Posted with permission from Confined Space, a newsletter of workplace safety and labor issues.
The entire 22-member Editorial Board of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health resigned this morning after a months-long struggle with the Journal’s new owners who have “have acted in a profoundly unethical fashion” and have moved the worker-oriented publication to a more corporate focus.
The fate of the IJOEH is important to worker health in this country. A recent article in ProPublica explains that under the new owner, the IJOEH is moving toward favoring “corporate interests over independent science in the public interest.”
|“I think the IJOEH articles were threatening to that whole industry.” – Dr. David Michaels, George Washington University|
The problem began when the British-based Taylor & Francis, one of the largest publishers of academic journals, bought IJOEH in 2015. Last year, without consulting the Editorial Board, Taylor & Francis hired a new editor-in-chief, Andrew Maier. Maier, an environmental health professor at the University of Cincinnati, runs a program for research fellows at TERA (Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment), a consulting firm that analyzes chemical safety. Tera was founded by Michael Dourson, a former tobacco industry defender, and Trump’s highly controversial (and possibly unsuccessful) nominee for EPA Assistant Administrator for Toxic Substances.
The publisher claimed to have contacted one Board member, Jukka Takala, about Maier’s appointment, although according to Retraction Watch, Takala claims that “I was never consulted on Dr Maier and had no information about him.”
In addition to bypassing the Board on the appointment of Maier, the new owners also withdrew a peer-reviewed article by journal’s former editor-in-chief David Egilman — after it has been published. Egilman’s article criticized Union Carbide Corporation’s efforts to oppose workers’ claims of asbestos exposure. The publisher also flagged three other articles that had been approved while Egilman was editor-in-chief.
Egilman’s article was critical of industry consultant Dennis Paustenbach who had conducted a study for Union Carbide which attempted to show that workers who had contracted mesothelioma from asbestos exposure from the company’s product, Bakelite, had received very low levels of asbestos exposure. Egilman concluded that Paustenbach’s “study published asbestos fiber exposure measurements that underestimated actual exposures to create doubt about the hazards associated with the manufacture and manipulation Bakelite.”
|I’ve never seen this kind of arrogance from a publisher who didn’t deal with the board of a journal in terms of transitions like this. — Arthur Frank, Drexel University|
According to Retraction Watch, which originally wrote about this story in April, IJOEH board member Arthur Frank of Drexel University said:
Retraction Watch is a blog that focuses on “Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process.”
In response to these actions, the entire 22 member Board and six former Board members wrote last week to the National Library of Medicine, describing the problems and requesting that the NLM “rescind the listing of IJOEH in Medline, require the new owner of IJOEH, Taylor & Francis, to submit a new application for listing of IJOEH in Medline, and then reject that renewal application when it is submitted.”
As ProPublica explains, “Academic journals are often judged by the reputations of those on their editorial boards, and this list includes a Columbia University dean, the president of the International Commission on Occupational Health and a scientist who helped establish the cancer classification system used by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.”
According to The Scientist, such actions are rare:
The resignation letter, addressed to Managing Director Ian Bannerman, states that “We have been unsatisfied with our interactions with you and Taylor and Francis, especially regarding the appointment process for the new Editor-in-Chief, and the unilateral withdraw of approved or printed articles by the publishers. We do not wish to be party to the apparent new direction that the journal appears to be moving towards, and will not be a party to these developments.”
Meanwhile, workers are left without a scientific advocate.
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