Publishing the unpublished

Why we should publish the unpublished in medical research

In our previous blog post, we talked about the changes in medical science publishing over the past 20 years that led to the rise of open access journals. Here we talk to, Alessandro Diana, a paediatrician at University Hospital of Geneva, Switzerland, and founder of the novel online journal Unpublished Articles in Science (UNAIS).

Dr Alessandro Diana - founder of the novel online journal Unpublished Articles in Science (UNAIS).

Dr Alessandro Diana – founder of the novel online journal Unpublished Articles in Science (UNAIS).

The unusual, and potentially groundbreaking, aim of UNAIS is to publish rejected papers and unfinished research projects that have never made it into peer-reviewed journals, with the hope being that they may stimulate discussion, offer inspiration, generate further ideas, and promote collaboration.

Speaking to MedicalWriters.com, Dr Diana explained how the idea for the site came about. He said: “I have done some clinical trials, of course, and written some articles. I am reviewer for one or two journals, and I was asked to review papers. I came to the conclusion that some articles, for a variety of reasons, but especially because of poor language, are refused.

“Of course, the author tries to consider the opinion of the reviewers and resubmit their paper, but I realised that we all have some articles that we have just given up on. We say that it doesn’t show positive results or the subject was a little bit so-so and, after refusal, we just let it stay on our computer. I thought: Why? So I had the idea of publishing them. But, more than publishing them, I wanted to share them by posting them on a website.”

Having carried around the idea for several years, and seen many instances of apparently arbitrary reasons for publication or refusal, Dr Diana finally resolved to test out his hunch. He said: “I published a question on Research Gate: How far are scientists willing to publish the unpublished? I got more than 400 comments and answers. Actually, I was approached by a person a couple of days ago to see if it would be possible to publish or collect all these comments.”

While noting that he has received very positive feedback on the concept of UNAIS, Dr Diana was keen to emphasise: “Of course, I am not preaching to people: ‘Don’t publish in peer review and publish your unpublished.’ And I am not saying to young scientists: ‘When you have a first refusal, publish on UNAIS.’

“Not at all. I am just giving a call out to scientists:

‘Hey, if you have some paper hidden away in your computer because you just gave up on it, please share it, because this raw information could be useful. That’s the only purpose of UNAIS.”

Aside from the possibility of prompting further research, there may be a whole range of benefits to UNAIS. “For example, a university dean said go ahead with this idea because this is good material for students to study,” Dr Diana explained. “In a way, they may make use of what is a ‘bad paper’ and use it to criticise and work on. So, you see, it could have a lot of applications.”

Dr Diana continued: “To tell you the truth, I don’t want to make money on this because I have a job, so this is not at all my intention. I think the site should be free – you should not pay to access it.”

However, the launch of the site has not been without it’s difficulties. The current form of UNAIS is hampered by a series of technical problems that lost Dr Diana a great deal of money and almost made him take the site down. However, he was persuaded to continue. “I was contacted by several people, mostly colleagues, saying: ‘Listen, this is a good idea to publish the unpublished. You should carry on.’ So I have some new hope that maybe the site can be resuscitated.”

Dr Diana hopes to relaunch UNAIS in the next 6–8 weeks. To make a donation to support UNAIS, visit UNAIS Donate.

About Frank Waaga

Frank has a passion for medical communications and over 12 years of experience providing professional and reliable support to product teams in the pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device industry.
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