20 February 2007
Lancet publishers condemned over promotion of arms
Reed Elsevier, the publisher of The Lancet, has today been condemned by a former editor of the British Medical Journal for its involvement in the promotion of arms sales.
Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Richard Smith urges scientists and academics to publish their research and findings elsewhere.
"Reed Elsevier is one of the world’s largest publishers of scientific and medical journals and the finest of its journals is the Lancet, the leading global health journal,” said Dr Smith.
"Indeed, The Lancet has been receiving much attention from the Pentagon for its important articles showing that death rates in Iraq are far above those admitted by the United States government and yet its publishers promote arms fairs.
"The blatant hypocrisy doesn’t end there either. Reed Elsevier runs arms fairs through its subsidiary Reed Exhibitions in Britain, the United States, the Middle East, Brazil, Germany, and Taiwan which is the same subsidiary that runs Lancet conferences, including the forthcoming one in Asia."
Dr Smith describes how The Lancet itself has: "told us how the fairs have in the past included cluster bombs, which are especially dangerous to civilians because they fail to explode and create minefields. Last year’s fair in the US included torture equipment sold by Security Equipment Corporation who use the grotesque slogan ‘Making grown men cry since 1975’.”
Dr Smith argues the best way of appealing to Reed Elsevier is by threatening its business. He writes:
"What might be the actions of the editors, authors, and readers of not only The Lancet but also the other 2000 medical and scientific journals published by Reed Elsevier? Alone they might achieve little, but together they might force the company to change, not by appealing to its non-existent conscience but through threatening its business.
"It is the scientific and medical part of Reed Elsevier that is the most profitable: in 2005 its sales totalled £1436 million, or 28% of total Reed Elsevier sales, and its profits were £449 million, or 37% of the company’s total profits.
"The scientific and medical part of the business is so profitable because of the extraordinary value of the science it publishes. This is where Reed Elsevier is vulnerable-were those researchers to go elsewhere, the company would promptly pull out of arms exhibitions. And, of course, those researchers might leave and never return."
Dr Kamran Abbasi, editor of the JRSM, added: "The editors of The Lancet have in the past taken a brave stance against Reed Elsevier’s involvement in promoting arms sales. But it seems that larger profits matter more to the company than its reputation among the scientific community. It is unlikely that the editorial team of The Lancet will be able to change Reed Elsevier’s behaviour alone. The wider scientific community that it relies on to make those profits, however, can form a powerful lobby."
Richard Smith worked for the BMJ for 25 years. He was Editor of the BMJ and Chief Executive of the BMJ Publishing Group from 1991 to 2004. Dr Smith is now Chief Executive of United Healthcare Europe.
‘Reed-Elsevier’s hypocrisy in selling arms and health’ by R Smith is published in the March 2007 issue (Vol. 100) of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.
JRSM is the flagship journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. It has been published continuously since 1809. Its Editor is Dr Kamran Abbasi.
A copy of the article is available free at www.jrsm.org