We Love It When Medical Journals Fight

By Carmen Comment

Because spats in that world happen so rarely and so publicly. The Financial Times reports on a simmering dispute between the British Medical Journal and Lancet after the former published a highly critical editorial accusing Reed Elsevier, the publishing group, of “warmongering” through its international arms-fairs division, and calls on authors to boycott the Lancet, its flagship academic publication, until the links are severed.

The strongly worded article is not a direct attack on the Lancet, which under its outspoken editor Richard Horton launched the polemic by drawing attention to Reed Elsevier’s arms promotion activities in an article in September 2005. But the BMJ’s move marks an escalation of a growing debate in the health community. Fiona Godlee, editor of the BMJ and joint author of the article, said: “It’s an unresolvable conflict that a business promoting health is making money out of a business that is damaging health.”

Horton added: “Part of Reed Elsevier’s corporate message is that it is a partner of the health science community. You can’t be a trusted partner if you are selling small arms, cluster bombs and other instruments that lead to massive civilian casualties.” However, he spoke out against the BMJ’s call for scientists to boycott his journal, arguing that persuasion was having an effect and that Reed Elsevier would respond to the pressure. He pointed out that it had already banned cluster bombs at its next large London show this September.