New England Journal Editor Forced Out

Jerome Kassirer, editor of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), has been asked to step down following a management dispute with the journal's owner, the Massachusetts Medical Society. According to an agreement revealed last night, Kassirer, 66, will go on sabbatical leave in September, and his editorship will end when his contract expires next March. Kassirer, who led the journal for 8 years, confirmed these terms in a phone interview today, but declined to comment further.

The Boston Globe reported today that Kassirer had been "fired," but Massachusetts Medical Society president Jack Evjy and Kassirer issued a joint statement indicating that the divorce was mutual, reflecting "honest differences of opinion ... over administrative and publishing issues." The owners aim to appoint an interim editor shortly, possibly NEJM's current executive editor Marcia Angell.

To some, Kassirer's dismissal looked like a reprise of the decision by the American Medical Association (AMA) 7 months ago to fire George Lundberg, editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (ScienceNOW, 15 January 1999), after he published an article about oral sex during the impeachment trial of President Clinton. But Frank Fortin, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Medical Society, argues that the medical society never challenged Kassirer's editorial decisions: "This is not about the editorial independence or integrity" of the NEJM, Fortin insists, but about business issues. He declined to discuss specifics.

Marshall Kaplan, chief of gastroenterology at the Tufts University New England Medical Center and an associate editor of NEJM, says Kassirer disagreed with plans to use the NEJM's name on other publications. For example, the society recently bought Hippocrates, a popular journal for physicians, Kaplan says, and has plans to develop new publications aimed at patients. The medical society is looking for new sources of income, he believes, to help pay the mortgage on its "luxurious" new headquarters in the suburbs of Boston. But Kaplan said he and "most of the editors" feared placing NEJM's name on publications that are less rigorously reviewed would "dilute" the journal's reputation.

Like others, Kaplan described Kassirer as a "very successful editor." Evjy echoed this praise in a prepared statement last week, saying Kassirer had redesigned the journal, shortened the turnaround time for manuscript review, and "took a great publication and made it even greater."