Reed Elsevier’s Elsevier division is the monolith of the medical publishing world, producing thousands of books in all health-care disciplines and more than 2,200 journals, from Academic Emergency Medicine to the very nearly worshipped Lancet to Zoology. Where would the dissemination of medical knowledge be without these books and journals? Thanks to the Lancet, we now have proof that "[w]ar and armed conflicts are the main barriers to development in poor countries, and expenditure on arms diverts resources from education and health" (MacDonald R. Where next for arms control? Lancet 2006;368:713–14), notes an editorial in the
One focus of Reed Elsevier’s corporate-responsibility ethics is its global community program, Reed Elsevier Cares, the mission of which is to “play a positive role in our local and global communities, primarily through employee involvement.” For example,
[i]n 2005, Reed Exhibitions Germany employees created Christmas in a Shoebox (Weihnachten im Schuhkarton) with employees decorating and filling boxes with fun and practical items for boys and girls. Reed Exhibitions paid to ship the boxes to families in Armenia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Croatia, Lithuania, Moldova, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, Russia and West Jordan. RBI-Italy raised nearly $1000 by selling a wide range of new and used items at an inhouse holiday market to raise funds for AIMPS Onlus, an association that helps children suffering from a rare illness affecting early growth.That’s just heartwarming, isn’t it? And how’s this for heartwarming? Reed Elsevier, through its Reed Exhibitions division, has been striving, since 2003, to ensure that everyone in the world has enough weapons. Yes, you read that correctly.
The JRSM editorial reports that
[t]hrough its subsidiary, Reed Exhibitions, Reed Elsevier runs arms fairs in Britain, the United States, the Middle East, Brazil, Germany and Taiwan. The same subsidiary runs Lancet conferences, including the forthcoming one in Asia. The Lancet told us how the fairs have in the past included cluster bombs, which are especially dangerous to civilians because they fail to explode and thus create minefields. The Lancet has consistently spoken out against cluster bombs. Last year’s fair in the US included torture equipment sold by Security Equipment Corporation, who use the grotesque slogan ‘Making grown men cry since 1975.’ The Lancet has long been a leader in condemning torture. ...The editorial also reports that in 2005, the Lancet published a letter from 16 readers who requested that Reed Elsevier get out of the arms business. Did the Lancet’s editorial staff take a stance?
It is the scientific and medical part of Reed Elsevier’s business that is the most profitable: in 2005 its sales totalled £1436 million, or 28% of total Reed Elsevier sales, and its profits were £449 million, or 37% of the company’s total profits. Indeed, Reed Elsevier plans to sell its education division, which is not nearly so profitable. The scientific and medical part of the business is so profitable because of the extraordinary value of the science it publishes. But the value in that research is created not by Reed Elsevier but by the scientists and academics who produce the research, peer review it, and edit most of the journals. This is where Reed Elsevier is vulnerable—were those researchers to go elsewhere, the company would promptly pull out of arms exhibitions. And, of course, those researchers might leave and never return.
A member of the World Association of Medical Editors [of which I am an associate member] contacted Reed Elsevier by e-mail recently to ask about its weapons-promotion activities, and this was the response:
Thank you for contacting us regarding your concerns about Elsevier’s involvement in defense exhibitions. As well as publishing print and electronic information products, Reed Elsevier has a subsidiary called Reed Exhibitions Ltd. which organizes almost 500 exhibitions each year in a large range of different business sectors, including aerospace and defense. These exhibitions are intended for legitimate organizations involved in aerospace, defense, homeland security, peacekeeping and humanitarian relief. What is more, I am assured that all these exhibitions are managed strictly in compliance with domestic and international law and meet all regulatory requirements.That’s well-done spin. But are we in the editorial services professions so desperate for the financial support for disseminating medical knowledge that we will blind ourselves to the morally repugnant activities of the provider of that support? Do you publish, manage, edit, or proofread an Elsevier journal? If so, are you going to say anything to Reed Elsevier about its weapons-mongering? Will you continue to work on Elsevier journals? Will those who advertise in Elsevier's journals speak out? Will the physicians whose articles are published in Elsevier journals speak out?
As many people are misinformed about the nature of the exhibition, I just wanted to give you some basic facts regarding DSEi (Defence Systems and Equipment International Exhibition). Often DSEi is regarded as ‘an arms fair’, but we would like to clarify that this not the case, it is an exhibition. This is an important distinction to make in that no weapons or other equipment may be bought or sold at this event.
