Lancet hits out at its publisher over Docklands arms exhibition

By Alyson Fixter

Publisher Reed Elsevier, which has been slammed by editors at its
most famous medical journal for promoting the international arms trade,
refused to sever its links with the industry this week at the start of
its controversial London arms fair.

The Lancet, an internationallyrespected medical title, demanded in a
leader on Friday of last week that the publisher stop hosting the
Defence Systems and Equipment international (DSEi) – which began in
Stratford, East London, on Tuesday – because of its “threat to human
health and wellbeing”.

But in a robust response to the demands,
Reed Elsevier, one of the world’s biggest medical publishers, said that
the defence industry was “central to the preservation of freedom and
national security”.

The Lancet, which prides itself on its
editorial independence, refused to say whether the journal wanted a
change of publisher, although in its leader the company was described
as the journal’s “current” publisher – a reference to the fact that
Reed has produced the title for only a decade of its 180-year history.

The
Lancet’s editorial stance was triggered by a letter of complaint sent
to the journal by a group of well-respected medical experts, including
Professor Gene Feder of Queen Mary’s University of London Hospital.

Prof.
Feder said he thought it would be difficult for the journal to detach
itself from Reed Elsevier, and that the hope was that media pressure
would push the company to cease its involvement in the arms trade.

He
added: “If the end result was The Lancet finding another owner, I think
that would be a Pyrrhic victory, [although] it is up to The Lancet to
decide whether it is tactically justified to increase the pressure on
Elsevier by looking for another owner.”The dilemma would be that
Elsevier has been very supportive of the further development of the
journal, and that would not be guaranteed with a new owner, nor would
the journal necessarily be viable if it did not have a big daddy.”

A
spokesman for Reed Elsevier said the publishing company was “committed
to the highest ethical standards in all its business activities”.

The spokesman continued: “The defence industry is central to the preservation of freedom and national security.

“It
is Reed Elsevier Group Plc’s view that the defence industry is
necessary for upholding national security, for the preservation of
democratic values and supporting the ever-widening role played by the
armed forces.”

Both Reed Elsevier’s corporate spokesman and The Lancet’s own press office refused to comment any further on the row.

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