Dr Talks\ Effective Altruism

Speaker: Panel of speakers


There’s this parable about an accountant to an affluent family that had recently lost their stereotypically shrewd businessman father. Because the rest of the family didn’t know anything about the business or finances, the generous soul volunteered to help manage their inherited wealth for them. Of course, he remained the biggest benefactor to the wealth, sparing just enough for the family to get by and not burden themselves into investigating why their lifestyle took a bigger blow than the father did from the oncoming train.


Earlier this year, Prof. Stephen Leeder was let go from the Medical Journal of Australia; for raising objections about the decision to outsource production of the magazine to the academic publishing company, Elsevier. In summary, the company has been implicated in practices that threaten academic integrity. Fears are that the Dutch company will threaten the autonomy in the quality of papers submitted; a result of the increased role that the company will have over the production of the journal.


In response, the Australian Medical Association owned Australasian Medical Publishing Company (AMPCo) rejects this argument, stating that the editorial remains with them. The role of Elsevier will be strictly limited to the role of the printing machine, in the assembly line of medical research.


Another issue is the competitive nature of the publishing industry. As Prof. Thomas Faunce voices; academic work is distributed to other academics for subscription fees that is largely taken by the publisher. Is the middle man taking a disproportionate cut relative to the amount of work that goes into academia? In fact, Elsevier has been under a controversy about their profit margins and it’s growth over the years; against a backdrop of universities cutting academic positions to save money. In 2013, Elsevier enjoyed between 30-40% growth in profit (depending on which source you are reading).


Elsevier rejects the notion, arguing that the price of accessing their journals has been falling over the years. Some of their publications are open source too.


So, why should any medical student care? I’ve got my textbooks and lectures that will help me become a doctor. I’m a citizen in a country with the power to vote in a government. I have access and communication to the entire world at my work desk and pocket. And now around my wrist.


Taking a step backwards, the entire episode is a reminder of a bigger issue. An issue about how more powerful institutions can use power to potentially maximise self interest in place of the common good. We’ve seen it through the propagandist laden past, we see it today. More recently, we’ve seen it in the Border Force Act 2015. Without opposition or oversight, an organisation can fabricate any story, in the name of reality, which can manifest in several outcomes in the future. This is possible because we are unaware of the deeper story, accepting whats given to us, because we don’t know better. While we are powerless to do anything, it’s absolutely essential that there is awareness about these issues, so that when exposed to dubious information, we remember to exercise skepticism.


The Common Rounds strives to not take any sides, and would like to take these themes even further. As such, we invite anyone to join us over a cup of tea for an interview and a discussion, regardless of where you stand on these issues. In the unlikely event that the AMA or AMPCo does accept our invitation for an interview, I request you to bring some photocopy paper as I know of a place that is constantly in need of some.