Editorial revolt continues at CMAJ

Journal scrambling to create review panel and appoint new editors

By | March 9, 2006

Another editor has left the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) following an increasingly bitter and disruptive dispute over editorial independence that has seen the departure of five of the journal's editors. On Wednesday (March 8), the journal's Editorial Board delivered a stinging missive to the Canadian Medical Association, saying its recovery plan does not go far enough. The newest editor to leave CMAJ, Anita Palepu, said she quit because she was concerned that the CMA was not doing enough to ensure editorial independence. "It was too weakened ? for my comfort," she told the Canadian Press. This week, the CMA published a nine-point plan that left out a crucial sentence included in a ten-point plan put forward two weeks ago by recently departed editor Stephen Choi: "Editorial independence of the editor-in-chief will be absolutely protected." Meanwhile, the CMA has named a former Canadian Supreme Court chief justice to head a review panel charged with designing a new governance structure for the CMAJ. At the same time, the CMA announced the appointment of two more top editors - the third top editorial team in as many weeks. The leadership saga at CMAJ started February 20th when the publisher sacked top editors John Hoey and Anne Marie Todkill after they published an investigative article noting that pharmacists were asking buyers of emergency contraception personal questions, such as about their sexual history. The publisher claimed it was simply time for a change at the journal's helm. The replacements, Stephen Choi and Sally Murray, published an editorial on the independence issue, and quit after one week. The new acting editor, Noni MacDonald, is a Halifax pediatrician who had been serving on the CMAJ's journal oversight board. She is a former Dean of Medicine at Dalhousie University in Halifax and the founding Editor in Chief for Paediatrics and Child Health, the official journal of the Canadian Paediatric Society. Also named, as Editor Emeritus, is Bruce Squires, a retired former editor of the CMAJ. The journal has also appointed former Chief Justice of the Canadian Supreme Court, Antonio Lamer, to head and assemble the review panel, which is to report back in 90 days. The journal's Editorial Board sent a letter to CMA president Ruth Collins-Nakai late yesterday asking the CMA to dissolve the current Journal Oversight Committee, noting "the events of the past few weeks have made it clear that the current JOC is not functioning effectively." To protect editorial independence, no CMA board members should be allowed to participate in the new JOC, they add. "I don't think [the CMA] can be trusted," Editorial Board member Jerome Kassirer told The Scientist. "Even if they agree to the demands we made, there's a serious question about the intent of the CMA to have a truly independent scientific journal," said Kassirer, a former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine. There are also concerns that there may not be enough editors to run the journal, he added. "We had a conversation [Tuesday] night with the remaining editors," he said. "They said that they did not think so." That is not a concern for the CMA president. "We think there are enough people but if Noni and Bruce require additional interim people they'll go out and search for bodies," Collins-Nakai told The Scientist. She added that she will let the new review panel decide how to respond to the letter from the Editorial Board. "All such letters will be referred to the panel." However, she added that the CMA would not be bound to follow all of the recommendations of the review panel. "It would be imprudent to say that," she said. The new head of the journal, Noni MacDonald, said she plans to try to calm everyone down. "Editors come and editors go, but journals go on for a very long time," she told The Scientist. "Both Bruce and I believe there needs to be some breathing space. I would look at us as a transition team, to move the group forward -- to get some answers and provide a better platform for those who come afterwards." Doug Payne Links within this article CMAJ Canadian Medical Association "Another editor quits embattled medical journal", The Canadian Press via CTV, March 7, 2006
"Editorial Governance Plan for CMAJ". A report prepared by Stephen Choi, Acting Editor: Appendix 4: Stephen Choi, CMAJ, February 28, 2006
"CMA announces steps to move journal forward," CMA, March 7, 2006. A.McCook, "Canadian journal fires top editors," The Scientist, February 22, 2006. 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. D Payne, "Resignations at embattled Canadian journal," The Scientist, March 1, 2006 S. Choi et al, "A catalyst for change", CMAJ, February 24, 2006
Noni MacDonald
Paediatrics and Child Health Bruce Squires
Antonio Lamer
BD Biosciences
BD Biosciences

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