Rejecting a Journal

Taylor & Francis says it dropped a journal for commercial reasons. But decision followed disputes between editors and the publisher.

September 7, 2018
 

A journal is at risk of closure after its publisher, with whom its editors had crossed swords on several occasions, dropped the title.

The editor of Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation suggested that Taylor & Francis’s decision might be linked to a dispute over the planned publication of a series of articles on shaken baby syndrome. The publisher, however, said that the decision was “related to the journal’s commercial performance."

The periodical had been published by Taylor & Francis since 2000, when it moved to Britain from Australia, and was known for convening debates on contentious issues.

A previous spat with Taylor & Francis saw Prometheus’s editorial board threaten to resign en masse in 2014 when the company demanded large cuts from a debate paper that criticized the behavior and profit margins of commercial publishers, including Taylor & Francis’s parent company, Informa.

Although publication of the debate was delayed for eight months, Taylor & Francis eventually apologized for being “overzealous” in its “concern to avoid legal and copyright problems.”

Stuart McDonald, Prometheus’s general editor, said the two sides then enjoyed a “peaceful few years” of working together.

But the relationship ran into trouble again last year when the editors proposed a debate on shaken baby syndrome, including a proposition paper by Waney Squier, a consultant pediatric neuropathologist who has questioned the science behind convictions in several infant death cases.

McDonald, a visiting professor in the University of Leicester’s School of Management, said that Squier’s paper was sent to Taylor & Francis’s lawyers in October and then, in January, the publisher asked to inspect the other 10 submissions. These included papers by lawyers, the chair of the General Medical Council and a senior Metropolitan Police officer.

In March, the lawyers said that they had no objections to publication, on the proviso that a second opinion should be sought on Squier’s paper and some of the responses.

But, in June, external lawyers said that all 11 papers were likely to be libelous. McDonald said that Taylor & Francis required changes to all the papers but failed to specify what these should be, and production ground to a halt.

Then, in July, Taylor & Francis told McDonald that it was divesting Prometheus.

“Just why Taylor & Francis should take such draconian action is not entirely clear,” said McDonald. “It may be that Taylor & Francis has become totally risk averse.”

McDonald said that he had been told in a meeting with managers from Taylor & Francis that “they had found a solution to the problem of publishing the debate -- they would simply separate themselves from us completely, with immediate effect and no transition period.”

But a Taylor & Francis spokesman said that the decision was on commercial grounds alone.

“The journal has been publishing behind schedule for some time, despite the best efforts of those who have been working on it, with the most recently published issue being issue 1 of 2017,” he said. “Over the same period, the journal has lost the majority of its subscribers.”

McDonald said that he was seeking a new “smaller publisher” for Prometheus, “with whom we can share academic values.”

Taylor & Francis said it intended to publish the final three issues of the current volume before the end of 2018. “We are supporting the editors to achieve this,” the spokesman said.

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