Editorial misconduct

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.326.7401.1224 (Published 05 June 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:1224

Medical editors need effective self regulation

  1. Richard Smith, editor
  1. BMJ

    As with members of any group—be they doctors, politicians, or cardinals—some editors misbehave. Managing their misbehaviour is complicated by widespread devotion to the principle of editorial freedom, a devotion that is energetically promoted by editors. When an organisation takes the nuclear option of firing its editor—as the American Medical Association did in 1999—the roof falls in.1 2 How can the circle of editorial independence and the need to discipline erring editors, of whom there are many, be squared? The answer may be self regulation, some sort of general medical journalists council.

    Regular readers of the BMJ will imagine that it is my own misbehaviour that prompts me to meditate on the theme of editorial misconduct. My sins in the past two months include publishing an obituary seen by many as a hatchet job,3 4 publishing research funded by the tobacco industry that implied that passive smoking did not kill,5 carrying an offensive cover on the journal that depicted doctors as pigs, drug company representatives as lizards, and a bemused patient as a guinea pig, and publishing a study highly sceptical of the private finance initiative in the run up to the Scottish parliamentary elections.6 The obituary sin has been referred to the Press Complaints Commission, a body that provides self regulation for the …

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