Current Issues and Comments

Déjà vu in Canada

Friends of the MJA will be interested to learn that for the second time in ten years, the Canadian Medical Association has sacked the editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal. In 2006, the Association blamed “irreconcilable differences” for its decision.  In February 2016, the Association has used the need for “restructuring and modernization” of its journal. In moving on its editor of four years, Dr John Fletcher, the Association also dispensed with its Journal Oversight Committee, a group established after the sacking of the previous editor in 2006. The Oversight Committee had as one of its roles protection of the independence of the editor.

Readers can read more about this matter and about the responses of critics at the following sites:

https://www.cma.ca/En/Pages/cma-board-of-directors-announces-restructuring-and-modernization-plan-for-the-cma-journal.aspx

http://www.thelancet.com/pb/assets/raw/Lancet/pdfs/S0140673616300897.pdf

http://www.cmaj.ca/content/early/2016/03/02/cmaj.160283.full.pdf+html

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/cmaj-editors-defend-integrity-of-publication-following-firing-of-editor-in-chief/article29050153/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/critics-decry-canadian-medical-journals-orwellian-revamp/article28960721/

Stephen Leeder commented, “It is almost a year since the MJA dispensed with my services on similar grounds.  Meanwhile unrest continues to grow in the research community worldwide over the financial and intellectual costs of the distortions introduced into the production and dissemination of new knowledge by the major publishers.  The top four recently achieved an annual profit in excess of $8 billion dollars.  We worry about the effects of the pharmaceutical industry on research and clinical practice.  Similar concerns should extend to the publishers of medical journals.   Ethically all is not well.”

In a nutshell – why Friends of the MJA was formed

•  The MJA, in publication for over 100 years, is published by the Australasian Medical Publishing Company – AMPCo, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Australian Medical Association.

•  On 1 May this year, it was announced that AMPCo had sacked its Editor-in-Chief, Professor Leeder. Furthermore, publishing and some editorial functions were to be outsourced to an international publishing company, Elsevier.

•  Many supporters of the MJA and members of the AMA have expressed anger and distress over these actions, especially as it is appears that the Board of AMPCo ignored advice by the Editor-in-Chief on behalf of the editorial staff. They also appeared to ignore the public record concerning Elsevier’s unethical practices. None of this planning had been made known to AMA members to whom the MJA belongs.

•  Most of the Editorial Advisory Committee and two Deputy Editors resigned in protest.

•  The Board of AMPCo and the Federal President of the AMA claim that outsourcing was the only means of ensuring the financial future of the MJA and that the AMPCo Board had conducted a “due diligence” study of Elsevier.

•  Friends of the MJA claim that these actions were inadequately considered and ill-judged. They are not in the best interests of the MJA and of all its Australian contributors, reviewers and readers, who have, until now, contributed their expertise and time free of charge.

  • Friends of the MJA has called for a reversal of the decision to outsource production of the Medical Journal of Australia to Elsevier Publishing, for the resignation of the Board of AMPCo, for the reinstatement of the Editor-in-Chief, Professor Stephen Leeder and for full disclosure of the reasons for the decision to outsource and to sack the Editor-in-Chief, Prof. Leeder.

•  On this website, you will find all the available material concerning this issue. You are also able to register your own views and are welcome to become, at no charge, a Friend of the MJA.

•  The members of the Steering Committee of Friends of the MJA are Dr Kerry Breen AM (convenor), Dr Peter Arnold, Professor Stephen Cordner AM, Professor Kerry Goulston AO, Professor Adèle Green AC, Ms Tatiana Hitchen LLB, Professor John McNeil AM, Professor Richard Smallwood AO and Dr Katrina Watson.

