Predatory and mercenary scientific and medical publishing companies are once again penetrating to the heartland of healthcare and defiling everything they touch. This time, like the headline says, it’s the Medical Journal of Australia that has been besmirched, a journal which “publishes the latest Australian clinical research, evidence-based reviews and debate on the important issues affecting Australian health care. The MJA was first published in 1914, and is ranked in the top 30 general medical journals in the world.”
Well, maybe not any more, thanks to Elsevier and its sympathizers. According to reports in the Australian Medical Observer and in other Australian media, the MJA‘s editor, Professor Stephen Leeder, was sacked when he objected to a plan to outsource production of the journal to Elsevier. The MJA‘s editorial advisory committee then resigned almost to a man in protest. Full details, courtesy of Retraction Watch, are here.
The decision was taken by AMPCo (the Australasian Medical Publishing Company), “a fully owned subsidiary of the Australian Medical Association,” which has been concerned enough about the reputational damage of its decision to share an “open letter to the medical community” from Richard Allely, its chairman. The letter states that:
We sought Professor Leeder’s feedback on the outsourcing proposal and explored alternative plans with him and his editorial team. All concerns raised by the editorial team were acknowledged and seriously considered by the Board. After proper due diligence, the Board decided to outsource the production process only to an external provider (Elsevier) with editorial direction, content development and IP remaining wholly within the Journal as a separate function. Elsevier will only facilitate the operational production of the MJA.
Leaving details of the personal treatment of Professor Leeder aside (which have been extensively covered by the Australian investigative website Crikey), the MJA committee, according to reports, was particularly concerned over a past scandal where Elsevier had produced off a publication, the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, without declaration that it was not an independent peer-reviewed journal, but in fact a paid production of pharma giant Merck – news that only came to light in the context of a personal injury suit over a Merck drug. At the time, according to the NYT, Elsevier admitted that its Australian office had created paid-for compilations “that were made to look like medical journals and lacked the proper disclosures.”
This is the same Elsevier boycotted by academics, and fingered in attempts to take open access research offline, whose chairman, Y.S. Chi, conceded a while back that publishers in general have “an image problem.” No shit. I wonder why. And that particular Australian case is only one of the very many that have arisen around Elsevier’s business practices in a great many areas and markets.
AMPCo, as indicated, is hiding behind the fig leaf that Elsevier’s involvement would have been confined to production only, with editorial responsibility strictly separate. Apparently Leeder, his editorial team, and almost the entire MJA advisory committee disagreed. And if they turned a blind eye to business issues and simply took the view that to work with such a company would have irrevocably tarnished the MJA‘s reputation, well who can blame them? After all, that’s exactly what has happened …