Editor sacked as journal introduces peer review

May 20, 2010

The editor-in-chief of the controversial journal Medical Hypotheses has been sacked.

Bruce Charlton, professor of theoretical medicine at the University of Buckingham, was dismissed as editor after rejecting calls to introduce a peer-review process.

His departure follows outcry from scientists over publication of a paper last July denying the link between HIV and Aids.

In response, the journal's publisher Elsevier unveiled plans to overhaul the 34-year-old title's selection criteria.

In January, Elsevier told the editor it planned to abolish the current selection system, under which Professor Charlton chose papers according to how interesting or radical they were, and implement peer review instead.

Professor Charlton rejected the proposals, and accused the publisher of "riding roughshod" over his editorial independence after being told that he would be sacked on 11 May unless he implemented the changes imposed from above.

Elsevier confirmed last week that Professor Charlton was no longer editor-in-chief of the journal. Tom Reller, vice-president of global corporate relations at the publisher, said the company had been "unable to reach agreement with Professor Charlton on the future editorial policies of Medical Hypotheses".

"As a result of this, Professor Charlton's contract was terminated and we are now beginning the process of recruiting a new editor-in-chief for the journal," he added.

Professor Charlton had argued that the imposition of peer review compromised his independence as an academic editor.

"My contract states that proposals to change the journal should come from the editor in consultation with the advisory board and then be cleared with the publisher - the exact opposite of what has happened," he said. "I have never been formally asked to make proposals as a basis for discussion, nor have I been given any rationale for changing the journal - merely the assertion that it must be changed."

Despite Elsevier's concerns, many have spoken out in support of Medical Hypotheses' approach. Marc Abrahams, organiser of the Ig Nobel prizes, which reward unusual research, said it was important to have a science journal that published "educated guesses".

Professor Charlton was unavailable for comment following his dismissal.


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