Not as august (or at least formaly august) a journal as Synthese, the American Journal of Bioethics, edited by Glenn McGee, is relatively young (about a dozen years old) but has already become fairly prominent in its subfield. Philosopher Hidle Lindemann (Michigan State) recently circulated the following letter of resignation from the editorial board, which was forwarded to me by bioethicist Carl Elliott (Minnesota) (Professor Lindemann also gave permission to publish it):
After long and careful thought, I hereby resign from AJOB’s editorial board. While the journal has been hugely successful, there seems to be no oversight or accountability, so it is difficult for board members to know very much about the review process, the acceptance rate, the rate of submission, the journal’s financial footing, who owns (as opposed to publishes) the journal, and other matters having to do with its day-to-day operations. I do not know who sits on the conflict of interest committee even though the Information for Authors page says it is “comprised [sic] of members of the editorial board.” And although the editor-in-chief has said he would disclose the financials of the journal, he has not done so—at least, not to me. The board is never called to meet; we are never consulted as a group in any meaningful fashion. It’s not even clear who chooses the board, or on what basis. So it seems that our good names go toward a journal that we know very little about.
The last straw came for me when a Target Article was accepted that attacked me and my colleagues as unethical. Rather than specifically invite us to reply to the charges, the editors chose simply to send out the usual mass email notification of new Target Articles that had been accepted for publication, which seemed to indicate that it was a matter of indifference to them whether our side of the story got an airing. Moreover, the lead author did not disclose that he is affiliated with the institutions he was defending in the paper, and although the editors were alerted to this conflict of interest, they have never printed an erratum. Indeed, I do not recall ever seeing an acknowledgment of error in any issue of the journal.
I have been an editor myself for much of my adult life and I know what the pressure of deadlines can do to distort editorial judgment. But I also know that it’s possible to run a journal transparently and responsibly, and I no longer feel confident that AJOB is so run. Until that changes, I cannot lend my name to its masthead.
Professor of Philosophy
At least there was no pandering to the Intelligent Design crowd! But the allegations here certainly suggest a much deeper level of editorial dysfunction than in the Synthese case. An earlier Scientific American article looked at some of the controversy that has swirled around Professor McGee.
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ADDENDUM: Professor McGee has kindly posted the reply from him and two other editors to Professor Lindemann in the comments, below.