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JAMA Editor Gets the Boot

The longtime editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), George Lundberg, was fired today for publishing a report detailing a survey of college students' attitudes about sex, which the authors presented as a contribution to "the current public debate regarding whether oral sex constitutes having 'had sex.' "

The paper in question, to appear in the 20 January JAMA, was co-authored by June Reinisch, former director of the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research in Bloomington, Indiana, and Stephanie Sanders, a researcher at Kinsey. Based on a 1991 survey of 599 students at a major midwestern state university, the paper reports that 59% of the group did not regard oral-genital contact as having "had sex." The authors conclude there is a "lack of consensus" on this topic, noting that most of the students "identified themselves as politically moderate to conservative, with more registered Republicans than Democrats."

The paper's timing apparently did not sit well with AMA executive E. Ratcliffe Anderson. In a press release announcing Lundberg's departure, Anderson stated that the editor had threatened the journal's "integrity" by "inappropriately and inexcusably interjecting JAMA into a major political debate that has nothing to do with science or medicine." Other factors may have played a role in Lundberg's ouster. Anderson, who has been at the AMA helm for 6 months, also stated in the press release that "over time" he had "lost confidence and trust" in Lundberg.

Other journal editors have expressed surprise and dismay at the sacking. "Editorial freedom is so important that it ought to take something enormously egregious to fire an editor over it," says Frank Davidoff, editor of the Annals of Internal Medicine. New England Journal of Medicine executive editor Marcia Angell says the firing was inappropriate, even though she calls the Reinisch article "trivial and irrelevant."

Lundberg, 65, was unavailable for comment. The feisty editor, who presided over JAMA for 17 years, has been at odds with AMA brass over the years, tackling such issues as the perils of smoking and injuries from boxing before the association took public stands on them.