Scientists step up Elsevier protest

Some petitioners pledge to boycott The Lancet and other Reed Elsevier journals until the publisher drops international weapons trade shows

By | April 16, 2007

More than 1,300 scientists, academics, and health care professionals have now signed a petition that calls for publishing giant Reed Elsevier to abandon its involvement in international arms exhibitions, which it organizes through its subsidiary, Reed Exhibitions. A smaller group of scientists (less than 100) have signed a more strongly worded online petition pledging to boycott all Reed Elsevier journals until the publisher stops organizing arms fairs. Editorials voicing disapproval of Reed Elsevier also turned up in both the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine and in the British Medical Journal last month. The Lancet, Reed Elsevier's premier medical journal, also published letters criticizing the publisher's arms involvement in the March 24 issue. Royal College of Physicians President Ian Gilmore and RCP International Adviser on Global Health Issues Michael Pelly said in their Lancet letter that Reed Elsevier's involvement in the promotion and sale of arms "represents a conflict of interest that threatens the reputation of The Lancet and undermines its role in improving health and health care worldwide." The editors of The Lancet echoed that opinion, arguing that "arms exhibitions have no legitimate place within the portfolio of a company whose core business concerns are health and science." Scientists have criticized Reed Elsevier's involvement in arms for years, but the recent increases in pressure "will make Reed Elsevier take notice," Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal, told The Scientist. "They must be feeling the heat," said Smith, who signed the larger, non-boycott petition. "It's up to the individual people to register their protests as strongly as they can," said Michael Atiyah, former president of the Royal Society, who signed the boycott petition. "Publishers will respond to public pressure if it is strong." "There's an article I'm preparing now, and there is no way I would send it to any Reed Elsevier journal," Homer Venters, a third year resident in social medicine at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York who signed the boycott petition, told The Scientist.. Reed Elsevier's investors are also pressuring the company. This past February, after three years spent trying to convince Reed Elsevier to drop its involvement in arms fairs, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT), a UK-based philanthropic organization, dumped just under £2 million (about $4 million US) it had invested in the company. "We had a deep concern about what they were doing," Jackie Turpin, finance secretary at JRCT, told The Scientist. "It became apparent that we weren't going to be able to persuade the company to halt their involvement in the arms trade." Reed Elsevier publishes over two thousand scientific, medical, and educational journals beside The Lancet, including Cell and The American Journal of Cardiology, and is the parent company of LexisNexis, the research database provider widely used by researchers, academics, and physicians. The company became involved in international arms exhibitions in 2003, organizing several such shows every year. These include the Defense Systems and Equipment International (DSEi) fair held in London every other year, the Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show held in Orlando this past January. Reed Elsevier spokesperson Patrick Kerr told The Scientist that revenue from the exhibitions "account for approximately 0.5 percent," of the total annual revenues generated by the company's Defense and Aerospace Group. "We make a decision to invest in a particular area because there is a market need," Kerr told The Scientist, "If it's legal and legitimate, then we're there." And in a statement Emailed to The Scientist, Reed Elsevier defended its organization of arms exhibitions, and said it had no plans to change its practice. "We accept that Reed Elsevier publications may occasionally take editorial positions which are critical of their owners," the statement read. "We do not, however, see any conflict between Reed Elsevier's connections with the scientific and health communities and the legitimate defense industry." Still, a growing number of academics heartily disagree. "The idea that Reed Elsevier can continue to engage in the diametrically opposed activities of trading in arms that kill people and promoting health is extraordinary," Peter Hall, chair of the UK-based Doctors for Human Rights, who wrote one of the critical letters appearing in The Lancet, told The Scientist. Bob Grant Links within this article: Elsevier petition Reed Elsevier Reed Exhibition No to Reed-Elsevier R. Smith, "Reed-Elsevier's hypocrisy in selling arms and health," Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, March 2007. C. Young and F. Godlee, "Reed Elsevier's arms trade: Scientific communities must work together to prevent the sale of arms," British Medical Journal, March 17, 2007. Royal College of Physicians S. Pincock, "Journals in the arms race," The Scientist, September 26, 2005. The Scientist, April 2006. JRCT DSEi SHOT Doctors for Human Rights

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