elsevier politics

Elsevier and The Lancet

In the latest edition of the Lancet an editorial calls for their publisher, Reed Elsevier, to cut its ties with the arms trade.

There’s a letter in the same issue (signed by me amongst others) saying the same thing, and a response letter from Elsevier. They say what they’ve said to me previously, although they left out the bit about respecting my right to think they are immoral profiteers and they’ll keep doing what they want thank you very much (i paraphrase).

I was asked by a journalist what I thought of their response. Here’s what I said (and this applies to both their response published in the Lancet and their response to me personally which I put up on the blog):

Running this kind of arms fair may be legal, but it isn’t moral and it certainly isn’t appropriate for a scientific and medical publisher. I suspect that the majority of scientists and medics would not want to be associated with this aspect of Reed Elsevier’s activities – the Editors of the Lancet certainly don’t.

Secondly, the defense industry may be vital to democracy and humanitarian missions, but the way the arms trade currently conducts itself is notoriously poorly regulated, unaccountable and secretive. The history of the sale of illegal technologies, of unethical technologies (such as the cluster bombs the Lancet editors make mention of) and sale of weapons to countries with poor human rights records exemplifies this. These abuses will continue at DSEi 2005, and Elsevier makes itself complicit in them.

Elsevier is putting profit above humanitarian values – just like the arms trade as a whole.

The story is covered by The Guardian

One reply on “Elsevier and The Lancet”

Fantastic news!

I particularly like this line from the editorial board:
“The arms industry draws vital investment away from the health budgets of low income nations.”
because it sounds like the gearing up of inter-elite argument. There is no doubt that major health policy makers and major medical suppliers are among the readership; giving them some ammo against the arms lobby is really vital (poor metaphor!).

And, of course, the scarcely veiled threat in this line is exciting too:
“We cannot believe that Reed Elsevier wishes to jeopardise that commitment by its presence in a business that so self-evidently damages its reputation as a healthscience publisher.”

And in Elsevier’s reply you can’t help thinking that the first draft went like this:
“take real pride in the contribution they make to the important industries which we serve, of which science, medicine, and education are directed to the advancement of human wellbeing. In the interests of balance, it is essential, therefore, that we are heavily involved in an industry that acts precisely to the contrary of human welbeing.”

In terms of further campaigning, I suggest that every academic who comes across this page takes copies of the Lancet Editorial, the letter and reply to every senior academic they can find. Write to any journal you read and point out the Lancet story – the more journals that make some sort of statement, either publicly or in private letters to Elsevier, the shakier their board of governers are going to look.

Well done Tom!

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