CMA should reinstate CMAJ editors unless they have a valid explanation for their dismissal

EMBARGO: 00:01H (London time) Friday May 12, 2006. In North America the embargo lifts at 18:30H ET Thursday May 11, 2006.

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) should offer to reinstate the recently fired editor and deputy editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), unless it can offer an alternative explanation, other than editorial independence, for their dismissal, state the authors of a Comment in this week's issue of The Lancet.

On Feb 20, the publisher of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) fired Editor-in-Chief John Hoey and senior deputy editor Anne Marie Todkill. Explaining the firings, CMA President Ruth Collins-Nakai cited "irreconcilable differences" between the editors and the publisher.

The CMA has now appointed a new acting editor and issued interim governance principles affirming the CMAJ's editorial independence. However, in their Comment Peter Singer (University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada), a former CMAJ associate editor, and Gordon Guyatt (McMaster University, Ontario, Canada) state: "We believe the appropriate standard in judging whether a conflict is about editorial independence is whether an alternative compelling explanation is available. In the CMAJ case, no such explanation has been forthcoming. Without fair processes to protect editorial independence, the burden of proof should be on medical journal publishers to show that the termination was not a result of displeasure with editorial decisions. We believe that if CMA cannot offer an alternative compelling explanation other than editorial independence, then it should offer to reinstate Hoey and Todkill, and subsequently follow its own interim governance principles."

Short of reinstating Hoey and Todkill, the authors argue that "there is a second best alternative: the CMA should agree to charge an independent body of highly qualified and disinterested individuals with the selection of a new editor."

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Contact: Professor Peter A Singer, Joint Centre for Bioethics, University of Toronto, 88 College Street, Toronto, Ontario M5G 1L4, Canada. T) 416 978 4756 peter.singer@utoronto.ca

Dr Gordon H Guyatt, Department of Clinical Epidemiology & Biostatistics, McMaster University Faculty of Health Sciences, Room 2C12, 1200 Main Street West, Hamilton Ontario L8N 3Z5, Canada. T) 905 525 9140 x 22160 guyatt@mcmaster.ca


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