration of publication. Early in my career as a doctoral student and later postdoctoral fellow and as a young faculty member in physiology there was an obvious choice, the American Journal of Physiology. This journal was highly regarded, had rigorous editorial standards, and publication in this journal was prestigious providing me an advantage in career advancement in my field and, importantly, competing for grant support to continue my work. As my career progressed I continued to seek to publish in high profile biomedical science journals and was pleased to be published in top-tier journals in biochemistry, hematology and immunology.

The journals I referred to above all had something in common. All of these journals were operated by the scholarly professional society representing the respective disciplines (e.g. the American Journal of Physiology was published under the auspices of the American Physiological Society).This society sponsored journal format had important implications for quality, standards, and operations. Most important it assured that editorial standards and criteria corresponded to the consensus standards of community. Moreover they were all run as non- profit entities. 

Now I find myself spending most of my time in Bioethics. I started two decades ago as a teacher of scientific integrity and have been involved to an increasing degree ever since. Many things seem different in bioethics compared to basic biomedical sciences. This is appropriate as each field must act in accord with its own standards and interests. I would also make the point, however, that there are some things each field can learn from the other. One thing that seems very different in bioethics is nature of scholarly journals and scholarly publication.

Bioethics journals are predominantly privately owned. Many are for profit entities or have a closely related to for profit affiliates. None are operated by the primary scholarly professional societies representing the discipline. As such these journals are not normalized or accountable to the scholarly standards of the community. They are accountable to private interests. Private entities control appointment to the editorial boards.

Therefore I am calling on the scholarly societies which purport to represent bioethics and who count in their membership bioethics scholars to step forward and accept the responsibilities to operate scholarly journals. This is their responsibility. Some may suggest that I am being presumptive in making this suggestion. After all, I am not even a member of these societies. However, I am writing this blog and therefore assuming the right to make this suggestion. It makes so much sense to me.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.