Alcohol researcher sees red

August 23, 1996

A leading alcohol researcher is demanding an explanation for an academic journal's refusal to publish a book review which it commissioned from him.

John Duffy, director of Edinburgh University's alcohol research group, says he is mystified by a decision by Timothy Peters, the editor of Addiction Biology and professor of clinical biochemistry at London University's Institute of Psychiatry, not to publish his review of Alcohol Policy and the Public Good edited by Griffith Edwards, the editor of Addiction Biology's sister journal Addiction.

In a letter to Mr Duffy, Professor Peters said: "You may be aware of the possible litigation by certain elements of the liquor trade in Edinburgh...I have been advised that publication of material from liquor trade-associated individuals or organisations would be inappropriate at the present time."

Mr Duffy's post is supported by a grant to Edinburgh University from the Portman Group, which represents the eight biggest companies in the British drinks industry.

"I don't know anything about any possible litigation, and what on earth has it got to do with me and my book review?" said Mr Duffy.

Professor Peters refused to comment on his decision to The THES.

"The matter is now in the hands of the Medical Defence Union of Scotland, and I wouldn't wish to be quoted," he said. William Mathewson, the deputy chief executive of the Medical and Dental Defence Union, declared: "I'm not in a position to comment on any matters that concern either Professor Peters or anyone else."

Mr Duffy said: "It seems very bizarre to me that Professor Peters won't explain what the problem is.

"I might not like the explanation, but at least it would make more sense."

David Triesman, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said that it seemed extraordinary that a journal refused to publish a commissioned article which in his view contained nothing that could be actionable.

"Either this is a foolish excuse for suppressing academic opinions in the article or alternatively there is something of genuine substance which for some reason they are afraid to disclose.

"But I can think of very few legal issues which could not be expressed in terms of saying 'A is taking action against B'," he said.

There was a danger that a journal which acted in such a way would attract a reputation for suppressing genuine academic argument, and its standing in the academic community would plummet, said Mr Triesman.

"They have a very simple way of resolving this, to give the academic world a credible reason," he said.

Mr Duffy said: "Mine would be one of the few reviews of the book which has not been extremely fulsome, but it is by no means rubbishing it."

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