Ethics Questions at Bioethics Journal

Board member quits with accusations over review process -- and an article that attacked her.
June 13, 2011

A prominent philosopher and bioethics expert has quit the editorial board of The American Journal of Bioethics, calling into question the way articles are reviewed and the process for reviewing an article that criticized her and her colleagues.

Hilde Lindemann, a professor of philosophy at Michigan State University and past president of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities, let her resignation letter be circulated, and published on the blog Leiter Reports.

"While the journal has been hugely successful, there seems to be no oversight or accountability, so it is difficult for board members to know very much about the review process, the acceptance rate, the rate of submission, the journal’s financial footing, who owns (as opposed to publishes) the journal, and other matters having to do with its day-to-day operations. I do not know who sits on the conflict of interest committee even though the Information for Authors page says it is 'comprised [sic] of members of the editorial board," wrote Lindemann. "[I]t seems that our good names go toward a journal that we know very little about."

Lindemann wrote that the "last straw" was the publication of an article "that attacked me and my colleagues as unethical" without any invitation to those accused to offer a response. She also charged that the lead editor of the article had a conflict of interest that the journal did not disclose.

The three top editors of the journal shared a response to the Lindemann letter, which they wrote had "misstatements of act." They wrote that the editorial board has met in 7 of the last 10 years, and that the various facts that Lindemann alleged were not available had in fact been released by the journal. (The statement said that the journal is owned by Taylor & Francis, a scholarly publisher.)
The letter was signed by Glenn McGee, editor in chief and the John B. Francis Chair in Bioethics at the Center for Practical Bioethics; David Magnus, co-editor of the journal and director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University; and Paul Root Wolpe, co-editor of the journal and director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University.

The article that Lindemann objected to was "A Case Study in Unethical Transgressive Ethics," which criticized a group letter that Lindemann has signed questioning the ethics of medical research conducted at the Mount Sinai Medical Center and the medical school of Cornell University in which dexamethasone is used during pregnancy. The letter from the bioethicists and be found here.

The alleged conflict of interest in the journal article to which Lindemann objected was that its lead author -- Laurence B. McCullough -- identified himself through his affiliation with the Baylor College of Medicine. Lindemann (and her supporters in various blog posts) have noted that McCullough also has affiliations with Mount Sinai and Cornell -- and didn't mention them (although one of his co-authors was identified with a Cornell affiliation).

The letter from the editors of the journal does not say why those affiliations were not needed, but says that a committee of the editorial board "concluded that there were no undisclosed conflicts of interest that required disclosure. No erratum was or is required."


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