Saturday, 12 February 2011

Leigh Van Valen's letter of support for Medical Hypotheses


The late, and in my opinion almost-great, Leigh Van Valen was one of only a handful of eminent scientists who publicly supported the principles of Medical Hypotheses - indeed it was apparently one of the last things he did before dying a few months later:

I would like to preserve his comment from the online edition of Nature:


A more conspicuous statement in such a journal (perhaps with each paper) that it doesn't use peer review should be adequate warning for those who can't evaluate a paper themselves. For those who can, there are sometimes gems among the (often unintentionally humorous) matrix.

Genuine conceptual originality is by definition outside the accepted way of looking at things. It often has rough edges that can be easily refuted, thereby making its core seem suspect. And, indeed, most conceptual deviants are justifiably discarded.

Originality at the conceptual level can come from empirical discoveries. However, it can also come from looking at the world in a different way.

It's commonly recognized in the metascientific literature that conceptual originality is inversely related to publishability. As someone who has made some conceptually original contributions, I've noticed the same phenomenon myself.

More specifically, there are indeed occasional gems in Medical Hypotheses that would be difficult to publish elsewhere.

Medical Hypotheses does have mandatory publication charges, which discriminate against those without such money wherever such charges occur. Otherwise, though, I wish the journal well and hope that it will survive its current crisis.

2010-03-19 12:04:12

Posted by: leigh van valen


Note: "there are indeed occasional gems in Medical Hypotheses that would be difficult to publish elsewhere" - that satisfies me as an obituary for MeHy.

In fact, contrary to what LVV said, the mandatory publication charges for Medical Hypotheses had been abolished about a year before this letter, by Elsevier. The subsequent Medical Hypotheses Affair, and this action taken by the publishers (without consulting me), was therefore *in part* probably an unfortunate side effect of the resulting large (albeit self-inflicted)  loss of income from the journal - which went at a stroke from being very profitable to only mildly so. 

The editorial review system (and that the journal was not peer reviewed) was very prominently noted on the title page of the journal, which included exerpts from and a link to an essay by me describing the rationale. A note on each paper could easily have been added, if the publisher had wanted to preserve the journal's true nature: but they wanted (and got) peer review and a mainstream, non-controversial journal - an anti-Medical Hypotheses.

Water under the bridge...

Van Valen had accepted my first evolutionary paper for publication in his own journal - years before this: