These academics complaining of Lancet's pro-Palestinian bias are fighting a lost battle

Academics should not be in the business of stifling free speech and putting their name to such bad prose

Richard Smith
Friday 24 April 2015 08:53
The controversy over Lancet has been triggered by an article that appeared during the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip in July 2014
The controversy over Lancet has been triggered by an article that appeared during the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip in July 2014

Richard Horton has taken The Lancet back to its radical roots, speaking truth to power, holding the powerful to account and giving a voice to those who are not heard, like the children of Gaza. Most editors follow their readers, but the way Richard has led on global health is extraordinary.

The 500 complaining academics remind me of the White Russians, continuing to fight a battle that has been lost. The Committee on Publication Ethics has ruled there are no grounds for retracting the open letter, as has The Lancet’s ombudsman. Reed Elsevier, the journal’s owner, has sensibly stayed silent to avoid compromising the editorial independence of The Lancet, its most valuable possession.

Have all the academics actually read the highly intemperate, sometimes inaccurate letter they have signed? Academics should not be in the business of stifling free speech and putting their name to such bad prose. Open and full debate is fundamental to both science and politics, and the right response to something that you disagree with is to encourage, not suppress, debate.

As John Milton wrote, “Truth was never put to the worse in a free and open encounter… If it come to prohibiting, there is not ought more likely to be prohibited than truth itself.”

Richard Smith is a former editor of the BMJ and a co-founder of the Committee on Publication Ethics