On 24 August 2014 The Lancet published an
open letter for the people in Gaza
signed by Paola Manduca and 23
other doctors. This provoked a belligerent campaign by Israel’s defenders
attacking not only the letter and its authors but also the journal itself
and its editor. The open letter attracted over 20,000 additional signatories
before The Lancet closed the list. The journal felt it necessary to
publish the following unprecedented statement on its website ‘Following
the response to “An open letter for the people in Gaza”, The
Lancet has decided not to publish the names of signatories. We are concerned
about several threatening statements to those signatories, which have
recently been posted on social media.’

Pepys and others issued
an attack on Robert Horton, the distinguished
editor of the Lancet which included, inter alia, such terms as: grossly
irresponsible; vicious and deliberately inflammatory falsehoods; grave
breach of editorial ethics; betrays the scientific process; malignant
wilful disregard of honest and ethical. These outraged correspondents,
opponents to a woman and man, of BDS as an abuse of academic exchange
announced without a hint of irony that they would boycott the Lancet.

In April 2015 Richard Smith, a former editor of the BMJ and a co-founder
of the Committee on Publication Ethics, published a
determined defence of Richard Horton
in the Independent:

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

Most recently John Yudkin and Jennifer Leaning have published a
BMJ editorial
denouncing the Pepys attack; BRICUP chair Jonathan
and BRICUP member and open leter signatory Derek
have responded to the editorial.

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