Archive for May, 2012

In my first article on WebmedCentral, my colleague Steven Day and I publish the results of a comprehensive reanalysis of the Major League Baseball (MLB) vital data. (For those of you familiar with my previous posts on MLB mortality, this research was actually completed before our work on mortality among international players which was presented at the 3rd North American Congress of Epidemiology in June 2011.)

Analyzing data from U.S. players who joined the Majors between 1900 and 1999, we compare ballplayer mortality to the U.S. general population between 1930 and 1999, and model the risk within the cohort across the century.

The results of our analysis revealed some interesting patterns. First of all mortality rates declined over the course of the 20th Century for both ballplayers and the general population. Baseball players were subject to lower mortality rates in the 1930s, but the general population mortality rate declined more rapidly between 1930 and 1960 than did the mortality rate for ballplayers. The result was that by 1960 ballplayers were no better off than the general population; the general population had “caught up” to the ballplayers. However, the mortality rates immediately begin to diverge again in the 1970s, with diminishing point estimates of the SMR and statistically significant differences for the period 1970-1999.

Modeling the risk within the cohort confirmed the changes in the mortality rates. The mortality rate declined nearly exponentially in each successive decade between 1900 and 1999 and increased exponentially with player age.

The practical result of these trends was that life expectancy increased substantially for both the general population and the ballplayers over the period 1930-1999. Because of the pattern of mortality rates between 1930-1969, life expectancy essentially converged in the 1960s, before the gaps between ballplayers and the general population again widened. By 1999 there was a difference of as much as 4.4 years of life expectancy for young ballplayers, and nearly 1.5 years additional life expectancy for the oldest.

This work is in keeping with previous papers on the topic, but sheds new light on the trends over time, providing both an external and internal comparison over many decades. The take-home message is clear: being a professional athlete yields health benefits that extend many years beyond one’s career.

View the paper or download a PDF of it here.

Article Reference

Reynolds R, Day S. Life Expectancy and Comparative Mortality of Major League Baseball players, 1900-1999. . WebmedCentral SPORTS MEDICINE 2012;3(5):WMC003380

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While most people are aware of the value of publications in the various scientific professions including Occupational Epidemiology, many fewer have been tracking the ongoing debate surrounding peer review and access to scientific ideas.

The traditional model with which we are all most familiar is that of peer-reviewed journals. In this formula we write our manuscript, submit it for double-blinded review by the journal’s editor and selected reviewers, and wait for a decision. Even if the manuscript is judged to have merit by these individuals, there are usually numerous suggestions for revision. After some amount of tortuous back-and-forth, the manuscript may be published anywhere from 6 months to a year after initial submission. Once the manuscript is actually published, then only those with a subscription or with access to an inter-library loan service may view it; journal subscriptions are typically many thousands of dollars, especially when publishers often “bundle” their titles for libraries.

Another model is the “Open Access” model. In this case the process is largely the same, except that the author has to pay a fee to get the article published (an “article processing fee”, sometimes upwards of $2000 US), but then once the article is published, anyone can access it without charge.

Both of these models have their drawbacks. Chief among them is that rather large fees are being levied — either on readers or on authors (which is exclusionary of the rapidly growing scientific community in countries such as India, Pakistan, Eastern Europe, and parts of Africa). Another is that in both models your work may never see the light of day if some of your peers do not like it — the very same peers who may not agree with your theories or who may be competing with you for funding.

Another set of concerns in these models revolves around article quality. Critics of the traditional pre-publication peer review system claim that journals are motivated to cherry-pick submitted articles, printing only those they think will “sell” the best — that is, those articles that will increase their readership. On the other hand, critics of the open access model of publishing claim that open access journals are nothing more than vanity publishers, willing to print anything for which authors are willing to pay.

So what should scientific publishing look like then? Ideally, it would allow all people to air their opinions and promote their theories using an unbiased format.  To be truly inclusive of the global scientific community, it should be free to all and easy to acquire. And finally, to ensure that there is still some ability to sort the wheat from the chaff, there needs to be a mechanism for peer review. I would like to call your attention then to WebmedCentral.com, the first attempt at achieving all three of these goals.

WebmedCentral.com guarantees publication within 48 hours using an automated system to input the details of manuscripts. This system then publishes an HTML version of the article as well as a formatted PDF that can be downloaded. Once the article is up it cannot come down; it is open season for people to engage in *post-publication* peer review. That is, once it is out there, people can rate it using a standardized scale as well as type up a formal review and permanently attach it to the article. The author can respond to the reviews, and in this way the scientific debate is public and transparent. All the articles are indexed on Google Scholar. For the time being it is free to publish and read articles on WebmedCentral.com; the site currently says that an approximately $40 fee will be levied on authors starting in July 2012.

I encourage everyone to support this movement; like it or not, I suspect some of the best action in all of your fields will take place in forums like this in the future. Beyond publishing the traditional research article, one can publish review articles, opinion pieces, case reports, and even post videos. Another opportunity I see in connection with this site is to have a collection of publicly visible article reviews which you can cite among your published works.

The revolution in scientific publishing is starting — join up now!

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