Gaurav Gulsin, Sachin Gupta, Mostafa El Dafrawi: Read it and weep

In recent years, there has been a growing emphasis on keeping up to date with the current scientific literature. To practise evidence based medicine, we have to constantly read and appraise medical journals, and implement (or disregard) their teachings into our everyday work. This means that students and clinicians alike are required to read more and more published research. There is, however, a bit of a problem with this: scientific journals are becoming more and more difficult to read and understand.

How many of the papers you read in the last month did you genuinely understand? The answer to this question should, of course, be “all of them.” Unfortunately, few publications are comprehensible across all ranges of experience in medicine – from student to professor. To us, this reflects a fundamental flaw in current trends of scientific writing. To create a more universal awareness of the happenings at the forefront of research, journal articles must be made more “accessible to the masses.”

This is especially true in the fields concerning basic science research, where confusion is almost guaranteed when browsing through articles to research a specific area. For example, a PubMed search for articles related to Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP) in spine surgery yields articles with titles that would confuse almost any professional. Words such as “polyelectrolyte,” “osteoinductive,” “nanospheres,” and “poly(ε-caprolactone fumarate),” are commonplace. These make it more likely for the reader to ignore the research than to explore it.

Why is it that journal articles are becoming increasingly convoluted? In our opinion, the problem stems from the requirement of authors to build upon and cite the ideas of others. To avoid plagiarism, we have to write sentences and paragraphs that convey similar messages, but using different words. How many times can we possibly use the thesaurus function of our word processor before a sentence no longer makes sense? Authors keep quoting each other and in the process the language changes from simple to strange. The simplest way of expressing an idea is usually the best, but this “simple” form was probably written years ago, resulting in modern literature evolving to become increasingly complex. Perhaps journals need to exercise more flexibility with their plagiarism regulations?

Another possible reason may be that the scientific community wants to maintain a reputation of intelligence. Authors think their work is more likely to be published if they use complex wording. In actual fact, this complexity discourages readers from learning about the new ideas in published research. Consequently, research that should be accessible to everyone instead repels us from reading it.

The goal of research is to distribute information that will appeal to a wide audience in order to improve scientific knowledge. If this information is confusing, it undermines the entire idea of writing articles in the first place. We should encourage future authors to put aside the need for vast numbers of citations and instead be more original in their ideas and in their writing. This will hopefully make scientific literature more interesting and more readable.

Gaurav S Gulsin is a final year medical student, University of Aberdeen School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Sachin Gupta is a first year undergraduate student, George Washington University, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

Mostafa El Dafrawi is a Post-doctoral fellow, Department of Orthopaedics, Spine Division, Johns Hopkins Medical Institution.

  • Profmnaim

    Yes, every word published in journals should not be taken up
    as final verdict. It had been responsibility due of the reviewing journals not
    to copy but to filter and see out of researches published related to their
    particular specialties, what has been proved thereafter the research to be of
    value in it for practice keeping in view social health derived mental health
    derived physical health of the patient in the long term. Indexing journals then
    should brief content of utility, and PUBMED to its prestige must present the
    best applicable out of the research gone indexed the best way. It would have
    saved precious reading time of our experts and students for utility in serving
    practice for generating healthy man power for best economic gains of the
    nations and the world. The questions involved are of fee paid for indexing
    binding insignificant with significant on commercial excess, availability and
    cost of capably indexing man power. And if it goes well doing less as presently,
    then why to bother to facilitate any more. On trail results after the
    preliminary claims many claimed discoveries were found to be killing and
    disabling faster than without those remedies, but, who should check and
    prohibit. Bone marrow is very good example cited in this report. So called
    evidence and correction of one expression may lead to other obnoxious and
    horrible expressions being chain reactions. So unless survival report surveys
    do not find positive effect on survival longevity and comfort to patients, it
    must not be allowed simply on the basis that research with claims is published,
    and PCR or bio-chem. evidence exists. Unless reforms in the direction, every
    expert student is to weep along with the patients suffering from ailments
    cursing to the information resources.