The editorial board of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (IJOEH) resigned today in protest. The entire 22-person board is standing up for public health science and rejecting corporate influence on the independence of medical journals.Their resignation came following a series of complaints made to the journal’s publisher Taylor & Francis for its interference in the board’s decision-making.
IJOEH—due to its editorial board–has had two unique features. One is its commitment to publishing the work of scientists from developing countries. IJOEH provides an avenue for them to publicize their research and for readers to be aware of the occupational and environmental health and safety investigations and interventions taking place around the globe. During 2016, for examples, IJOEH included the following papers:
- Prevalence and risk factors of musculoskeletal disorders among Sri Lankan rubber tappers (K. Stankevitz, et al.)
- Mercury and neuromotor function among children in a rural town in Chile (J. Ohlander, et al.)
- Examination of postures and frequency of musculoskeletal disorders among manual workers in Calcutta, India (K. Sarkar, et al.)
- Child labor and acute pesticide poisoning in Nicaragua: Failure to comply with children’s rights (M. Corriols, et al.)
Second is IJOEH’s reputation for publishing papers that expose malfeasance by polluters and makers of dangerous products. Editorial board member David H. Wegman, M.D., MSc, who is professor emeritus in the Department of Work Environment at UMass Lowell and adjunct professor at Harvard School of Public Health noted:
“Throughout its existence, IJOEH has published a number of well-documented scientific critiques of improper actions by corporate representatives and consultants concerning occupational and environmental hazards and risks.”
Such papers include:
- Ethics, morality, and conflicting interests: how questionable professional integrity in some scientists supports global corporate influence in public health (X. Bauer, et al.)
- Expression of concern: false claim to be free of conflicts in asbestos biopersistence debate (S. Bohme)
- Lifting the veil of secrecy from industry funding of nonprofit health organizations (M. Jacobson)
- Industry influence on occupational and environmental public health (J. Huff)
- Corporate corruption of science—the case of chromium(VI) (D. Egilman)
Just prior to their resignation on November 22, the editorial board sent a letter to the National Library of Medicine (NLM). The editors asked the NLM to remove IJOEH from the library’s list of journals indexed for MEDLINE. In a statement, one of the editors, Arthur Frank, MD, PhD, a professor of environmental and occupational health at Health at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health said:
“Taylor & Francis pays attention to their journals’ ‘impact factor.’ IJOEH’s impact factor will fall if it is removed from MEDLINE. We are taking these unprecedented measures because Taylor & Francis has failed to address the Board’s concerns.”
The editorial board’s frustration with the publisher dates back to earlier this year. In April, the editors filed a complaint with the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). COPE establishes a code of conduct for journal publishers. Among the concerns raised with COPE was the publisher’s retraction of previously published article on corporate-funded research to manufacture doubt about the health hazards of an asbestos-containing product. Since then, the editorial board has learned that Taylor & Francis is considering the retraction of three other publications. All of them were accepted under the previous editor-in-chief’s tenure. COPE guidelines say:
a new editor “should not overturn decisions to publish submissions made by the previous editor unless serious problems are identified.”
In last week’s letter to the NLM, the editorial board indicated that Taylor & Francis has refused to identify the three papers it may retract.
“It is the unanimous opinion of the 22 member IJOEH editorial board that Taylor & Francis’ actions are an assault on editorial independence,” said editorial board member Leslie London, MBChB MMed MD.
He is associate director of the Occupational and Environmental Health Research, University of Cape Town, South Africa. He added:
“We urge the NLM to respond favorably and swiftly to our request. Failing to do so emboldens the influence of corporations on medical journals which will have dire consequences for public health.”
At NRDC’s blog, Jen Sass describes the relationship between IJOEH’s new editor-in-chief Andrew Maier, the industry consulting firm Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA) and Michael Dourson who is President Trump’s nominee to lead EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. On Monday, Nov. 20, Lisa Song at ProPublica provides more details about the editorial board’s complaints to IJOEH’s publisher. Retraction Watch gets credit for its initial coverage of the editorial board’s complaints about Taylor & Francis’ interference.