JAMA: Medical Community Blasts AMA for Firing Editor
The medical community has unleashed a torrent of criticism at the American Medical Association for its decision last week to fire Dr. George Lundberg, longtime editor of its prestigious journal. While the AMA has over the past year struggled to rebuild its membership base, regain its "political clout" and extricate itself from the ill-fated Sunbeam Corp. deal, the Boston Globe reports that firing Lundberg has placed the group "under siege again." Former AMA board chair Dr. Raymond Scalettar said, "Unfortunately, I think the organization is in an amazing tailspin. Our aviator [AMA Executive Vice President Dr. Ratcliffe Anderson] has literally flown the plane into the mountain. It's a huge embarrassment." JAMA column editor Dr. Tom Delbanco said, "The AMA is going to be viewed simply as a lobby group for a bunch of angry doctors, and that's not going to help anybody." Dr. Kenneth Arndt, editor of the AMA's Archives of Dermatology, said, "To me this clearly shows that political concerns of the association are premier and override editorial and scientific independence." Despite the medical community's criticism, AMA President Nancy Dickey remains "supportive" of Anderson's decision, the Globe reports. "Any time a key employee has lost the faith of the chief executive in terms of his or her ability to function within an organization, changes have to be made," she said (Tye, 1/19).
From The Op-Ed Pages
Dr. Marcia Angell, Executive Editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, writes in today's Boston Globe, "The truth is that the report was trivial and irrelevant, and publishing it in JAMA showed bad editorial judgment." She contends, however, that firing Lundberg "was way out of proportion to the offense. In doing so, it was the AMA, far more than Lundberg, that acted politically." Angell argues that the AMA should have issued a public statement instead, "dissociating itself from the survey and its announced relevance to the Senate proceedings but reiterating its support for the principle of editorial independence." She recalls a similar situation in 1993 when she published an editorial on health care reform with which the Massachusetts Medical Society, publisher of NEJM disagreed. Then-president Dr. Leonard Morse responded with an article that criticized Angell's position but affirmed her editorial independence. Readers, Angell said, "benefited from having both points of view, and the Massachusetts Medical Society gained in stature." Angell concludes that editorial independence should be upheld in all but the gravest of circumstances, and that "the decision to fire Lundberg over the sex survey was harmful to both JAMA and the AMA" (1/21).
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Hudson Institute senior fellow Michael Fumento protests that "Dr. Lundberg's publishing of the sex survey "was a mere misdemeanor compared with the high crimes JAMA and other top medical and science journals have committed in recent years." He points to a string of "politically tainted" studies in recent years with pronounced faults -- such as conveniently shortened measurement periods for a retrospective study linking a decline in male birth rates to man-made chemicals, and a study of gulf war veterans' sickness and exposure to chemicals that was tainted by "recall bias." Fumento calls the journal Nature's publishing last spring of "Jefferson Fathered Slave's Last Child," a DNA analysis of Sally Hemings' descendants, "at least as blatant an attempt to aid the president as JAMA's." All of the studies, he argues, "almost certainly quite intentionally, have helped bring new meaning to the term 'political science'" (1/21).
In an op-ed piece in USA Today, current and former student editors of the Journal of the American Medical Association charge that the decision to fire Lundberg exposed the AMA's "profound crisis of identity and management." Yale University psychiatry resident Ivan Oransky and Mount Sinai School of Medicine student Scott Gottlieb contend the move was hypocritical, arguing that the "AMA has repeatedly interjected itself into political issues." They write, "By firing JAMA's popular editor over an issue of political perceptions, the AMA has damaged the reputation of its once-editorially independent journal. It has also lost credibility with the medical profession and the public it seeks to influence" (1/20).
"Here it is, the first anniversary of life with Monica and someone finally got fired on account of sex," offers Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman. Defending Lundberg's decision to publish the survey on college students' definition of sex, she contends that "this survey is no pro-Clinton potboiler nor is it junk science recycled for the Drudge Report. It's a tip sheet of sexual attitudes that was designed for doctors, not Geraldo." Goodman praises Lundberg for putting "public health issues from domestic violence to tobacco on the agenda" (Goodman, Tacoma News Tribune, 1/20).