Editorials

Knowledge Must Be Shared


Phillip W. Long, M.D.
January 24, 1996

Scientific textbooks and journals are essential ingredients in the dissemination of knowledge. They allow people to find out what researchers around the world are doing. That's why more and more people are now worried about what is being called a crisis in scholarly communication.

Today's paper-based textbooks and scientific journals can't keep up with the explosion in scientific research.

Many scientists are now arguing that this crisis in scholarly communication could be solved by publishing scientific textbooks and journals on Internet. Since the paper-based scholarly communication industry is a multi-billion dollar, multi-national industry; it is unlikely that this industry will adopt Internet over-night. Yet there has been growth in scientific publications on Internet. At a time when budgets are shrinking, the demand for instant, easily accessible data is growing.

Scientists predict that the transfer of scholarly communication over to Internet will create some new problems.

On Internet, there will be a greater risk that scholarly peer review will break-down. The process of peer review, where articles are submitted to expert review before publication, is vital in ensuring that bad science doesn't see the light of day. Because literally anyone can publish on Internet, there is no way to ensure that all Internet scientific publications will properly use peer review. As a result, future Internet users will be instantly exposed to the best, and the worst, in scientific publishing.

On Internet, there will be a greater risk that authorship rights will break-down. It is very easy on Internet to copy, then alter, someone else's Internet publication. In this way, the initial author's message is often totally distorted; yet still attributed to the original author.

On the positive side, these new Internet scientific publications will offer many advantages over paper-based textbooks and journals.

Our web site, Internet Mental Health, was published to share mental health knowledge with the world. Our Internet publication includes: disorder descriptions, online diagnosis, treatment recommendations, medications, and research findings. Our hope is that others will add to the advancement of mental health by starting similar Internet publications. Collectively, on Internet, we could create the world's most complete library of mental health information.

There are certain guidelines which could improve publishing mental health information on Internet:

  1. All Internet sites should welcome other sites linking to them.
  2. Internet sites should not copy another site's HTML files onto their site without written permission. It is very important that the document's original Internet site be given the full credit for its creation.
  3. Internet sites should promote peer review of their publications. Usually this is done through affiliation with an established mental health group or professional body (e.g., the Harvard Mental Health Letter web site has an editorial board which, in turn, is accountable to Harvard University). If an editorial board is not possible, peer review is still possible if the web site's editor publicly responds to any letters of criticism.
  4. Diagnostic criteria (i.e., rules on how to diagnose a mental disorder) should be freely published on Internet.
  5. Outcome measures (e.g., rating scales) should be freely published on Internet.
  6. Treatment guidelines should be freely published on Internet.

Global sharing of knowledge is the passion that drives Internet. Fifteen percent of the world's population suffers from mental illness. Internet has given us the ability to globally reach out and help anyone thirsting for knowledge. We must share our intellectual riches with the world.

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Internet Mental Health (www.mentalhealth.com) copyright 1995-2011 by Phillip W. Long, M.D.