 

In detail

The MJA has been in publication for over 100 years. It is published by the Australasian Medical Publishing Company – AMPCo (http://www.ampco.com.au/ ), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Australian Medical Association (https://ama.com.au/ ). In late 2012 the then Board of AMPCo dismissed the Editor. Finding it difficult to recruit a suitable replacement, the Board asked Professor Stephen Leeder to assist. He agreed on a part-time basis to be Editor in Chief, a post he took up in May 2013. In 2014, the AMA restructured the Board of AMPCo and put in place a small board consisting of Mr Richard Allely, Dr Steve Hambleton (the outgoing President of the AMA), Dr Elizabeth Feeney and Mr Rowan Dean. Dr Hambleton had been a member of the previous Board of AMPCo.

On 1 May this year, it was made public via the media that Professor Leeder had been sacked by the Board of AMPCo . The Chair of AMPCo was quoted as stating as its reason for this was that “the board could not reach agreement with Professor Leeder on the necessary steps to ensure the journal’s future success”.

The current issues

Supporters of the MJA and members of the AMA have expressed anger and distress over the manner in which these events have occurred, especially the decision that production of the MJA and some editorial functions were to be outsourced to an international publishing company, Elsevier, and the sacking of Professor Leeder. As more information became available in the days that followed, it appeared that the Board of AMPCo had ignored advice given to it by the Editor-in-Chief on behalf of the editorial staff at the MJA and had seemingly not taken into consideration several other issues including what is on the public record about practices by Elsevier that should have been of concern. None of this had been made known to AMA members to whom the Journal belongs.

The Board of AMPCo ,supported by the Federal President of the AMA, A/Professor Brian Owler ,have responded by claiming, in broad terms, that the AMPCo Board had conducted a “due diligence” study of Elsevier and that outsourcing was the only means of ensuring the financial security of the MJA. On this website you can readily find the various recent statements of AMPCo, the AMA and Elsevier as well as documents submitted to the Board of AMPCo by Professor Leeder on behalf of the editorial staff. We urge you to examine these documents and form your own conclusions. You should also examine the time line of events which you will find under Weekly Updates in the first Weekly Report and decide for yourself how “independent” of the AMA is the AMPCo Board.

If you look further, you will find the views of the Steering Committee of Friends of the MJA as well as a number of other documents written by others about these issues. There has been extensive media coverage of these matters here and internationally and links to media comment are also provided Media reports and links to media reports.

Questions for the AMA leadership and the AMPCO Board

Are you prepared to make public the nature of the contract signed with Elsevier, including how editorial independence will be preserved and about the cost of readers’ access to MJA contents?

What is the medical publishing experience of each of the AMPCo Board members?  Can you assert that their knowledge and experience of international medical publishing enabled them to truly gauge the risk of linking with Elsevier? Did any of them examine the ethical record of Elsevier, readily available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elsevier?

What were the profit and loss figures for the MJA over the last few years? What were Professor Leeder’s plans for reducing costs?  Why were these not preferable to the Elsevier deal?

How many more MJA staff are to be retrenched? The MJA has already lost three of its most senior people, in Professor Leeder, Dr Janusic and Dr Armstrong.

Why have you not sought the views of the rank and file members of the AMA as to their willingness to subsidise the journal that they own?

You assert that the AMPCo Board has received strong support for its decision to outsource to Elsevier. Are you willing to identify the extent of that support and the names of the supporters?  Friends of the MJA now exceed 300*, most of whom are senior academics who support, publish in, or review for, the MJA. Their names and titles now appear on the Friends of the MJA website. To date, not one has supported the actions of the AMPCo Board. [* with an additional 179 people who have signed a petition to Dr Owler]

You have asserted, “there have been a number of media reports, public comments and campaigns that have (either) been factually incorrect..”. Does this assertion extend to any information on the Friends of the MJA website?

35 Comments

  1. I believe the dismissal of Prof Leeder was completely unjustified. It has brought the MJA into disrepute from which it will be difficult to recover.

  2. I have already informed the journal that because of these circumstances I decline to offer any further services as a referee for their journal. I suggest others consider doing the same.

