NEJM: Fires Kassirer Over Branding Issues
The Massachusetts Medical Society, the publishers of the New England Journal of Medicine, have fired editor-in-chief Dr. Jerome P. Kassirer "after he balked at using the journal's prestige to sell unrelated publications and products," the Boston Globe reports. The Globe notes that controversy surrounds the practice of branding -- the Massachusetts Medical Society "advertises its other publications for doctors and the public by saying they are produced by the 'publishers of the New England Journal of Medicine.'" However, the doctors who edit NEJM "say they resent their hard-won trust ... being used to peddle journals such as HealthNews and Heart Watch, which they do not control and whose quality and accuracy they cannot verify." Recently the medical society has upgraded its online services, promoted the journal Hippocrates and attempted to "force marketing deals with firms such as barnesandnoble.com" (Tye, 7/26). Saying that there were "honest differences of opinion between Dr. Kassirer and the Medical Society over administrative and publishing issues," Jack T. Evjy, M.D., president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, said, "It became evident that, despite our mutual best efforts, Dr. Kassirer and the Medical Society were unable to find common ground on these matters. For that reason, the Medical Society reluctantly concluded that the best course of action was to begin the process of searching for a new editor for the Journal" (Massachusetts Medical Society release, 7/26)
The Globe reports that the firing "is sure to set off a storm of controversy." Dr. John T. Harrington, dean of the Tufts School of Medicine, who resigned from the Massachusetts Medical Society's Publications Committee in protest of the Kassirer firing, said, "Control of the journal is slipping to the bean counters. This is a spectacular example of money beating medicine." Former Journal of the American Medical Association Editor Dr. George Lundberg, who was fired over issues of editorial control, said that he "understands why the Massachusetts Medical Society would want to use the New England Journal of Medicine's prestige to promote its other journals." But, he said, "I can also understand why, during these days of profound conflict between the business and professional components of medicine, that an editor dedicated to professionalism in a professional society might take issue with what might be perceived as excess business ambition." The Globe notes that backers of the medical society say it "performed an in-depth study on the new publishing ventures" and that the ventures "were endorsed by in May by its House of Delegates" and the society "has been careful to preserve the integrity of the" NEJM. Kassirer will go on a seven-month sabbatical Sept. 1 until his contract ends in March (7/26). In a statement, Dr. Kassirer thanked the medical society for its staunch support of the journal's editorial independence, and said that he was grateful for its strong financial support for his efforts to modernize the journal's editorial processes and extend the influence of the journal in electronic media and abroad. He added, "I am honored to have served as editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine and privileged to work with editors and staff who have never deviated from their singular focus on quality" (Massachusetts Medical Society release, 7/26).