Doctors Attack Lancet Owner’s Arms Fair Links

The publishers of The Lancet are under fire from leading doctors who are complaining about their escalating involvement in arms fairs. Across three pages of today’s edition the medical journal publishes letters from top doctors, led by the Royal College of Physicians, who say that Reed Elsevier’s commercial interest in the arms trade undermines the journal’s efforts to improve health worldwide.

The editors of the journal also call on their proprietor to drop its work with the defence industry, claiming that the association is damaging The Lancet’s reputation. The Lancet’s international advisory board is now considering an “organised campaign” against its own publisher.

A subsidiary of the publishers, Reed Exhibitions, runs six defence-related fairs around the world including the highly controversial Defence Services and Equipment International, supported by the Ministry of Defence, which will take place in London in September. Doctors are also complaining about the Shot – shooting, hunting, and outdoor trade – show in America for domestic weapons.

Scientists including Sir Michael Atiyah, former president of the Royal Society, have called for a boycott of their publications.

International academics led by Noam Chomsky have also lobbied the company in a letter, and last month the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust sold £2m worth of shares in the company after three years of attempting to persuade it to halt its association with the arms trade.

Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, and Michael Pelly, its international adviser, write today: “The Lancet is one of the most respected international medical journals and should not be linked to an industry involved in weapons designed to cause physical harm and death.”

A second letter, from Peter Hall of Doctors for Human Rights, reads: “The Lancet, as the foremost medical journal on global health issues, engages with all threats to human longevity or mental and physical wellbeing … it is thus shocking to hear that the publisher … continues to align itself so supportively with the arms trade.”

A reply, signed by “the editors of the Lancet”, says they have been in private discussions with their owners since the association was first highlighted in 1995.

In a statement, Reed Elsevier said: “We accept that Reed Elsevier publications may occasionally take editorial positions critical of their owners, as is the case on this issue. We do not, however, see any conflict between Reed Elsevier’s connections with the scientific and health communities and the legitimate defence industry.”

Richard Horton, the Lancet’s editor, said there was overwhelming opposition to Reed Elsevier’s position and that privately they were looking closely at the issue. “They are listening,” he said.

Voices of protest

Those writing letters/calling for boycott of Reed Elsevier

Ian Gilmore, president of Royal College of Physicians
Michael Pelly, RCP’s international adviser
Sir Michael Atiyah, former president of Royal Society
Noam Chomsky, American academic
Peter Hall, chair, Doctors for Human Rights
Sir Andrew Haines, director, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Marion Birch, director of global health charity Medact