Reed Elsevier Quit The Arms Trade?

June 1st, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science | 18 Comments »

I just got this from Tom Stafford of the campaign at Idiolect. As you will know academic publisher Reed-Elsevier, who publish journals such as the Lancet, also organise the DSEI arms fayre in London, selling weapons and torture equipment to some highly dodgy states. To many people – like, er, me, and loads of other people – this has always felt rather at odds with working for the good of humanity by increasing the sum total of human knowledge about health. Even the editors of the Lancet have written to the company in the past expressing their dismay.

It seems they have backed down and are pulling out of the arms trade. As well as this email there is a story a few minutes ago on the wires manifesting eg here. Bravo and about time too.

“Reed Elsevier announced today that it is to exit the defence
exhibitions sector. This portfolio of five shows is part of Reed
Elsevier’s global Business division and represents around 0.5% of group
annual turnover. ”

An email from the CEO of RE, Crispin Davis says

“Over the last year or so it has become increasingly clear that growing
numbers of important customers and authors, particularly in the science
and medical markets, have very real concerns with our involvement in
this sector. They believe strongly that our presence here is
incompatible with the aims of the science and medical communities. I am
also very aware this is a view shared by a number of our employees. We
have listened closely to these concerns and we have concluded that the
long term interests of Reed Elsevier as a leading publisher of science,
medical, legal and business content would be best served by withdrawing
from defence exhibitions. We intend to complete the withdrawal during
the second half of 2007.”

Thanks to everyone who has worked towards this, who signed the petition
or the open letter or wrote directly to RE.

More news when this is confirmed, and I get more details


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18 Responses

  1. Toby Hopkins said,

    June 1, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    Maybe now they can get around to how they justify charging an absolute fortune for their journals, especially the online ones!

    Still – better than the AGU…

  2. doctormonkey said,

    June 1, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    I have previously managed to combine their medical and armaments divisions products etc in two interesting ways:

    1. a crew served machine gun of medium calibre is the best tool for rapidly emptying an A&E dept waiting room – the high instant mortality clears the numbers but a few of the malingerers are converted to interesting penetrating trauma patients

    2. the use of genital electrode torture equipment has vastly improved the honesty of patients on questions such as alcohol consumption, smoking and the regularity of taking medications

    I am saddened to see Reed Elsevier backing out of what I see as the more positive of their actions – after all, a firearm or device of torture CAN be used on a homeopath or similar but the Lancet still published THAT MMR article


  3. SciencePunk said,

    June 1, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    Great stuff, but lets be honest – a lot of R&D is fuelled by military cash.

  4. Kess said,

    June 1, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    I’ve attended the last few DSEI exhibitions (I work for a
    company that develops military radio equipment), and must say it is not the dreadful arms fair often portrayed. Most of stands feature pretty mundane stuff: tools, uniforms, tents, radios, vehicles, electronic kit, etc. Stands promoting weapons like guns, mines, missiles etc. are few and far between.

    However, I won’t deny it does have a bad image problem.

  5. Delster said,

    June 1, 2007 at 3:11 pm


    you missed out field kitchen equipment…. armies run on their stomachs you know!

  6. stever said,

    June 1, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    good news for lancet readers but I suspect the arms trade will survive in some form.

  7. gantlord said,

    June 1, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    (Arms trade = bad) is a bit of a simplification. If the guilt-ridden western world got rid its armed forces overnight, would it usher in a new dawn of peace. Were the people who manufactured weapons that were used to fight the Nazis bad people?

  8. Generali said,

    June 1, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    Typical middle class socialist rubbish. It’s a huge oversimplification to say the arms trade (or military) is bad.

    This is usually an excellent site but this is pathetic.

  9. jimothy said,

    June 1, 2007 at 6:31 pm

    Like SciencePunk said military cash funds a big chunk of science and engineering research and even I’m sure some medical research. I’m sure getting out of the exhibition gives Reed-Elsevier a nice warm fuzzy glow but without the existence of that funding stream a good number of us submitting articles for publication in their journals would be too busy begging for funding to write papers.

  10. hinschelwood said,

    June 1, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    Generali – OK, what about the torture equipment? Is it OK to condemn that, or is that also some middle-class guilt trip?

  11. danielk said,

    June 1, 2007 at 8:13 pm

    I think the problem is not with military equipment as such, but with possible conflicts of interest. If military funding would indeed be necessary for doing (non-military) research then that would be a very bad thing indeed. This decision shows that it isn’t necessary.

  12. Robert Carnegie said,

    June 1, 2007 at 11:27 pm

    Do they still do the torture equipment? I’d suppose at least it would be under-the-counter these days, and probably just on the exhibitor’s special Web site, along with videos. (For promotion, not entertainment, but who knows.)

  13. jimothy said,

    June 2, 2007 at 4:12 am

    danielk, how does this decision show that military funding is not needed to do non-military research? In my own field of engineering an enormous amount of research that will filter down into non-military applications is funded by the defence establishment because they have the most money to give. And Reed Elsevier still indirectly profit from it by publishing the journals we publish our research in.

  14. sinewave said,

    June 2, 2007 at 10:46 am

    Many advances in science and technology have come about through defence-funded R&D projects, basically because government defence agencies are the only ones with the money to pay for that kind of work. They then license (i.e. sell for profit) anything with commercial potential to the private sector, and that’s how it ends up in your mp3 player/medicine cabinet etc. So, as others here have already observed, it’s not quite as clear-cut as Ben’s post seems to imply.

    However, having just walked out of a well-paid job in the technology sector because the requirement to work on military tech was losing me more sleep than the fear of crippling debit (although I’m still not getting my full 8 hours…), I can fully understand why Ben and his colleagues in the medical profession are pleased at Elsevier’s decision.

  15. um_like_whatever said,

    June 3, 2007 at 1:40 am

    I might be wrong in thinking this, but to all you people who go on about “military money” being so plentiful etc etc … whose money exactly is this “military” money? Do the military secretly run car boot sales in Iraq to fund their little jaunts, or would I be right in thinking that the so called military money is in fact public money? If it is public money then might I also suggest that it is only earmarked as “military” money because of the misguided way in which our society prioritises things, and not really because of anything that actually means anything? You people can bang on about being pragmatic for as long as you like, but at the end of the day if you help make weapons then you are a little bit responsible for the evil that they do when they are inevitably abused by the morons that they will be knowingly sold to in some far off land. It’s not good enough to say that you aren’t responsible, because by being involved you implicitly are. This is not a complex problem, it is a matter of principal. At least be honest and admit that you don’t care about the eventual vicitms, rather than saying something weak about having no other choice.

  16. projektleiterin said,

    June 3, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    I can’t believe what I’m reading. The publisher whose articles I had used ad nauseum for my diploma thesis sells arms to regimes!? If this claim is true, it’s totally irrelevant whether the arms fair consist mostly of technical gadgets or whether research is mostly funded through military money. There is no grey zone to debate here.

  17. projektleiterin said,

    June 4, 2007 at 9:39 pm

    SpiderJ, I wasn’t really joking. I remember downloading many many many articles from them, half of which I probably did not even manage to read. I have a diploma in horticulture.

    I think there is a difference between using technologies for peaceful purposes that have been developed with the aid of military funding (which is the money of tax payers anyway, so my and your money in the end) and encouraging and supporting the selling of weapons.

  18. jodyaberdein said,

    June 5, 2007 at 12:05 am

    Oops, sorry about typos! Links are here: