Medical association agrees to take over ownership of troubled journal
By Doug Payne | July 17, 2006
The Canadian Medical Association has agreed to give the beleaguered Canadian Medical Association Journal full editorial independence, along with a sweeping set of additional recommendations -- 25 in all -- from an expert panel. The recommendations, which appear after a dispute over editorial independence that saw the departure of the journal's top editors and most of the editorial board, also include taking the journal back from CMA's media holding company, which has tried to make the CMAJ a for-profit publication.
Although the report said the panel "has no philosophical objection to a medical journal of the nature of CMAJ being profitable," it expressed concern that "profitability might be identified or inferred as the primary driver, rather than scientific, medical, and editorial integrity." As a result, the report said ownership must revert to the CMA.
The panel's report, which is available online, was released on Friday (July 14). It was prepared by an eight-member Governance Review Panel chaired by lawyer Dick Pound. Among the panelists was Catherine DeAngelis, editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The CMA had passed the CMAJ to its media holding company in January 2005. In February, 2006, the head of the holding company fired the journal's two senior editors in a dispute over a story that said women who sought the "morning after" pill were being questioned by pharmacists about their sex lives. Over the following two months, several other editors resigned, along with almost the entire editorial board, in a battle over editorial independence.
The latest report includes recommendations that would theoretically prevent any such incident from reoccurring. "The CMA should amend the CMAJ Mission Statement to enshrine, as a specific goal and objective of the CMAJ, the principle of editorial integrity, independent of any special interests." The panel also recommended establishing an independent journal oversight committee to act as a buffer between editor and owner.
The panel said the journal's editors may let CMA know they are planning to publish a controversial story, but it would be a courtesy, and the CMA should receive no more notice than the media, and should not have a right to respond.
The journal had been operating under interim editorship while the panel reviewed more than 100 responses to a general "call for comments," along with input from 17 editorial, publishing, and educational organizations. CMAJ has 69,000 readers, and about 90% of Canadian physicians subscribe to it.
CMA president Ruth Collins-Nakai said in a statement that the CMA will now recruit a new editor-in-chief, likely to be in place by the end of the year. Overall, she said that the report "provides a balance between editorial independence and editorial accountability."
One of the editorial board members who resigned during the winter disputes, Jerome Kassirer of the Tufts University School of Medicine, told The Scientist that he thinks the panel did "an admirable job," but he is waiting to see who is named Editor-in-Chief before saying the independence issue has been settled.
"The report talked about the fact that 'trust and good faith cannot be mandated,'" Kassirer added. "The CMA is a medical organization that has done things such that it cannot be trusted. I can't be confident they will follow the spirit or the letter of this report."
For his part, Frank Davidoff, the Editor Emeritus of the Annals of Internal Medicine, who sat as a member of the interim Editorial Board after the mass resignations, told The Scientist he found the report to be "quite solid. It covered all the bases quite well."
Links within this article:
Canadian Medical Association
Canadian Medical Association Journal
CMAJ Governance Review Report
"Panel Mandate and Terms of Reference"
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
D Payne, "CMAJ loses most of its Editorial Board", The Scientist, March 16, 2006
"CMA accepts all recommendations from panel reviewing CMAJ's structure"