The DSEi exhibition covers a range of equipment, not just weapons. For example, in 2005 at DSEi there were 1200 exhibitors; of this number:
There are many examples of equipment on exhibit that are crucial to efforts in peace support and life-saving activities, such as air ambulances, emergency medical complexes, surveillance systems, fire control equipment, or for search, rescue and survival. I list these to [assure] you that the exhibit is not simply about weapons. In fact less than 4% of the exhibitors displayed weapons.
- 16% represented disaster relief programs
- 7% were involved in peacekeeping and humanitarian services
- 19% were involved in homeland security
Also, I just want to mention here that all the invitations for the exhibitions are sent out by the UK Ministry of Defence and that all the exhibitors have to comply with UK laws such as the Export Control Act and the Trade in Controlled Goods Order. Anything exhibited is highly regulated as well, and needs to comply with UK, EU and UN law. At this exhibition defense equipment is exhibited in an open and transparent manner, in a tightly regulated environment, which is the type of forum we feel is appropriate for this and every industry.
Reed Elsevier is committed to human rights and upholding international humanitarian law. And we at Elsevier, as a publisher, believe in freedom of speech and open debate. We simply want to ensure that the debate is an educated one, based on relevant facts and figures. We support an open discussion on this so that people can base decisions and opinions on correct information and are happy to answer any additional questions you may have on this topic or other topics that concern or interest you regarding Elsevier or Reed Elsevier.
I do not work directly with any of its journals, but I do edit a great many articles for authors from outside the United States for whom English is a second language and who will go on to submit their manuscripts to Elsevier’s Journal of Arthroplasty. I like to think that my working with international authors does some small part to foster international cooperation and understanding. But now I know that it also helps contribute to the distribution of implements of death.
Updated at 5:43 p.m.: The UK's Telegraph reports that two of Reed Elesevier's investors have dumped their shares in protest against the firm's arms fairs.
Updated 7:23 a.m., 3/1/07: I've posted a notice to my clients on my business web site. I'll e-mail that same message to my regulars, my international authors who contact me periodically for ESL edits of their medical journal articles, the next time they want another article edited before they submit it to any Elsevier journal.
And I've e-mailed the American Medical Association and Physicians for Social Responsibility with a call to action: that they boycott Elsevier and call for Reed Elsevier to stop hosting weapons exhibits.
There are just some things one can't remain silent or blind about.
Updated 9:31 a.m., 3/1/07: I have sent the following e-mail message to officers of Reed Elsevier's Singapore office:
Hello, Mr. V. Lee, Mr. J. Lee, Ms. Ng, and Ms. Tan. I am a freelance medical copyeditor in the United States who has grave concerns about Reed Elsevier's ethics.
Sponsoring the Lancet Asia forum is beneficial because it results in the wide dissemination of the latest medical knowledge. I thank Reed Elsevier for that service. But I am appalled that Reed Elsevier also produces weaponry exhibitions worldwide; see http://www.rsmpress.co.uk/KA07-02-09.pdf. For your company to both sponsor medical events and help provide access to weaponry is an untenable conflict of interest, especially in light of medicine's dictum "First, do no harm."
I have begun a campaign to inform editorial professionals worldwide about this serious matter.
I also have e-mailed the American Medical Association and Physicians for Social Responsibility with a call to action: that they boycott Elsevier and call for Reed Elsevier to stop hosting weapons exhibits. In addition, because this conflict of interest has received little to no coverage by the U.S. mainstream media, I have informed multiple large U.S. media organizations of the situation.
I call on you to consider the moral and ethical ramifications of Reed Elsevier's arms exhibitions—to stop organizing them immediately.
Updated 4:20 p.m., 3/2/07: If you read the industry magazine Publishers Weekly or use the research database LexisNexis, you will want to know that both are owned by Reed Elsevier.
Updated 9:12 p.m., 3/4/07: You can go here to sign a petition calling on Reed Exhibitions to drop its sponsorship of arms fairs. Go here for more background on Reed Elsevier and updates on the situation. And finally, please write a letter to the chairman of Reed Elsevier to protest its weapons-mongering:
Jan HommenUpdated 2:30 p.m., 3/5/07: Please boycott the London Book Fair, which is organized by Reed Exhibitions.
Reed Elsevier PLC
London WC2N 5JR
Updated 2 p.m., 3/7/07: Please boycott BookExpo America, which is organized by Reed Exhibitions.
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6/1/07: Reed Elsevier to stop hosting weapons fairs
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