Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Major publisher of scientific journals runs weapons trade shows

Reed Elsevier, the publisher of a huge number of high-profile scientific journals, has clashed with scientists and academic libraries in recent years over Elsevier's pricing schemes and copyright practices. But publishing practices are no longer the only reason some scientists are not happy with Elsevier - this company also sponsors weapons trade shows.

Last September, the editorial board of the major medical journal Lancet stated that "We cannot belive that Reed Elsevier wishes to jeopardise that commitment by its presence in a business that so self-evidently damages its reputation as a health-science publisher." They called on Elsevier to "divest itself of all business interests that threaten human, and especially civilian, health and well being."

This editorial was prompted by a letter to the journal which stated that "Military buyers from some of the world's most serious human-rights-abusing regimes, including Syria, Colombia, and Saudi Arabia, were invited to the last DSEi [arms] fair. There is a demonstrable lack of effective regulation at these events. For example, although organisers asked exhibitors in 2003 not to promote cluster munitions, journalists found cluster bombs openly on display. Professionals and practitioners who use Reed Elsevier's numerous medical and biomedical publications hold to principles that include, at their most basic, the maxim to "do no harm". Reed Elsevier's involvement with the arms trade seems incompatible with this principle." (The PDF version of this letter inclused Elsevier's reply.)

Sources: I first read about the weapons issue through physicist John Baez's site. Baez links to this site which has more information. Elsevier's publishing quarrels have been covered much more widely. You can google it, or start here to read about what some universities are doing.

War is a nasty fact of life, and I don't question that nations, even liberal democratic ones, must provide for their national defense. Weapons trade shows though have long been linked with arms proliferation among terrorist organizations and Third world dictatorships.

Those of us who think that science can ennoble society, that its practice in interational scientific communities fosters peace, and that its benefits can make our lives better, ought to hesitate before sending our hard-won work to a company that enables arms proliferation in areas of the world that are already wrecked by war, and that also keeps the copyright and charges insane prices for publicly funded research.

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