Posted on February 23, 2012 at 4:58 PM
Over the past couple of weeks, a great deal of drama has played out regarding changes at the American Journal of Bioethics. While we appreciate all of the support we have received from our Editorial Board and much of the leadership in the field, a number of misleading or false claims have been made about which I feel obligated to respond.
- It has been claimed that the Editorial offices of AJOB were relocated to Celltex. This is false. It is a matter of public record that the offices of the journal have been and continue to be based at 3030 Post Oak Blvd. #805 in Houston, Texas. These are not the offices of Celltex and Celltex housed no AJOB editorial office or AJOB activity on their premises.
- It has been claimed that Glenn McGee took the job at Celltex and planned to continue to serve as both EIC of AJOB while working at Celltex until bloggers and twitter revelations forced a hasty change in plans. In fact, when Glenn first decided that he was likely to move to the private sector, he decided it would be best to resign from AJOB. Transition plans began then—and this can be attested to by a number of leaders within the field of bioethics, since a number of them were aware of the transition plans.
- Most of the attacks fail to acknowledge that Glenn had already been working to transition out of his role at AJOB as soon as he accepted his new position. During the transition he had no role in the oversight or acceptance of manuscripts for the journal. Failure to acknowledge that he was in the process of transitioning out of AJOB and that conflict of interest provisions had been put in place is a misleading rendition of events.
- Charges of nepotism have been raised against the appointment of Summer Johnson McGee as the co-EIC of AJOB. This charge is false. It was my idea (not Glenn’s) for Summer to be proposed as co-EIC. It was up to Taylor and Francis (not Glenn and not me) to make the final decision to sign her to a long-term contract as co-EIC. This is one of the more offensive charges, since it fails to acknowledge the reality that Summer is a scholar in her own right and that she is in fact the backbone of the journal. Anyone familiar with the workings of the journal knows that Summer has taken on more and more responsibility for the journal over the past several years—unfortunately while getting little recognition for her contributions.
- There has also been a charge that Summer is too conflicted to serve as co-EIC or that her COI cannot be managed or mitigated. This issue has already been addressed, but to reiterate: conflicts of interest are ubiquitous among journal editors. What is unusual in this case is that one of the sources of spousal COI is actually known. In contrast, most of us know very little about what, if any, COI issues exist regarding spouses or other family members of most bioethics journals (for the record, my wife is a public librarian). As we have already stated, Summer will have to recuse herself from any possible COI, including those that may arise out of the fact that her husband works for a stem cell company. I do not believe that this will be hard and knowing the range of manuscripts that we typically review, it will be a minority of submissions. I will personally review all manuscript submissions (as will Summer) and no editor will be involved in manuscripts for which they have a COI. Since we have two co-EIC’s and two new Associate Editors, we believe that it should be relatively easy to divide any labor. To improve our management of COI issues and to update our now 10 year old COI policy, we are shortly going to be looking for volunteers among the three Editorial Boards to create a standing COI committee and charge them with helping to create guidelines and processes for better managing COI’s. We have actually been successfully managing conflicts of interest among ourselves for a long time (for example, an article was recently accepted that was written by one of my faculty) and there is no reason to believe that recusing Summer from reviewing the manuscripts where a COI exists can not be accomplished.
Going forward, Summer and I have a lot of exciting plans for AJOB. We plan on creating several committees (not just a COI committee) to explore ways of improving and expanding the journal and bioethics publishing generally. We also look forward to instating a business meeting for our Editorial Board at ASBH each year, a working meeting where we will update our board members on the state of AJOB, solicit their opinions, and hear reports from the committees we have created. These are but two ideas among many that we plan to institute. We have two new Associate Editors who have agreed to join us (we will send an announcement about this shortly). And we are excited about the opportunity to lead AJOB—the most cited journal in the field.
David Magnus, PhD