Brave to take up arms against your publisher

In an age where corporate slings and arrows fly hazardously through
the air in a great many aspects of publishing life, it’s refreshing to
see an editorial team happy to stick its head above the parapet.

Dr
Richard Horton, editor of the venerable medical journal The Lancet,
published a stinging editorial last week criticising the organisers of
an arms fair that opened in London on Monday. The company behind the
event happens to be part of Reed Elsevier, which also owns The Lancet.

Rejecting
any perceived connection between the journal and the arms trade, the
editorial wonders how Reed can continue to make money from an event
that is clearly at such odds with other parts of its business.

“On
behalf of our readers and contributors, we respectfully ask Reed
Elsevier to divest itself of all business interests that threaten
human, and especially civilian, health and wellbeing,” it says.

“One
would expect the world’s leading medical publisher to align its
business values with the professional values of the majority of those
it serves.”

It would have been easy, even understandable, for the
journal’s stance on the arms trade to have been couched in more general
terms or for its editor to have pulled his punch when it came to the
specifics.

But in attacking his ultimate paymasters head on, and
in such uncompromising terms, Horton took a big risk. He also, of
course, made the story that much more powerful and ensured it found a
wider audience than the readers of his title.

The Lancet editorial should be pinned to editors’ walls across the land. As a deterrent to the dangers of self-censorship, it takes some beating.

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