Society for Conservation Biology in Turmoil Over Editor's Ouster

Controversial departure. Erica Fleishman's contract as editor in chief of Conservation Biology was not renewed.

John Korfmacher

The editor of Conservation Biology has been forced out over the issue of advocacy in the premier journal. Erica Fleishman of the University of California, Davis, was told late last month by the Society for Conservation Biology's (SCB's) governing board that it felt that she had been insisting on removing advocacy statements from research papers, and that it had been decided not to renew her contract. Several prominent members of the journal's editorial board have resigned in protest, and the SCB president has created a new committee in a bid to ease tensions.

Conservation Biology is the most highly cited publication in conservation biology with an impact factor of 4.9. Fleishman had been editor in chief of the journal for about 2.5 years. She received an annual $20,000 honorarium for 25 to 30 hours a week of work, including more hands-on editing than is typical at other journals, intended to make papers more accessible to a range of fields. "It's been a huge part of my life," she says.

Fleishman estimates that about 10% of papers submitted to the journal contain statements of advocacy, typically a few sentences in the discussion section. Although she suggested to authors that they consider not including such comments, she says she only insisted that they be identified as opinion. A handful of authors, including some who serve SCB's board of governors, objected, she says. Ultimately, any changes are the author's decision, Fleishman says. "We have never said, 'We will not publish your paper if you don't change this.' "

Fleishman says she first heard from the executive committee of the board of governors that it didn't want to renew her contract, which expired in February, on 23 May. After members of the journal's editorial board objected to her firing, the executive committee met twice to reconsider, but Fleishman was told last Thursday that the decision was final.

SCB president and board member Paul Beier of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff says that there had been "friction" between Fleishman and some members of the board of governors for months to a year. The decision not to renew her contract "has been beyond excruciating for me," he says, adding that Fleishman is "a person of utmost integrity." Beier has created a joint committee of the board of governors and editorial board to discuss how to improve relationships.

Among those who have resigned from the editorial board in protest is David Ehrenfeld of Rutgers University, who founded the journal in 1987. Fleishman "has been treated shamefully," he says, estimating that more than 20% of the 60-member editorial board has resigned over the issue.