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Reed Elsevier, the global publisher that owns the Lancet, has announced that it will no longer take part in organising arms fairs.
For more than three years Reed Elsevier has owned the company Spearhead Exhibitions, which has hosted some of the largest international defence exhibitions. This connection has angered some members of the medical and scientific community.
Sir Crispin Davis, chief executive officer of the company, said last week, “Our defence shows are quality businesses which have performed well in recent years. None the less, it has become increasingly clear that growing numbers of important customers and authors have very real concerns about our involvement in the defence exhibitions business.
“We have listened closely to these concerns and this has led us to conclude that the defence shows are no longer compatible with Reed Elsevier's position as a leading publisher of scientific, medical, legal, and business content.”
Reed Elsevier's involvement has been severely criticised by numerous journals, even including its own Lancet. Staff at the journal, which was founded in 1823, were unaware of their owner's connection with the arms trade until 2005, when they expressed their concerns in an editorial (Lancet 2005;366:868, doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(05)67292-3).
“We reject completely any perceived connection between the journal and the arms trade, no matter how tangential it might be . . . We respectfully ask Reed Elsevier to divest itself of all business interests that threaten human, and especially civilian, health and well being,” the editorial said.
An editorial in the BMJ in March called for medical societies to look elsewhere for publishers, for journal editors to express their disgust, and for researchers to refuse to submit their high profile randomised controlled trials to Reed Elsevier (BMJ 2007;334:547-8, 17 March, doi:10.1136/bmj.39153.580023.80)
More opposition to Elsevier's participation in arms exhibitions was expressed in a letter to the Times newspaper in March signed by several literary authors, including Ian McEwan, Will Self, and Nick Hornby. “We call upon Reed Elsevier to end its involvement in a dirty and damaging business,” the letter said (www.timesonline.co.uk, 1 Mar, “The London book fair, democracy in action, shoot first”).
Peter Hall, chairman of Doctors for Human Rights, criticised Reed Elsevier for refusing to take any action earlier, in the face of two years' criticism and despite the fact that Spearhead Exhibitions accounted for only 0.5% of the group's turnover.
“Reed Elsevier stubbornly held onto a blinkered perspective that the promotion of the arms industry was a profitable venture,” Dr Hall told the BMJ.
“Reed Elsevier's change in policy is not only a triumph for those who participated in the campaign to persuade Reed Elsevier of its error in promoting arms trade but also for the integrity of the medical and scientific world.”