Fresh Blood at New England Journal

By: 
Constance Holden
2000-05-12 19:00

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), under provisional leadership since the sacking of editor Jerome Kassirer last summer (ScienceNOW, 26 July 1999), has a new editor: Jeffrey Drazen, 53, an asthma researcher at Harvard University and associate chief for research in the Pulmonary Division at Boston's Children's Hospital. He will start next month.

This past year has been rough for the journal. First Kassirer left because of irreconcilable "differences of opinion" with officials at the Massachusetts Medical Society, which publishes NEJM, over use of the journal's prestigious name and logo on other print products. Shortly thereafter, the journal's publisher abandoned ship. More recently, NEJM revealed that it had been violating its own conflict-of-interest policy by publishing papers from authors who accepted research money from companies that manufacture the drug they were studying.

Physician Marcia Angell has been holding the tiller since Kassirer's departure, but she says dropped aspirations to succeed him because of doubts over the authority she would be allowed. To avoid the fate that befell Kassirer, Angell had obtained strong assurances last summer that she would have control over the use of the journal's name and logo, as well as its content. But officials refused to assure her that a new contract would contain the same guarantees, she says.

In a press release, the society says Drazen will have "complete authority" over not only content but "the name, logo, look and feel, in both the print and electronic versions of the Journal." Drazen says he is "perfectly confident" that the society will keep that pledge. But Kassirer isn't so sure. Still burned by his experience last summer, he says he has no confidence that the society will abide by its principles. "It just says what it wants to and then does what it wants to," he says. "I wish [Drazen] luck. He'll need it."

Drazen is already cautious about his extensive ties with the pharmaceutical industry. He says he plans to be "as lily-white as possible," by reviewing all his company relationships and keeping his hands off any paper or editorial involving a company with which he has been connected during the last 2 years.

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