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Senior Lancet editor sacked

Global health advocate Rhona MacDonald has been fired from her position as senior editor at __The Lancet__ for what she describes as a violation of the confidentiality policy held by the journal's publisher Elsevier. MacDonald, who had worked at __The Lancet__ for more than three years, said that she was disciplined for sending out a draft and a final version of an editorial she said she wrote about the future of the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) -- which over

By | May 26, 2010

Global health advocate Rhona MacDonald has been fired from her position as senior editor at __The Lancet__ for what she describes as a violation of the confidentiality policy held by the journal's publisher Elsevier.
MacDonald, who had worked at __The Lancet__ for more than three years, said that she was disciplined for sending out a draft and a final version of an editorial she said she wrote about the future of the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) -- which oversees the country's international development and poverty reduction efforts -- to several third parties. MacDonald emailed the two versions of the editorial to colleagues and sources she'd interviewed on background for the piece because, according to a statement she emailed to __The Scientist__, __The Lancet__'s editor, Richard Horton, "changed the whole meaning of the editorial without giving me...the opportunity to make any comments or suggestions before the editorial went to press." "I was completely scandalized," MacDonald told __The Scientist__. Prior to 1997, under a UK government run by the Conservative Party, the UK's global aid efforts were coordinated by the Overseas Development Administration, a wing of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and focused mainly on economic development. In 1997, the DFID was formed as a separate entity with its own cabinet-level minister at the helm. The linkurl:editorial;http://download.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140673610604175.pdf -- which, like all editorials in the journal, is signed simply "__The Lancet__" -- was published in the journal's March 20th issue. It called upon the to-be-elected government to carefully consider the functional separation that exists between DFID and the FCO, and seemed to argue for returning to the strategy of combining global health and economic development efforts, a position held by the Conservative party, which triumphed in the recent elections. "The departmental division between development (including global health) and foreign policy weakens the UK's influence internationally," the published editorial read. "The current fragmentation of responsibilities weakens the UK's beneficial influence and dilutes the important contribution health can make not only to development but also to foreign policy." MacDonald's version, however, was much more complimentary of DFID, arguing that it be kept a separate and robust body to more adequately serve the global poor. "The thought of DFID ceasing to exist, or its policies to tackle poverty and poor health being watered-down or ripped up has lead us to appreciate, more keenly, what we, the UK, and the rest of the world, have in DFID," MacDonald's version stated in language missing from the published version. "Whatever happens at the next election, the groundbreaking work that DFID has started must carry on." "I think [the published editorial is] very harmful to poor people in the world," she said. "I was horrified." Angry at the changes, which MacDonald claimed were made at the 11th hour with very little opportunity to protest, she sent out emails seeking to dissociate herself from the published version after the piece went to press but before it appeared in __The Lancet__'s 20th March issue. Elsevier is keeping mum on this one. "We have respected the confidentiality of the circumstances of Rhona's departure from the company and wish to continue to do so," Elsevier spokesperson Tom Reller told __The Scientist__. "We consider it appropriate to make it clear that the company does not agree with the statements Rhona has made upon her departure, but we do not consider it appropriate to comment further." More on this developing situation to come on linkurl:the-scientist.com.;http://www.the-scientist.com/
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Lancet retracts stem cell paper;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55003/
[5th September 2008]*linkurl:Elsevier's open access plan: Advertisers pay;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/53577/
[10th September 2007]
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Comments

Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

May 26, 2010

.. to sack the editor for political reasons. Do you have so much talent that you can afford to throw your best assets away so easily?
Avatar of: Ellen Hunt

Ellen Hunt

Posts: 199

May 26, 2010

My, my. A man in MacDonald's position thinking that if he rewrites what someone else has written, and then fires them for showing the world what he is that the world will not notice. \n\nNot only has he shown himself to the world, but now he has compounded it by firing the one who exposed him. The first is offensive arrogance, the second is idiocy of the first water. \n\nMacDonald deserves the opprobrium heaping upon him, its stink won't go away. He is "scandalized" is he? Really. MacDonald has the arrogant insouciance to claim that HE is scandalized? Really? \n\nAs for Elsevier, they have been rotting for some time from the top down. Most recently ending MH for all practical purposes, and now backing this bit of rubbish.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 107

May 26, 2010

Events conspire to suggest that someone at Elsevier wants to centralize control of what appears under their imprimatur. I wouldn't have thought it a very good reputation for a publisher of scientific literature to court.
Avatar of: Andrew Burd

Andrew Burd

Posts: 4

May 27, 2010

I was rather confused by Ellen Hunt's comment and wonder if I am missing some irony there?! Rhona is a woman and it is the Chief Editor, Richard Horton, presumably a man, who has acted unethically and not in good faith, or so it would appear. \n\nBut as always perhaps there is more to it than meets the eye? Professional jealousy on the one hand, borderline competance on the other? Who knows but please tell if you do!\n\nBut there is no doubt that Elsevier needs to clean up its act. Fake journals, unjustified dismissals and unethical censoring of editorials (Bob Grant will know what I mean as I contacted him about this last year).\n\nI think Erik Engstrom, Michael Hansen and Youngsuk Chi should take a time out from their busy lives and take a course in Corporate Governance and Ethical behaviour and then spread the word throughout the organization. I have always likened Elsevier to a supertanker; a ULCC. But we all know what happens when there is no clear guidance from the top as in the Exxon Valdez, a mere VLCC.
Avatar of: Ellen Hunt

Ellen Hunt

Posts: 199

May 27, 2010

I meant to write Horton! Very sorry for that. If anyone can fix it in the other post, I would be most grateful. I was so incensed that I wasn't seeing straight. Very sorry.\n\nHorton deserves the opprobrium. \n\nAnd, it would be useful for someone to give more information about who might be right. After all, that is what matters.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

June 2, 2010

I would have expected a resignation if the dispute is such a big deal. In fact - it all seems rather trivial.\n

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