A medical journal's integrity

July 30, 1999

Here is an excerpt of an editorial from the Boston Globe, which was published Wednesday.

THE New England Journal of Medicine is a national asset. Its mission to publish authoritative reports about medical advances and to lead the debate about health-related issues should not be compromised.

But that is what the Massachusetts Medical Society has done by deciding to fire Dr. Jerome Kassirer, whom the president of the Medical Society describes as a great editor. Dr. Kassirer's one offense was to oppose plans to dilute the integrity of the Journal by holding its reputation hostage to less-renowned Medical Society publications.

The details of the disagreement or not know but apparently go back several years and include such matters as whether there should be a link to the Barnes & Noble Web site in Journal book reviews posted on the Internet.

Dr. Kassirer and his staff pride themselves on integrity, going so far as to insist on the segregation of advertising pages from editorial content. Journal procedures can seem archaic at times. It still uses pencils to edit. But the publication is second to none in credibility.

Dr. Kassirer took the Journal onto the Internet, established a fast-track procedure for urgent medical news, and used the opinion columns to respond nimbly to issues ranging from cloning and medical use of marijuana. He is hardly caught in the musty past. He understands, however, that the Journal needs to be protected from even the appearance that its good name will be used to promote other agendas.

If the Medical Society insists on replacing Dr. Kassirer, it should choose an editor of equal integrity and skill. Dr. Jack Evjy, the Medical Society's president, said, "We are absolutely committed to maintaining the Journal's preeminent position."

He can do that by finding another superb editor and making sure the society keeps hands off its most authoritative publication.

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