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Education And Debate

Pitfalls of editorial miscommunication

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 05 June 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:1262
  1. Karen Shashok, translator and editorial consultant (
  1. 1 Compositor Ruiz Aznar 12, 2-A, 18008 Granada, Spain

    When Human Immunology retracted an article from a special issue, it blamed the guest editor, who was also one of the authors. But journals should not hand responsibility to someone unfamiliar with that journal's editorial procedures without written guidance or oversight

    In October 2001, the publishers of Human Immunology retracted an immunogenetics paper that some readers felt contained inappropriate political content. They also deleted it from the online edition of the journal and asked librarians to physically remove the pages the article was printed on. The first author of the controversial article was also guest editor of the special issue the paper appeared in. The case triggered much debate in editorial organisations and internet discussion groups, and the guest editor, editor in chief, sponsoring society, and publisher were all criticised for their roles in the affair. This article examines the claims and counterclaims.

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    Encounter between science and politics

    Human Immunology, a journal published by Elsevier Science and sponsored by the American Society of Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics, produced a special issue on anthropology and genetic markers in September 2001. The guest editor was Dr Antonio Arnaiz-Villena, head of the immunology department at a large public hospital in Madrid and professor of immunology and cell biology at Madrid's Complutense University. Dr Arnaiz-Villena was recruited by the journal's editor in chief, Dr Nicole Suciu-Foca, because of his expertise in the new, interdisciplinary research front that he called historic genomics.1 He was expected to contribute a keynote paper written specifically for the special issue.2

    The paper attracted attention not only for its scientific content but also for parts of the text some readers felt reflected political bias. The authors reported that their analysis of human leucocyte antigen gene variability and haplotypes showed that “Jews and Palestinians came from ancient Canaanites, who extensively mixed with Egyptians, Mesopotamian, …

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