Howard Bauchner, the editor in chief of JAMA, was placed on administrative leave yesterday (March 25) amid continued criticism of the way the top medical journal has discussed racism in medicine.
Earlier this month, Twitter erupted with criticism of a podcast episode and attendant tweet published by JAMA. The tweet, since deleted, read in part, “No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care? An explanation of the idea by doctors for doctors . . .” In the February 23 podcast episode, also since taken down, host Ed Livingston, then JAMA’s deputy editor for clinical reviews and education, said, “Structural racism is an unfortunate term,” according to MedPage Today. “Personally, I think taking racism out of the conversation will help. Many of us are offended by the concept that we are racist.”
Among JAMA’s critics was Aletha Maybank, the chief equity officer of the American Medical Association, which publishes JAMA (the journal has editorial independence). In a series of tweets, Maybank called the tweet and the episode “absolutely appalling” and “a demonstration of structural & institutional racism.” The AMA also put out a statement on March 4 condemning the tweet and episode, and Bauchner posted his own statement the same day apologizing for both. Bauchner also stated that the journal would put out one or more additional podcast episodes discussing structural racism and health.
A petition launched following the statements and so far signed by nearly 7,000 people states in part, “The delivery of messages suggesting that racism is non-existent and therefore non-problematic within the medical field is harmful to both our underrepresented minoritized physicians and the marginalized communities served in this country.” The petition calls on JAMA to do more to address racism, including conducting a “Formal review of the leadership displayed by Dr. Howard Bauchner as editor-in-chief,” and hiring a deputy editor focused on antiracism and health equity.
On March 10, AMA CEO James Madara announced that Bauchner had asked for and received Livingston’s resignation, and that “the AMA is investigating the circumstances that led up to the podcast and tweet and will make the changes necessary to address them.”
According to The New York Times, Bauchner’s administrative leave was announced to journal staff via email. In his absence, an AMA committee will investigate the podcast incident. “The decision to place the editor-in-chief on administrative leave neither implicates nor exonerates individuals and is standard operating procedure for such investigations,” the committee said in a statement, the AP reports.
Correction (March 31): The second paragraph of this article has been corrected to state that the podcast episode on structural racism was released on February 23—not, as originally written, on February 24. The Scientist regrets the error.