Thursday, 16 February 2012

John Lantos resigns from the AJOB editorial board

As a direct result of the affair with regard to the American Journal of Bioethics that I discussed in my former post, John Lantos, Director of the Children's Mercy Bioethics Center and Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, as well as Fellow of Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago, to which he belonged for over 20 years, just announced his resignation from the editorial board of AJOB via a post in the closed Facebook group Bioethics International. I've contacted John and he has given me permission to quote this post here, which I will do without further comment:

After thinking about AJOB since the story broke, here's where I stand:

As a long time supporter and admirer of the American Journal of Bioethics, a former member of the Editorial Board, and a friend of both current and former editors, it pains me to see what has happened. AJOB has been a great journal and I have been, until now, proud to be on its Editorial Board. But recent events make it clear that the journal has lost credibility in ways that tarnish not just the names of people associated with it but also the reputation of the entire field of bioethics.

To me, the key issues are not the ones of procedure that have gotten so much attention. Instead, they are issues of substance. They raise questions about the judgment of the editors and, more importantly, about the goals of the publisher. If, as we’ve been told, Taylor and Francis really asked Glenn McGee to stay on as Editor once he’d taken a job at Celltex, and if they really believed that the resulting conflicts-of-interest were manageable, one must wonder about both their judgment and their mission. Imagine that the Editor of the New England Journal took a job as Vice President at Merck, and the Mass Medical Society asked him to stay on as Editor, opining that the conflicts of interest would be manageable. One might rightly wonder, “What are these people smoking?”

An academic journal in any field, and especially in a field as value-laden as bioethics, must earn the trust of readers and writers alike. Authors need to know that reviews will be fair. Readers need to know that suggested revisions are not politically or financially motivated. The current arrangements offer no such assurance. We want to know what is really going on – and what will go on – and who will be making decisions -- when the journal decides what to publish on issues ranging from research ethics, stem cell controversies, conflicts of interest, relationships between industry and academia, innovative therapy, FDA regulation, patient deaths in clinical trials, research standards in other countries, cozy relationships between biotech companies and state governments, and a host of other issues that have direct financial implications for the new editor-in-chief and the ongoing “founding editor.” AJOB’s current policy for dealing with such conflicts is that editors “…will recuse themselves from any involvement in decisions where they have a financial or other conflicting interest.” In other words, “Shut up and trust us.” I am afraid I have lost trust.

I have, sadly, resigned from the AJOB Editorial Board. As long as the current leadership structure is in place, I will no longer submit papers to AJOB. I have withdrawn a paper that was in press and due out in March. I will discourage my colleagues from submitting papers to AJOB. I will not cite papers published in AJOB. In my opinion, the editors have failed to establish the degree of transparency that should be minimally acceptable for any journal and certainly for one charged to host a forum in which ethical evaluations are right at the center.


  1. Resigning from the editorial board, withdrawing your forthcoming paper, refusing to submit papers, and making your decisions public here all seem to me reasonable responses to recent events. I'm very puzzled, though, by your decision not to cite papers published in AJOB. ("I will not cite papers published in AJOB.") Could you say more about why you think that decision makes good sense?

  2. Hi Anonymous, Good question! But I think you should put it to John himself. There is a link to a webpage of his in the original post.

  3. Though I obviously cannot speak to Dr. Lantos's reasons for his decision to no longer cite articles published in AJOB, it seems like a reasonable course of action to me. Due to the lack of transparency at AJOB, we cannot be certain that articles were selected for publication on their merits rather than for political or financial reasons and that competing arguments and points of view have been honestly considered.