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Editor sidelined after medical journal racism podcast outcry

March 26, 2021 GMT

The top editor at the Journal of the American Medical Association has been sidelined amid outcry from Black physicians over a tweet and podcast on structural racism.

“No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care?” the tweet read in part, promoting a podcast that critics called cringeworthy and appalling.

JAMA removed the podcast earlier this month and its editor-in-chief, Dr. Howard Bauchner, issued an apology. But the independent association committee that oversees the journal started an investigation and on Thursday placed Bauchner on administrative leave pending the outcome.

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“The decision to place the editor-in-chief on administrative leave neither implicates nor exonerates individuals and is standard operating procedure for such investigations,” the committee said in a statement.

Dr. Phil Fontanarosa, JAMA’s executive editor, will serve as interim editor.

“It’s a reasonable first step but it should not be seen as mission accomplished,” Dr. Raymond Givens, a Black cardiologist in New York, said Friday. He has been a vocal online critic of a lack of diversity among editors of JAMA and other prominent medical journals.

The podcast was billed as a discussion for skeptics and featured two white doctors: a deputy journal editor who expressed discomfort with the word “racism” and a physician who runs a New York City health system.

That deputy later resigned at Bauchner’s request and JAMA created a new associate editor position for someone with expertise in racism in health care.

The Chicago-based American Medical Association owns and publishes JAMA and had called the podcast wrong and harmful. It has no editorial control over JAMA’s content but Bauchner reports to the oversight committee.

Only one of the seven oversight committee members is Black and the editorial boards of JAMA and other leading medical journals are mostly white, Givens noted.

“Without diversity, you don’t know what you don’t know,” he said. “With such a non-diverse panel of people, you have all these blind spots that allow these podcasts to go from execution to publication without anybody saying, ‘Wait a minute, this is ill-advised.’″

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Follow Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner at @ LindseyTanner

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.