Protest resignations over journal editor's sacking

Medical Hypotheses loses half of editorial board; publisher seeks successors. Hannah Fearn reports

June 3, 2010

Almost half of the editorial board of the journal Medical Hypotheses have resigned in protest at the sacking of editor Bruce Charlton, Times Higher Education has learned.

The resignations of at least eight members of the 19-strong board followed the decision by publisher Elsevier to sack Professor Charlton when he failed to implement major changes to the journal's editorial policy.

Among those to quit are David Healy, reader in psychological medicine at Cardiff University, and William Bains, a biochemist and founder of consultancy Rufus Scientific.

Medical Hypotheses was placed in the media spotlight last July after publishing a paper that denied the link between HIV and Aids, which caused outrage among parts of the scientific community.

In response, Elsevier unveiled plans to abolish the journal's editorial selection system - under which the editor chose papers according to how interesting or radical they were - and replace it with a process of peer review.

Professor Charlton said the proposals compromised his academic independence and refused to implement them, resulting in his dismissal last month. Professor Bains said he and at least seven other members of the Medical Hypotheses editorial board had submitted their resignations to Elsevier and predicted that others could follow.

THE understands that one board member has written to the chief executive of Elsevier to warn that the changes to the editorial policy jeopardise the journal's entire future.

Professor Bains said any suggestion that the Medical Hypotheses model was an "exercise in vanity publishing" or that it would "print anything" was nonsense.

"The old Medical Hypotheses did play a valuable role for the research community, as demonstrated by its rising impact factor," he said. "Its ability to do so (in future) will, in my view, be severely compromised under the new arrangements. There is also a strong feeling among some ex-editorial board members that Elsevier has acted badly during this affair, and they do not wish to lend support to them as a publisher."

Elsevier confirmed that a number of resignations had been accepted, and it said that a search for replacement board members had begun.

Tom Reller, vice-president of global corporate relations at the publisher, said of those who had quit: "We are grateful for their past work on the journal and wish them well."

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