Editor Resigns Following Retraction for 'Racist Characterizations'

Ivan Oransky, MD

February 19, 2019

An editor of Neurology, the flagship journal of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), has resigned following the swift retraction last week of an article because it contained what the editor admitted were "racist characterizations."

Anne W. McCammon, MD, had been editor of the Neurology and the Humanities section of the journal since 2011. The journal announced the move — along with the suspension of the Humanities section — in a letter to readers yesterday.

"The error has compelled us to seriously re-examine our editorial processes, informed by conversations with a number of diversity leaders within the AAN," Editor-in Chief Robert A. Gross, MD, wrote. "Our goal is to provide the best material possible for our readers, and we failed in this instance."

As Medscape Medical News reported last week, the now-retracted essay, "Lucky and the Root Doctor," described "Reggie, a 60-year-old black man referred because of muscle weakness and suspected inflammatory myopathy." It said that Reggie's wife was "a roly-poly woman" whose "abundant rolls of fat jiggled as she giggled."

The piece, which was originally published online February 12 but was removed from the journal's site on February 14, went on: "I once shared a table at a fried chicken fast food establishment with a nice African American lady. Immensely enjoying her fries, she sat with the shaker in one chubby fist and liberally salted each individual fry."

The author of the article, William W. Campbell, MD, MSHA, an emeritus professor at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences and a retired colonel in the US Army, told Medscape Medical News last week that he did not mean to offend anyone.

In addition to the changes to the Humanities section, which were effective immediately, the journal "will require that any paper that focuses on a group of people (for example, racial treatment disparities in stroke care) will have a member of that group, or a content expert on that group, or both, who will assure that the handling editor will have an appropriate range of opinion on which to base decisions," Gross wrote.

The journal will also recruit a deputy editor for equity, diversity, and inclusion, whose "role will be wide-ranging across journal activities, including review of accepted papers to assure that they present the proper perspective when describing groups and the rationale for the study; a central role in helping to assure best practices in peer review; and in evaluating appropriate representation on the Editorial Board."

During the past few months, the AAN has "undertaken a deep dive into various aspects of the AAN, including the gender distributions of officers, award winners, committee members and journal authors over the past couple of decade," Gross wrote.

Medscape Medical News was unable to contact McCammon.

Katherine Sharkey, MD, PhD, assistant dean for women in medicine and science at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, said that "Dr Gross and the AAN have put together a comprehensive plan to avoid situations like this in the future, and they should be commended for their efforts.

"The publication of this piece in the form that it appeared was 100% avoidable, and it is likely the outcome would have been very different if the structure that the journal is now implementing had been in place when the piece was first submitted," Sharkey told Medscape Medical News by email.

"I hope that other journals and medical societies will learn from the painful experience that the AAN and its readership went through over the last week, and examine their own policies and procedures related to equity, diversity, and inclusion," she added.

"These are not new problems, for academic medicine or professional societies," Sharkey wrote, "and it is time to be proactive and thoughtful about how to do better, starting now."

Ivan Oransky, MD, is Medscape vice president, editorial, and cofounder of Retraction Watch.

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