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Resignations at embattled Canadian journal

Two editors leave the journal one week after publisher fires top editors

By | March 1, 2006

The acting editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), Stephen Choi, and the publication's Editorial Fellow, Sally Murray, resigned Tuesday (February 28). Choi had been in the job for only a week after agreeing to step in after the journal's editor and his senior deputy were fired after a dispute over editorial independence with the publisher, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). The timing of the resignations of Choi and Murray could hardly have been worse for the embattled journal. The firing of John Hoey and senior deputy editor Anne Marie Todkill has resulted in widespread publicity and criticism -- especially from within the journal itself. Editorial board members are currently circulating a petition to reinstate Hoey and Todkill. "By its actions the CMA has not only unjustly dismissed genuinely world class editors; it has compromised the public interest, its own interests, and the value of its core asset," they write. Graham Morris, president of CMA Media, who is responsible for operations within CMAJ, could not be reached for comment by press time. On Tuesday, the journal published online a report from an independent panel set up to look into whether the CMA encroached on the journal's editorial independence over an article published in CMAJ last year. The article showed that the Canadian Pharmacists Association was advising pharmacists to collect personal information - including sexual histories -- from women seeking the morning-after birth control pill Plan B at Canadian pharmacies. The CMA received criticisms from the pharmacists' group, and applied pressure to journal editors, who toned down the piece. The report faulted the editors for submitting to the publisher's request, but criticized CMA for applying pressure in the first place. "The CMAJ attempted to publish material that, as it happened, was politically awkward for the CMA, [and] the CMA attempted to suppress the publication." Last week, publisher Morris told The Scientist the decision to fire Hoey and Todkill had nothing to do with the earlier dispute over Plan B. "I felt that after 10 years, I thought a fresh approach was needed." Jerome Kassirer of the Tufts University School of Medicine, a panelist and member of the CMAJ's editorial board, told The Scientist that he spoke with Choi and Murray yesterday, and "there's a gag order on them, they're not saying anything. They've been told by the CMA not to say anything." Asked what the organization could do to try to remedy the situation, he said bluntly: "The sensible resolution at this point would be to restore editorial independence and ask - beg - the former editors to come back." Doug Payne dougpayne@islandtelecom.com Links within this story Canadian Medical Association Journal http://www.cmaj.ca/ A.McCook, "Canadian journal fires top editors," The Scientist, February 22, 2006. http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/23140/ Petition on editorial autonomy at the CMAJ http://www.chaps.ucalgary.ca/cmaj.htm Editorial autonomy of CMAJ http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/rapidpdf/cmaj.060290v1 L. Eggertson and B. Sibbald, "Privacy issues raised over Plan B: Women asked for names, addresses, sexual history," Canadian Medical Association Journal, December 2, 2005. http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/rapidpdf/cmaj.051461v1.pdf
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