  3. Thanks for bringing this to attention.
    I trust Steve Leeder’s judgement…..
    and have previously been burned by for-profit Australian publishing dressing drug promotion as ‘knowledge’.
    As an AMA member I would willingly join in industrial action….perhaps if we refused to pay our subscriptions? Or threatened a mass resignation of membership?

  4. I think the AMPCo Board’s decision is short-sighted in the extreme and applies an economic rationalist model to publishing the MJA which can only result in a dramatic decrease in its quality and crediblity. The management’s treatment of Professor Leader and the associate editors is disgraceful.

  5. This was an ill judged and incompetent decision. Friends of MJA are quite right to insist that Editor be reinstated and the people responsible should be asked to resign Elsevier is a an unsavoury organisation. Until recently it was part of an international consortium selling arms.
    In 2012 there was an international move for a boycott against the high journal prices charged by Elsevier and their expensive lobbying of US Congress to maintain their position. Academics submit their papers (I don’t any more) and peer review those papers for free. Elsevier rake in the profits. They should not be allowed to do this for the MJA.

  6. I am totally disgusted by the AMPCo Board’s decision to dismiss Professor Steven Leeder as the editor of the MJA, and I too believe Prof Leeder’s dismissal was completely unjustified. In my opinion, this economic rationalist venture not only raises ethical concerns, but has also brought the future credibility of the MJA into disrepute!

  7. This does not have the feel of a transparent well- considered process, which should include consulting recurrent authors and the AMA membership.
    Best to have the independent inquiry at this stage, and to not sign contract with external publisher until endorsed by inquiry & AMA membership.
    The considerable influence and authoritative reputation of the MJA could otherwise be at great risk.

  8. I have total confidence in Steve’s moral and professional integrity and am appalled by the treatment given to him and therefore to the journal.

  9. What a desultory state of affairs. Steve Leeder is an enormous loss to the journal. Losing Steve and the Advisory Committee casts the MJA and its owner in a very poor light.

  10. I am distressed at the outsourcing to Elsevier and at the dismissal of a competent experienced and committed Editor-in-Chief. All aspects of the MJA should stay in close engagement with issues and priorities of Australia. In 1984 the new Australia Medical Council established Australian control of accreditation of medical schools in succession to the British GMC whose responsibility was primarily to the needs of the UK. This led to a substantial focus of content, process and priority to Australian issues and the building of a community of Australian medical educators with knowledge and a collegial approach to quality improvement. This could not have been achieved from the UK GMC, supportive as it had always been. For the MJA, our national journal, to move in the reverse direction,shifting a substantial weight of its responsibility off-shore would be to risk the current proper focus on national priorities and the support of its wide-ranging community of contributors and reviewers.

  11. I strongly support the position of the Friends of the MJA and call on the Board of the AMA as the ultimate owners or the MJA to review the decision to sack Professor Stephen Leeder. I recognise the increasing costs of publication of the MJA and other journals but I am not convinced on the information available to me that the board of AMPCO acted in the best interests of the MJA or in the best interests of AMA members. The MJA in recent times has been immeasurably better in style, presentation and content than for some years due to the editorial management of Stephen and his colleagues. Outsourcing to Elsevier may not have been the only option available to the Board and in my opinion certainly was not the best option for our national medical journal’s reputation. Boards often have an unenviable task in making decisions especially about financial viability but sometimes a board makes the wrong decision with grave consequences. It will be of major concern to many of us who have supported the MJA long term if as a result of this decision and the resignation of so many of the editorial advisory group the MJA loses its credibility as our national medical journal. I urge reconsideration by the AMA of which I am proudly a life member. Michael Bollen AM MBBS FAICD

  12. It is very disappointing that Stephen Leeder’s position as Editor-in-Chief of the MJA has been terminated and the circumstances surrounding this are of great concern. The justification given on behalf of AMPCo and the AMA for the outsourcing of some functions in producing the MJA and for the termination are unconvincing. If cost of production is one of the key concerns, the AMA could have sought the views of members on the use of their membership fees in supporting the MJA before making any decisions. The MJA may not recover.

