Circulation Research Editor Fired Over 'Hate Speech'

Susan Jeffrey

March 08, 2019

Roberto Bolli, MD, has been "relieved" of his position as editor of the American Heart Association's (AHA) journal Circulation Research for comments alleged to be "hate speech," the AHA has confirmed.

"Dr Bolli has become the subject of public scrutiny in light of public comments he has made that have been alleged to be hate speech," a statement from AHA said. "The American Heart Association has a zero tolerance policy with respect to personal conduct that conflicts with our guiding values and our commitment to an environment that embraces diversity and inclusion and values cultural, racial, gender, and other differences that help us succeed in achieving our mission and goals."

Further, the statement adds, "we stand steadfast to our commitment to ensure that the editorial integrity of the AHA's scientific journals remains unimpeachable and unbiased."

Bolli is professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics from the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Kentucky.

Joseph Loscalzo, MD, will take over Circulation Research on an interim basis, the association reports. "The American Heart Association had previously conducted a search for a new Editor-in-Chief to replace Dr Bolli and that transition will continue as planned later this spring when Dr Jane Freedman officially assumes her new position," the statement concludes.

Jane E. Freedman, MD, is a professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and director of translational research for the UMass Memorial Heart & Vascular Center.

A report in The Bay Area Reporter names Bolli as having sent an angry email in March 2018 to the Louisville Ballet regarding a brochure for a ballet called "Human Abstract" picturing two men in tights holding hands.

The email was obtained and published — with the author's name redacted — by an arts blog called Arts Writing is Dead. The email used strong homophobic language.

Bolli responded to the blog on March 1, saying his comments had been "distorted and misrepresented."

"My personal religious views on homosexuality have NOTHING to do with my treatment of queer patients," he wrote. "As doctors, we have a duty to care for all patients to the best of our abilities irrespective of their lifestyle or actions or other considerations. I treat ALL PATIENTS, including queer patients, with the utmost compassion and respect."

Bolli did not respond to a request for comment.

His institution, the University of Louisville, sent a letter to its staff, faculty, and students, also published by the Arts Writing is Dead website, confirming that an email had been sent to the Louisville Ballet by a faculty member.

A representative of the university provided a copy of that letter to theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology, but declined to comment on the recent action against Bolli taken by the AHA.

The letter, dated March 7, is undersigned by Beth A. Boehm, PhD, executive vice president and university provost, and Toni Ganzel, MD, dean of the School of Medicine.

"We have been made aware of an inflammatory email from one of our faculty members to the Louisville Ballet about his concerns regarding a recent performance," they write. "The message appears to be a personal one; the faculty member did not mention the university or use his title in the email. Still, his words have proven hurtful to many of our faculty, staff, and students, particularly those in the LGBT community."

"These comments are disheartening," they add. "They do not represent the values we hold dear at the University of Louisville."

Bolli previously worked with Piero Anversa, MD, a former Harvard University professor and stem cell researcher who recently had a number of papers retracted for suspected manipulation and falsification of data, and was a coauthor on one of the retracted papers.

Another journal editor, Anne W. McCammon, MD, recently resigned from Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), after the retraction of an article that contained "racist characterizations."

"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 at that time. "Our goal is to provide the best material possible for our readers, and we failed in this instance."

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