Publisher responds to public health journal editorial board’s “grave concerns”

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Publisher responds to public health journal editorial board’s “grave concerns”

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A representative of Taylor & Francis has responded to concerns raised by former and current editorial board members of an occupational health journal, after the publisher took some significant actions without consulting the board.

The board’s main concerns: That the publisher hired a new editor with industry ties, and withdrew a paper by the former editor that was critical of corporate-sponsored research.

In a letter to the editorial board of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health dated last week, managing director Ian Bannerman writes:

The responsibility for selecting and appointing an Editor-in-Chief lies with Taylor & Francis as the owner of the journal.

Still, Bannerman says the publisher “reached out to” editorial board member Jukka Takala of the Workplace Safety and Health Institute in Singapore (by phone and email) before contacting new editor Andrew Maier for the position. Takala is one of the signatories of the letter to the publisher dated last month; he told us:

…no, I was never consulted on Dr Maier and had no information about him.

Bannerman continues:

On the basis of advice received and our own research, we contacted Dr. Maier. We reviewed his CV and held several telephone calls with him to discuss his plans for the journal and how we might position the journal to cover the multiple perspectives of this diverse area with an impartial and evidence-based approach. We felt satisfied that he had the right experience and vision for the role.

Maier is chair of the fellows program at Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA), which the board members described as a “corporate consulting firm” in their letter.

In response to board members’ concerns that some papers accepted under the former editor were being held up by the journal, Bannerman notes that three articles have been “flagged up as raising potential concerns:”

We are currently investigating these as a matter of urgency and expect to proceed with publication or confirm an alternative course of action for these authors shortly.

Bannerman does not specify the authors or subject matter of the three articles now being re-reviewed.

The board had also objected to the journal’s decision to withdraw a 2016 paper by former editor David Egilman with little explanation. Here, Bannerman says:

…we have also recently withdrawn a fourth article that was inadvertently published before the review process was completed, and was subsequently decided to be unsuitable for publication.

He adds that Maier has also continued to publish articles accepted under Egilman’s tenure in their original form — and he ranks above the editorial board:

Dr Maier’s obligations as Editor-in-Chief are outlined in a formal contract between himself and Taylor & Francis, and as such his role encompasses a higher level of responsibility than that of members of the Editorial Board.

IJOEH board member Andrew Watterson at the University of Stirling, who signed the April letter on behalf of the other signatories, told us:

Many members of the editorial board remain deeply concerned about the very recent Taylor and Francis responses. Their concerns relate to some fundamental questions about the journal direction and its apparent move away from critically examining industry influence on occupational and environmental health standards and practices. They also involve the lack of transparency in appointing the new editor in chief linked to no consultation on this specific matter with any editorial board member. And equally important is the publisher’s inability to fully explain so far why a peer-reviewed published paper was withdrawn without consultation with the board and the failure to provide criteria now being used by the publisher and not the editorial board to appraise other papers

Former board member Barry Castleman, an environmental consultant who also signed the April letter to the publisher, dubbed its response “insulting and alarming:”

The T&F letter carries the news that the publishing company has also targeted 3 more (presumably accepted but not yet published) papers “flagged up as raising potential concerns.”

As you know, the [Committee on Publication Ethics] Code of Conduct for Publishers requires that, “Publishers should work with journal editors to …  publish corrections, clarifications, and retractions.”  That is not occurring here.  The Editors will seek to find out more about the withdrawal of a published paper and the publishing company’s unprecedented reconsideration of peer-reviewed, accepted papers.  Nothing has been disclosed to the Editors about the publishing company’s processes of selecting accepted papers for possible retraction and conducting re-evaluations of the papers.