Canadian journal fires top editors

Board members argue decision stemmed from disputes over editorial independence

By | February 22, 2006

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) this week fired its top two editors of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), editor John Hoey and Senior Deputy Editor Anne Marie Todkill, noting the need for a ?fresh approach.? The decision came after the journal went head-to-head with the CMA over a controversial article, causing board members to say the popular editors were fired to undermine editorial independence. ?This is an enormous disappointment to the members of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the public at large, and the broader international community,? Board member Philip Devereaux at McMaster University in Ontario told The Scientist. Devereaux said he was ?strongly urging? the CMA to reinstate the editors, arguing a reversal was ?essential? to ensuring the journal?s reputation. The announcement came days after editorial board member Jerome Kassirer submitted a report criticizing the CMA for interfering with the journal. ?It was Friday I sent the report, and on Monday I learned they were fired,? Kassirer, based at Tufts University, told The Scientist. Kassirer is a member of a committee established to investigate whether the CMA encroached on the journal?s editorial independence over an article published in CMAJ last year, that 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 about the survey from the pharmacists group, and ?leaned on? the journal to either suppress or change the article, Kassirer said. The journal published the piece, but modified it to be less critical of the Pharmacists Association, ?which I thought was a really unfortunate thing to do,? he said. Graham Morris, president of CMA Media, who is responsible for operations within CMAJ, told The Scientist that he decided to fire Hoey and Todkill after a lot of consideration, and consulted with senior management at CMA about the decision. ?I felt that after 10 years, I thought a fresh approach was needed.? He noted that CMA will undergo a candidate search to find replacements. He insisted that the decision to fire Hoey and Todkill had nothing to do with the Plan B article. ?There is no connection,? Morris noted. However, Kassirer said that the timing of the events appears to say otherwise. Morris says there?s ?no relationship? between the debate over editorial independence at CMAJ and the recent firing of Hoey and Todkill, but it?s ?strongly suggested? that there is, Kassirer added. ?Some kind of explanation is demanded here? for why these editors were fired. ?What they say makes no sense.? Devereaux agreed there was ?little doubt? the firing was directly related to the Plan B article. Kassirer was asked to draft a report, submitted to committee members on Friday, in which he noted that interference with editorial independence at the journal is ?wrong,? will diminish the journal?s credibility, ?and that immediate action needs to take place,? Kassirer noted. He added that his report did not suggest firing Hoey and Todkill ? ?just the opposite.? When he learned the editors would be leaving their posts, he sent the report to all editorial board members. ?As far as I know, the CMA?s never seen the report.? Kassirer noted that CMAJ has been ?thriving? under Hoey?s leadership. ?They?ve done an excellent job.? Alison McCook Links within this article CMAJ Media Advisory, February 20, 2006. CMAJ Board of Editors A.McCook, ?Scientific fraud: Is prosecution the answer?? The Scientist, February 10, 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.

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