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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Elsevier and the arms business

Until now, I haven't blogged any of the controversy surrounding Reed Elsevier's involvement in the worldwide arms trade.  Because it has no OA connection, I've regarded it as off-topic for this blog.  But now the editors of The Lancet (an Elsevier journal) have created an OA connection. 

In the March 24 issueThe Lancet published seven letters to the editor, all condemning Elsevier for its arms business.  (Thanks to idiolect.)  In their reply, the Lancet editors make this argument:

The Lancet reaffirms its view that arms exhibitions have no legitimate place within the portfolio of a company whose core business concerns are health and science. This part of Reed Elsevierís operation should be divested as soon as possible....Reed Elsevier is not a monolithic structure....On the question of arms exhibitions, we have found that a growing number of our Elsevier colleagues, who have long standing relationships with scientific societies and authors, are questioning Reed Elsevierís decision to continue in this business. At a time of fierce debate over author-pays open access journals and open archiving, Reed Elsevier, many of them say, needs to be making strong alliances, not creating new enemies....

Comment.  I strongly support the editors' position and applaud their courage in criticizing the parent company.  They are on solid ground when they argue that "the arms trade [is] incompatible with the professional values of a health-science publisher ópromoting health and wellbeing, reducing death and disability, respecting human rights, and showing concern for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in society."  But when they add the OA connection, I must say that their argument becomes uncharacteristically vague.  Does it mean that Elsevier's arms business would be fine if the company hadn't already created so many enemies by lobbying against national OA policies?  Or that lobbying against OA would be fine if the company weren't adding new enemies by selling arms?  Either way, it leaves the unfortunate suggestion that the company has enough moral or political capital to do either one but not both.