Journals in the arms race

of being "connected to the profits of the global arms trade."

Stephen Pincock
Sep 25, 2005

Last month, a group of 16 physicians, scientists and representatives of anti-arms trade groups accused The Lancet of being "connected to the profits of the global arms trade." In a letter to the 182-year old journal, which has repeatedly drawn attention to the devastating health consequences of war, the correspondents – including Gene Feder from Barts and the London Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, London, UK – noted that Reed Elsevier, which has owned The Lancet since 1991, also owns a company that runs the Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi), the world's biggest triservice arms fair.

The letter was organized by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), a London-based group whose representative Anna Jones was a co-signatory. In around the second week of August, CAAT began contacting other campaigning groups, medical charities and public health scientists alerting them to the link, says Mike Lewis, spokesman for the group. "They were all very quick in getting back to us and agreeing to sign, which I think is a sign of how shocked they were."

The journal's editors and advisory board deny any knowledge of the relationship. "We are deeply troubled by this connection to the arms trade," they wrote in a letter in the same issue.

It's easy to imagine the editors were unaware of the connection. Reed Elsevier employs more than 35,000 people in over 200 locations. But CAAT had been aware of the link since 2003 and had been privately lobbying the firm to end its association with arms, says Lewis. But those earlier discussions had no impact, "which is why we took it to this next public stage."

Although Reed Elsevier declines comment. The Lancet has taken pains to reassure readers there was no direct monetary connection. "We reject completely any perceived connection between the journal and the arms trade, no matter how tangential it might be," the editors wrote, "The Lancet is an entirely independent publication, editorially and financially. It is not subsidized by profits from any other part of Reed Elsevier."

In another letter in the same issue, Reed's company secretary Stephen Cowden, responds by saying that the defense industry is "central to the preservation of freedom and national security," and that arms shows are tightly regulated. However, these assurances may do little to sway the editorial writers, who ask Lancet owners to completely abandon the arms trade and other, similar business interests.

Reed Elsevier publishes about 2,000 scientific, technical and medical journals a year. Those behind this campaign say they hope other journals join The Lancet in putting pressure on their owner. "Other journals are in a weaker position, so they may want to protest in a less public way, but that doesn't mean the have to sit on the fence and say nothing," says Stuart Parkinson, from the group Scientists for Global Responsibility, who also signed the letter.

Lewis says the campaign could extend even further. "Obviously a lot of professions and organizations use Reed Elsevier publications.... I think all of those groups need to be aware and I think a lot of those groups will have something to say."