Letter to The Lancet on Reed Elsevier

Text of a letter to The Lancet, co-signed by Stuart Parkinson, SGR, published on 10 September 2005

Thomas Wakely founded The Lancet in 1823 as a beacon of medical knowledge and as a powerful ethical voice."A lancet", he announced, "can be an arched window to let in the light, or it can be a sharp surgical instrument to cut out the dross, and I intend to use it in both senses."[1] Wakely 's successors have continued to challenge the political, social,and commercial forces that undermine medical values.

In recent years, The Lancet has published groundbreaking work on the effect of conflict on public health, including a major 2004 study of civilian deaths in Iraq.[2] Its work with the Peace Through Health programme at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, is further evidence of the journal's leadership in this field.[3]

Today The Lancet finds itself connected to the profits of the global arms trade: a trade that inflicts physical and social harm in the poorest and least stable regions. Since 2003,The Lancet's owner and publisher, Reed Elsevier, has organised some of the world's largest arms fairs through its exhibition wing, Reed Exhibitions. On Sept 13 -16, 2005, Spearhead, a Reed Exhibition company, will stage the world's largest triservice (land, sea, and air) arms fair -Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi)-in London,UK. DSEi promotes arms sales ranging from warships to small arms (the cause of an estimated 500 000 fatalities annually) and cluster bombs.[4] Military buyers from some of the world's most serious human-rights-abusing regimes, including Syria, Colombia, and Saudi Arabia, were invited to the last DSEi fair.[5] There is a demonstrable lack of effective regulation at these events. For example, although organisers asked exhibitors in 2003 not to promote cluster munitions, journalists found cluster bombs openly on display.[6]

Professionals and practitioners who use Reed Elsevier's numerous medical and biomedical publications hold to principles that include, at their most basic, the maxim to "do no harm". Reed Elsevier's involvement with the arms trade seems incompatible with this principle. It also contradicts Reed Elsevier's own subscription to the UN Global Compact, which aims to prevent conflicts and human rights abuse.[7] As researchers, scientists, medical professionals, and campaigners concerned about the damaging effects of the arms trade on the health and wellbeing of many populations, we call on Reed Elsevier to end its international promotion of the arms trade. It is incompatible with The Lancet's guiding principles, Reed's subscription to the UN Global Compact, and the ethics of many of its contributors, readers, editors, and reviewers.

Gene Feder, Jon E Rohde, Miguel San Sebastian, Urban Janlert, Masamine Jimba, Enrico Materia, Anna-Karin Hurtig, Stephen Goldin, Tom Stafford, Berit Edvardsson; Bjorn Hilt (on behalf of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War), Stuart Parkinson (on behalf of Scientists for Global Responsibility), Marion Birch (on behalf of MedAct), Anna Jones (on behalf of the Campaign Against Arms Trade), Kathy Archibald (on behalf of Europeans for Medical Progress), John O Pastore (on behalf of Physicians for Social Responsibility)

Barts and the London Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, London, UK (GF); James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh (JER); Umea International School of Public Health, Umea University, Sweden (MSS,UJ,A-KH); Department of International Community Health, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan (MJ); Agenzi di Sanita Pubblica, Rome, Italy (EM); Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Umea University, Sweden (SG); Department of Psychology, Sheffield University, UK (TS); Umea University, Sweden (BE)



1. The Lancet. The Lancet -then and now. http://www.thelancet.com/about (accessed Aug 25, 2005)
2. Roberts L, Burnham G, Lafta R, Khudhairi J, Garfield R. Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq:cluster sample survey. Lancet 2004; 364:1857-64.
3. McMaster University. Peace Through Health. http://www.humanities.mcmaster.ca/peace-health/(accessed Aug 25, 2005)
4. International Action Network on Small Arms. Small arms are weapons of mass destruction. http://www.iansa.org/documents/action/toolkit/wmd.pdf (accessed Aug 25, 2005).
5. Campaign Against Arms Trade.Arms fairs: dealing in death. http://www.caat.org.uk/armsfairs/dsei.shtml (accessed Aug 25, 2005).
6. Norton-Taylor R.Welcome:this way for cluster bombs.The Guardian Sept 10, 2003.
7. Reed Elsevier.Corporate social responsibility. Reed Elsevier annual review and summary financial statements 2003. http://www.reedelsevier.com/staging/ReviewReport/g1.html (accessed Aug 25, 2005).