Merck are currently defending a civil suit filed by an Australian who suffered a heart attack in 2003 while on Vioxx, an anti-inflammatory. Merck has been strongly criticized for distorting early scientific findings which showed cardio-vascular risk was higher for Vioxx patients than for those using a competiting drug Naproxen. They claimed that this was explained by Naproxen actually being protective against heart attack. This post is not about Vioxx however. It is about what arose in testimony concerning the relationship between the esteemed publisher Elsevier and Merck.
Between 2003 and 2007, Elsevier produced several volumes of a journal called the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine. They were paid by Merck to do so. The journal certainly looked like a peer-reviewed medical journal (see here) however it contained reprinted articles favourable to Merck products, “editorials:” when there was actually no editorial board, and no disclosure of company sponsorship. A fuller account of the whole fiasco is here.
It actually gets worse though. Now that this instance has come to light Elsevier admit that they have five other journals which may be of a similar nature. Why should readers of this blog care? Well, Elsevier publish several reasonably well regarded journals in our field including Journal of Statistical Planning and Inference, Computational Statistics and Data Analysis, Stochastic Processes and their Applications, International Journal of Forecasting, Stochastic Processes and their Applications and the very prestigious Journal of Econometrics.
There are some other activities that you might not have known about Elsevier. Until recently, they were involved in organizing arms fairs around the world. Yes, I know that much research in the US is financed by defence grants. But arms fairs are forums for the illegal trade in landmines, as well for the distributions of clusterbombs and other instruments of state terror. Is this really consistent with Elsevier’s own mission statement which says they would like to play ‘a positive role in our local and global communities’?
After a long campaign that highlighted their involvement and questioned whether this was consistent with academic publishing, Elsevier buckled to the pressure in 2007. Their CEO, Crispin Davis said:
Over the last year or so it has become increasingly clear that growing numbers of important customers and authors, particularly in the science and medical markets, have very real concerns with our involvement in this sector. They believe strongly that our presence here is incompatible with the aims of the science and medical communities. I am also very aware this is a view shared by a number of our employees. We have listened closely to these concerns and we have concluded that the long term interests of Reed Elsevier as a leading publisher of science, medical, legal and business content would be best served by withdrawing from defence exhibitions.
How they did not come to this conclusion themselves is beyond me. I am wondering whether I will continue to send any of my research to Elsevier journals. I am interested in your thoughts and whether you think such a boycott serves any purpose.