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    Wednesday, March 29, 2006

    Dust-Up in The North Country: There has been a major
    shake up at the Canadian Medical Association Journal. A month ago, the editor and assistant editor were fired by the owners - the Canadian Medical Association. Since then, many editorial board members have quit in protest and some authors are threatening to withdraw their papers. At issue is editorial independence. According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, trouble has been brewing for some time:

    In 2001, the journal published an editorial supporting the medical use of marijuana, contrary to the CMA's position, and the CMA's general council complained to Hoey about it. In 2002, another editorial sparked a firestorm: a man had arrived at a Quebec emergency room in the midst of a myocardial infarction, but it had closed at midnight, and he died en route to an open ER; the CMAJ editorial criticized Quebec doctors for not having staffed the ER. The case received enormous media attention, and the province responded with a bill requiring general practitioners to staff ERs around the clock. Yet "a lot of Quebec physicians were quite offended and felt undeservedly judged by . . . that editorial," recalled Eugene Bereza, former chair of the CMA's Committee on Ethics. CMA leaders considered the editorial irresponsible, said Larry Patrick, an Ontario physician who was a CMA board member at the time. The CMA's president called for a retraction, but the CMAJ editorial board cautioned the association that it was threatening the journal's editorial independence.

    Having bitten the hand that fed it a few times too many, the medical association set up an oversight committee to try to resolve disputes between the editors and the owners. Things went no better. There were other disagreements, but the last straw was the journal's attack on the new health minister:

    Tholl then became alarmed by another article, an unflattering profile [and this is the revised-under-duress version - ed.] of Canada's new minister of health, Tony Clement, that was published on the journal Web site two weeks before the CMA board was to meet with Clement. Tholl and Paul-Émile Cloutier, the CMA's communications director, went to the CMAJ offices, and Tholl spoke — loudly, witnesses report — to Todkill, the senior deputy editor, allegedly making a disparaging remark to her as he left. Todkill reportedly complained to CMA executives about the incident, but the CMA will not comment. Morris ordered Todkill to pull the story off the Web, and a reporter added some positive remarks from the CMA president about the health minister before reposting it. The editors asked Erlick to call an emergency meeting of the oversight committee, but he declined. They contacted members of the Kassirer committee, who added the incident to their report.

    The editor and assistant editor were fired the next week. (More details of the dust-up can be found here and here.)

    The publication, however, lives on, thanks to the courage of a few people who are willing to risk being "reviled by some Canadian physicians and medical journal editors.

    Well, it is the Canadian Medical Association's journal, so they're well within their rights to tell the editors to tone down the politics, aren't they? It happens all the time to political writers and editors. It isn't as if the Association asked the editors of the CMAJ to suppress scientific research papers. Political proselityzing, like religious proselityzing, doesn't belong in a scientific journal. And if the editors want to make the journal political, then they should realize they have to play by the same rules as every other political editor.

    posted by sydney on 3/29/2006 09:33:00 PM 1 comments


    At question here is editorial independence. There is no question that the journal functioned appropriately in handling the research papers submitted for consideration of publication.

    I assume it wasn't just anybody who authored the editorials for the journal. I'll bet there is an editorial board or advisory group responsible for those editorials.

    There is nothing wrong with making editorial policy that is at odds with some members of an association.

    I've worked for a medical association, and I can tell you that every member thinks he or she can do your job better than you can, and they don't hesitate to tell you that. It can be a no-win situation.

    My sympathies lie with the staff on this one.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:54 AM  

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