ScienceScope

Science  22 Jan 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5401, pp. 467
  1. JAMA Editor Gets the Boot

    Journal editors are dismayed by last week's sacking of George Lundberg, longtime editor of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Association brass fired the 17-year veteran for his decision to publish a paper on what college kids think of oral sex—just as President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial moved into its second week.

    The paper, which appeared in the 20 January JAMA, was presented by the authors—June Reinisch, former director of the Kinsey Institute for sex research in Bloomington, Indiana, and Kinsey researcher Stephanie Sanders—as a contribution to “the current public debate regarding whether oral sex constitutes having … sexual relations.” It reported that 59% of 599 students surveyed at a large midwestern university in 1991 did not regard oral-genital contact as having “had sex.” The authors conclude there is a “lack of consensus” on the topic.

    The timing of the paper did not sit well with AMA executive E. Ratcliffe Anderson, who said it had been rushed to publication. In announcing Lundberg's departure, Anderson said that the editor had threatened the journal's “integrity” by “inappropriately and inexcusably interjecting JAMA into a major political debate that has nothing to do with science or medicine.” Anderson, who has been at the AMA helm for 7 months, also said other factors had contributed to a loss of “confidence and trust” in Lundberg, but he declined to be specific.

    Lundberg's lawyer, William Walsh, branded the firing an “inappropriate intrusion into the historically inviolable ground of editorial independence.” And other journal editors were outraged. The board of the Council of Biology Editors said “the firing marked a dark hour for scientific journals worldwide,” and that the action “amounts to tacit support for suppression of scientific information that may be politically sensitive.” New England Journal of Medicine Executive Editor Marcia Angell was surprised by the firing of a “highly successful editor,” although she called the Reinisch article “trivial and irrelevant.”

    Lundberg, 65, has long been at odds with AMA honchos, tackling issues such as the perils of smoking before the association took public stands. Lundberg declined to comment, but according to press accounts Walsh has hinted that litigation might be in the works.

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