Prestigious medical journal fights to save reputation

June 23, 2006

A high-ranking Canadian medical journal that had been rocked by senior-level firings, mass resignations and international criticism is struggling to rebuild its reputation.

But Amir Attaran, a member of a committee set to issue a report next month on the governance of the Canadian Medical Association Journal ( CMAJ ), said its publisher, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), was not doing enough to resolve the problems. He would have liked the panel to have been given the mandate to analyse past problems.

"The CMA has played fast and loose with what was a national treasure," said Dr Attaran, a senior researcher at the University of Ottawa and a member of the editorial board of The Lancet .

In February, the CMA fired the editor-in-chief and the senior deputy editor after a series of disputes about editorial autonomy. A week after the firings, a new editor and editorial fellow quit, according to reports, for not being promised full editorial independence. A month later, all but four of the 19-member editorial board resigned, citing a loss of trust in the leadership of the CMA, whose holding company publishes the 95-year-old journal.

Criticism focused on the sanitising of a news article that criticised the Health Minister without the editor's knowledge. The CMA also supported a complaint launched by a national pharmacists' association after an investigative report revealed privacy breaches against undercover female customers purchasing the morning-after pill. The CMA told the journal staff that they should have asked for the pharmacists' consent.

The CMA said that it would not discuss personnel matters in public, but its president, Ruth Collins-Nakai, said it had responded to concerns by putting a transparent plan in place.

The CMAJ is ranked fifth in the world among general medical journals for its impact.

Final recommendations are due to be presented to the CMA by July 14.

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