JIMA: Largest Medical Journal in Print Closes Shop

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The Journal of the Indian Medical Association seems to have ceased publication in March, according to this newspaper article, which caught my attention recently. There was some conflict leading to the March issue not being published. I checked the JIMA website, and it seems to have been put out of show; it links to a placeholder page for now:

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The JIMA, as it is affectionately known in the Indian medical circles, is the official publication of the Indian Medical Association, arguably, the largest national medical association globally. The journal was provided in print to all the paying members of the Association. That amounted to almost 200,000 copies EVERY month. That made it, by some margin, the largest medical journal in print.

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It seems that this cessation in printing is due to a disagreement over privatisation of the journal. Well, I am not surprised to hear that, because, if you have a monthly readership of 200,000 (almost), you would want to monetise it as much as you could!

The JIMA has been in print since 1934 and it began with a mere strength of 122 Indian doctors. It was the publication to speak on behalf of and to protect the rights of the Indian medical practitioner. This is strongly in line with the contemporary theme of Swaraj and self-reliance. The journal had patrons like Dr. Nil Ratan Sircar and Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, who were legendary medical men in their times. The journal has served the Indian practitioners well over the last several decades and has been in the Index Medicus for ages as well.

However, for a journal with such a large following, its metrics have been disappointing. It has an almost non-existent Impact Factor, which means that hardly any of the articles published in this journal get cited. I know the fallacies of the Impact Factor argument are many, but, it is quite unacceptable that a journal that is read by such a vast multitude of medical personnel can have such low citability! I have also heard allegations of mismanagement from friends who either worked there or submitted articles to them for publication. People have told me that they had to wait months to even get an acknowledgement that their article has been received. There are more horrific rumours one hears about these things, but since I have no proof of such stuff, I would not like to make libellous (potentially!) statements.

Like the death of the Ambassador car, the cessation of publication of this journal is not going to create too many waves or get too many people riled up. I feel sad because this journal, better managed, probably in private hands, could have been such a blockbuster. I can only conjecture that either Elsevier or Springer was making a bid for the takeover (they own quite a few Indian titles), and I wonder: would it be too bad a thing if the journal did go into private hands? Maybe they could have placed an impartial editorial board who would weed out the articles they felt did not match up to the quality of a national level journal. This editorial board would probably be free from the limitations arising from their affiliation with the association. On the flip side, it would mean outsourcing one of the basic, integral functions of the association. What kind of message would that send to the members? That their leaders are sloth and lazy and too busy to even execute the primary duties of their office? Then what would be the identity of the Association? How much longer before they outsourced the activism to the NGOs? How long before the core reason for the existence of the association is eliminated, making the Indian Medical Association an irrelevant gargantuan body which lurches from one day to the next without any foreseeable destination or direction!

One group within the IMA has challenged the move to privatise the journal, and though there has been no legal injunction on continuing the publication of the journal, yet, it has had no issues in almost four months now, and their website is dead. It seems that the journal is indeed going through its last few days.

RIP JIMA.

Skeptic Oslerphile, Scientist at the Indian Council of Medical Research, National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases. Interests include: Emerging Infections, Public Health, Antimicrobial Resistance, One Health and Zoonoses, Diarrheal Diseases, Medical Education, Medical History, Open Access, Healthcare Social Media and Health2.0. Opinions are my own!

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