Thursday, April 05, 2007

Fired editors launch online medical journal

Fired editors launch online medical journal; 'Academic freedom' behind free website that accepts no ads from drug industry

Toronto Star via NewsEdge Corporation

The editors who were fired or resigned over the editorial-independence controversy at the Canadian Medical Association Journal have reunited to start their own free, online medical journal.

Open Medicine will be a peer-reviewed, independent open-access journal that does not accept advertising from pharmaceutical or medical-device companies. It is published only at  The launch date of the first issue is April 17.

The virtual journal's publisher is John Willinsky, a professor in the faculty of education from the University of British Columbia.

Co-editors are Dr. Anita Palepu, an internist with St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver and Dr. Stephen Choi, an emergency physician from The Ottawa Hospital.

The idea of starting an open-access journal began shortly after the firings of the CMAJ's former editor Dr. John Hoey and senior deputy editor Anne Marie Todkill in February 2006. The two are on the editorial team of the new publication.

"It's the academic freedom issue that is really at the heart of this," said Willinsky. So is independence from a professional organization like the Canadian Medical Association and freedom from advertising dollars from drug companies, he added.

Deciding to go without advertising support from pharmaceutical companies adds to the integrity of Open Medicine, said Palepu.

"There has been lots of data supporting the consequences of medical journals becoming dependent on this type of advertising," said Palepu.

"We didn't want the pharma industry influencing us editorially in any way. They have a vested interest in what doctors read."

The journal is also conceived with the idea that there should be no financial barriers to accessing information that can benefit human health and scientific advancement. The authors of studies posted on the journal retain ownership and control over the articles they produce, unlike other medical journals that maintain copyrights. Simon Fraser University's library is hosting Open Medicine's website on their server.

On these fronts, the Canadian journal is following the lead of PLoS Medicine, an online peer-reviewed journal published by the Public Library of Science - a San Francisco-based non-profit organization of scientists and physicians.

It's reported Hoey and Todkill lost their jobs partly after a disagreement with publisher Graham Morris over the issue of an investigative story the journal undertook concerning the privacy rights of women and the sale of a contraceptive drug.

Hoey and Todkill's firings were largely condemned throughout the international medical community. After the move, many members of the CMAJ's editorial board resigned in protest, concerned over editorial autonomy, including Dr. Jerome Kassirer, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Palepu resigned from her position as the CMAJ's associate scientific editor. "We started thinking about this at the end of March last year. We were so naive, thinking we could launch in September 2006 on volunteer labour and no funds," she said. "It's incredible where we are now."

Hoey and Todkill won the 2006 National Press Club of Canada's World Press Freedom award. However, the two have not been able to discuss the reasons why they were let go due to a confidentiality clause that prevents full public disclosure on both sides.

Last May, the Canadian Medical Association's then-president Dr. Ruth Collins-Nakai, told the Star the editors "were not fired over the issue of editorial independence" but for "irreconcilable differences."

Dr. Paul Hebert, a clinical scientist who practises at the Ottawa Hospital, is the new editor-in-chief at the CMAJ, which has published continuously since 1911.

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