NEJM CONFLICT: Manuel Resigns from Search Committee
Barry Manuel has resigned from the search committee seeking a new editor for the New England Journal of Medicine, the Wall Street Journal reports. Manuel came under fire last month for his dual role as a founding investor of HealthGate Data Corp., which was awarded a valuable contract to publish an online consumer version of NEJM, and "an official with influence over the journal's management." Manuel told the Massachusetts Medical Society last Friday that he felt his presence on the committee would be a "distraction," agreeing with critics who had said he "might be unduly swayed by his personal financial interest and support a candidate who would favor the Internet venture over the journal's public-service mission." The society's Committee on Ethics and Discipline had earlier deemed Manuel free of conflict of interest, but advised Manuel to "recuse himself from any search-committee deliberations involving HealthGate or its competitors." But the ethics committee did not address Manuel's involvement on the committee that voted to terminate Jerome Kassirer, NEJM's previous editor, last summer. Kassirer had "initially raised strong concerns about the HealthGate venture."
After "vigorous" hours of debate, a proposal to guarantee future editors in chief "authority over the use of the name, logo and content" of NEJM died in committee. Instead, the House of Delegates passed a resolution which guaranteed the "independence" of future editors. Interim editor Marcia Angell said the verdict was "a signal to the world that the society intends to back away from the independence and authority that they gave me. It is a signal that the next editor in chief will not have the same protections." The society also voted to establish an advisory committee of medical-school deans to resolve disputes between the society and the NEJM editor (Johannes, Wall Street Journal, 11/8).