  13. The journal has improved markedly under Stephen Leeder’s guidance, and is now really required reading for doctors in practice, academics, hospital staff and students in training. It is essentially the only forum for publication of important national issues in medicine, and should not be handed over to Elsevier on any terms. The AMA needs to call a halt to the proceedings, revamp the AMPCo board, reinstall Steve and consult with the membership about how the journal can be approriately resourced – John Funder .

  14. Editorial independence is critical for all journals. Professor Leeder has the breadth of perspective and intellect required for this critical role. His sacking is appalling.

  15. Australia needs an independent authoritative medical journal; currently the credibility of the MJA would seem to be in tatters.
    AMPCo appears to seek a return to the “blue comic” of old

  16. I agree with others that this has been a disgraceful affair. The board should fall on its sword and an interim management should beg Professor Leeder to save this old Journal

  17. I wholeheartedly support the views expressed by the friends of the MJA. For a period of five years from 2004 to 2009 I was intimately involved in the operations of AMPCo as its General Manager and through my role as Deputy Secretary General of the AMA. I am most concerned about the statements by the AMA which appear to suggest that AMA member funds are/were inappropriately being used to fund the MJA. A profession has a duty to protect and enhance the disciplines it represents and a vitally important part of this duty is the support of research. To suggest that the members of the AMA should not be supporting research appears very ill informed and likely to be driven by questionable motives – traits which I’m sad to say the AMA has mastered over many years.

  18. Knowledgeable staff are the most valuable asset of a company. A company must directly control the critical elements of of its business, or will slowly deteriorate.
    AMPCo has degraded its own quality businesses through poor management, and cannot attempt to fix problems arising by essentially continuing further down the same path.

  19. As a fellow editor, I am fully in support of any effort to expose interference by “management” in editorial board independence.

  20. I’m appalled at what has happened at the MJA, particularly in relation to the firing of the Editor in Chief, Stephen Leeder – whose reputation in the field of public health, both nationally and internationally, is beyond question. The Journal has had an excellent reputation as the purveyor of high quality research to practising doctors and others involved in health service delivery in our community. The proposed new arrangements are extremely concerning as there are serious questions about the probity and intellectual integrity of those taking over and of previous publications overseen by the over-arching publishing company. The medical community needs to protest the new ownership and governance structure foisted upon the Journal without due process. The integrity of research published in the Journal and the flow-on effects on “evidence based” health service provision in Australia are threatened by these regrettable events. They need to be reversed.

  21. The Medical Journal of Australia is an important part of efforts to improve the health of people in Australia and beyond helping patients, doctors, policy makers, teachers and researchers. The issues raised by the Editor were critical matters. Outsourcing parts of the editing process to Elsevier was and is not the only way to reduce costs. Finding another Editor of quality is going to be extremely challenging for years to come.

  22. Many senior members of the profession have supported the Board and Prof Leeder and this should not go without being acted in in an appropriate way. The Journal is probably the most effective function of the AMA and has now been at its highest standard. in my memory as a member for 50 years. Please present to members in the next journal a simple balanced statement by both parties letting us know what the situation is and what we can do to fix it

  23. The sacking of Professor Leeder and outsourcing the Journal’s editorial activities to Elsevier could result in damaging the reputation of this fine publication, which performs a critically important role in medical journalism in Australia. I had a close association with the Journal as a member of the Editorial Advisory Panel of the Therapeutics Section in 1983-6 and 1989-90, and more recently as a reviewer. If invited, I will have second thoughts about performing reviews in the future.

  24. As a final year medical student, it disappoints me to know that on entering into a career in medicine, this is where the politics and management of our major medical journal in Australia is going. It saddens me because I believe it will injure the standing, of what has been a well reputed journal, in academic circles both within Australia and internationally. There is so much good work being done in medical research within Australia and I think our researchers deserve to have the credibility of their national journal maintained.

