The editor of a long-standing academic journal has said he resigned after his editor vetoed a call to boycott Chinese science in protest at Beijing’s treatment of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
Professor David Curtis, from the Institute of Genetics at University College London, says that his resignation as editor-in-chief of the Annals of Human Genetics is a matter of free speech in the face of increasing dependence on China’s scientific community.
The Annals was one of five prestigious academic journals, including the Lancet, BMJ, and the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama), that declined to publish an article suggesting that academic journals should take a stand against human rights violations in China in Xinjiang.
The magazines involved have defended the rejection of the article and have claimed that a boycott against China would be unfair and counterproductive. They have also denied being unduly deferential to China. But both Annals editor Wiley and The Lancet suggested that publishing the letter could pose difficulties for their respective offices in China, the authors say.
Curtis co-authored the article, but said he was prevented from publishing it in his own magazine. It delivered its notice last September in protest and then withdrew effective immediately after rejecting submissions from Chinese scholars. Only now has he revealed his reasons for quitting.
Curtis said: “I resigned because publication of the article was blocked by senior managers at Wiley who should not have a say in the content of a scientific journal. They told me that Wiley has an office in Beijing, which implies that publishing would make it difficult. “
He added: “The publisher does not have to tell the publisher what he can and cannot publish due to strong interests in China.”
Curtis said the alleged abuses against Uighur families, including the massive collection of DNA samples without consent, were of particular concern in the field of genetics and for a magazine that was founded in 1925 as Annals of Eugenics.
He accepted that his position became untenable when he began to reject submissions from Chinese authors. He told them: “In view of the complicity of the Chinese medical and scientific establishment in human rights abuses against Uyghurs, I am not considering any presentation from China.”
Wiley said this in violation of his policy not to “discriminate on the basis of the national origin of the submitting authors.” On a statement on your website It read: “The actions of Professor Curtis do not represent the policy of the magazine, nor do they represent the views of others involved in the management of the magazine. We have contacted the authors of the wrongly rejected submissions and will reconsider their manuscripts. “
Mark Paalman, editor of the Wiley Annals, emailed Curtis suggesting changes to the article to make it “less provocative” and acknowledge the “legitimate” science taking place in China. In another email, he said he respected “the concept of academic freedom and moral duty.”
Professor Thomas Schulze of the Munich Institute for Phenomics and Psychiatric Genomics, another of the article’s co-authors, stated that the reluctance to publish the original showed that “freedom of expression in Western science is threatened due to Chinese influence.” He said: “They turned us down because all these magazines are heavily invested in China with companies and publishers there.”
The Lancet group said it did not comment on articles it had not published. In an email to Schulze, its editor, Richard Horton, said: “Boycotting Chinese medical science will only make things difficult for fellow Chinese healthcare workers who are trying to do the right thing in an increasingly difficult situation. Furthermore, The Lancet has a Chinese publisher based in Beijing and I do not wish to do anything that could endanger his personal situation. “
A spokesperson for the BMJ said: “Our decision was not out of deference to China and we do not believe that a total ban on publishing science from China or any other country would be helpful. It is worth noting that they [the authors] they complain about their academic freedom while seeking to restrict the academic freedom of medical researchers who serve a population of more than one billion people. “
Jama’s editor-in-chief sent Schulze a standard rejection letter noting that he receives 14,000 manuscripts each year.
Human Rights Watch, which has campaigned against China’s persecution in Xinjiang, said the article raised important questions. Maya Wang, its lead researcher from China, said: “While it is impossible for me to know why the article was not accepted for publication in the magazines where it was sent, the issue identified in the article of human rights abuses affecting to Uyghurs is an important issue one and one that medical and public health professionals need to know about and engage with. “