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:
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.
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?