  25. I am a public health teacher and practitioner and one of several editors of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. In these various capacities I have been a regular reader of MJA and InSight.
    I would like to say that I am completely baffled and appalled at removal of Stephen Leeder as editor of MJA, and the unprofessional manner in which it occurred. I have been concerned for a while now about the ways in which publishing houses are acting in the name of cost-savings and improved service, and I am extremely concerned that people who need to understand these issues of academic quality and integrity which are affected by these moves do not seem to really understand the consequences of this so-called ‘progress’.

  26. I understand the reason for this action was a financial one though I do not know why. It seems very sad to me that saving money is always the reason these days for the sacking of competent people, especially when Elsevier does not have a history of integrity.

  27. Message Body:

    I agree 100% with this following comment:

    Submitted by Deborah on Tue, 26/5/2015 – 8:09

    Editorial independence is essential to a vigorous healthy journal and we outside the publishing world (but among those who freely contribute to medical journals) watched with sadness at the interference of outside management in a doctors’ journal. Management do not seem to understand the spirit which motivates people to contribute freely and which values intellectual endeavour over profit. We do not expect a medical journal to make money. That is not what it is for. We do not expect a medical journal to publish only anodyne opinions, nor an editor to be forced to be subservient to management. We value controversy and informed discussion, and we are grateful to the MJA editors and contributors for providing this to date.

    “Market forces” now dictate that we will send our work elsewhere, and review for other journals. Medicine is a community of individuals who have values other than money

  28. I am a scientist who has served on the boards of five scientific journals including the G.I. section of the American Journal of Physiology. I am appalled that a Board can be dismissed this way. Professor Leeder has great scientific credibility unlike those who sacked him. It is the Board who should protect and enhance the reputation of the journal. We need our own Journals and we can access the expertise to run them well. Sounds like some are more interested in money than great medical science. I support the views of the Friends of MJA.

  29. No point in re-subscribing now. The BMJ wins back my attention. Rural GP

  30. Hello! I just would like to give an enormous thumbs up for the wonderful information you’ve here on this post. I will likely be coming back to your weblog for extra soon.

  31. I find this series of events very disappointing. Not only are there ethical issues with Elsevier that I find difficult to overlook, but given that journals only survive due to the unpaid work of the contributors, for the AMA to treat the views of these contributors so poorly and ‘fob off’ their greatest asset with vague political speak, well I think that this can only be viewed as grossly self-serving and damaging to credibility of the AMA.

  32. I was very disturbed by the recent sacking of Professor Leeder, and the outsourcing of the publishing of the MJA to Elsevier. I have always been proud of the MJA, especially in recent times, and I see it as the flagship of Australian medicine. It has fine scholarship, fine writing, and above all, integrity. Now, almost all those who made it so have gone.
    It is also inexplicable, and alarming, that Elsevier has been chosen given its past unethical practices.
    I regard the AMA leadership’s decision to do this, without any discussion with AMA members, as a betrayal.

    When the recent Government co-payments, and changes to GP consultation items were proposed, the AMA leadership regularly sought members’ views, as was appropriate, but the MJA changes were made without any discussion with members. If financial considerations formed the basis of the decision, various options should have been put to members to consider.
    I believe Professor Leeder should be re-instated, and an open investigation made into this extraordinary decision.

  33. Prof Stephen Leeder’s work with the Journal and his dedication reflect his career and leadership and are inspirational to the readers of the MJA and the Australian medical community. He has given us remarkably clear views of women’s health and mental health, among other areas, that champion equity and bring global considerations to bear on our situation in Australia. We need his continuing influence and a Medical Journal of Australia with assured editorial independence.

  34. Irrespective of who was responsible for the decision to omit references from the published research articles in the MJA, this is an appalling and retrograde step. For Australian research to be taken seriously at a local and international level, references should be made available, either by inclusion with the article (preferred) or by an ability to request references (not the better option).

  35. Please note, that while consideration is being given to an “online Australian journal of General Medicine” we already have one of INternal Medicine which can be considered for things relating to physicians (This is not advertising, just saying…).

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share This