As some may have seen, Ryan Gates and I, along with another DVM*, recently had a letter to the editor in JAVMA (JAVMA, Vol 242, No. 10, May 15, 2013, p1340-41). Along with the letter, JAVMA published a response from Kevin Dajka, DVM, Director of Membership and Field Services Division, AVMA, Schaumburg, Ill.
In our 'official' response to Dr. Dajka's comments and to JAVMA editor-in-chief Kurt Matushek's exercise of editorial privilege we point out Dr. Dajka had engaged in a glaring display of either incompetence or information management. Meanwhile, Dr. Matushek felt forced to commit at best academic dishonesty and worst, journalistic deceit. Both engaged in the same process of egregious, although I am sure well intentioned and possibly even unwitting, information manipulation. Where I'm from we'd call that spin. Hey, since they're both technically doctors... would that make them Spin Doctors?
A sample of Dr. Dajka's misrepresentation:
"I want to thank Drs. Myers, Gates, and Wilson for their comments. Member input such as theirs helps shape and provide direction... I would make a few points, however."
As we pointed out in our official response, this is a failure on Dr. Dajka's part.
We did not provide member input. Ryan and I aren't members. Deliberately. That's the point.
As director of the AVMA division that keeps track of membership, Dr. Dajka should have known AND acknowledged that. To do otherwise is either ignorant or an outré attempt to control the readers' perception of the context for our statements. Either are completely unacceptable to us, and we hope to all independent thinkers who value excellence and integrity in public dealings.
Interesting to note that our unpublished letter was made accessible to AVMA executive staff before being published. Ryan commented, "Much as it irks me, that's SOP with mags/journals." I don't know if that's right. I know it's wrong to do, no matter if everybody else does it or not. Nor do I care if Dr. Dajka and Dr. Matushek sit in adjacent cubicles, as Ryan facetiously suggested; such insider access illustrates the insular, proprietary 'old white guy in suit' cultural issues the leadership of the profession has around control of information, here in this day of downloadable pdfs posted in real time on a public website.
We understand that much better credentialed authors than our mere selves have been subject to same indecent exposure of letters to insiders prior to publication, presumably so an "official response" can be published with the letter. Robert Marshak, DVM, DACVIM, former Dean at University of Penn CVM, and all around very intelligent guy saw an official response published with his letter just a month or two prior to ours. On one hand, we understand JAVMA's interest in providing the party line. But last-word-freaks drive us up the wall, especially when they are in charge of things like professional journals and representative organizations. There was no interest in letting Marshak's letter, or ours, sink in with the reader to be evaluated and critiqued independently. This despite the assertion from Matushek in an email to us during the editing process that...
"As editor-in-chief, I have taken a fairly expansive view of the journal’s mission to “provide a forum for discussion and dissemination of ideas important to the profession"
In addition to our 'official' response, Ryan sent a longer response directly to Dr. Dajka, one we felt Dr. Matushek would not allocate space and liberty to. We arrived at this conclusion because of our previous correspondence with Dr. Matushek during his editing of our original submission, a "best of" from #4 of the GIBDUC series condensed to fit the constraints of the JAVMA commentary format. Statement of facts which portray AVMA leadership in a negative light and question the wisdom of policies enacted by the organization allegedly impugned the character of individual AVMA staff and volunteers according to AVMA leadership and staff.
"I’ve attached a copy of your letter with editing suggestions. Please note that in several places, it was difficult for me to verify the source of statements in the letter. (umm...that's why we provided references?) In general, I referred back to the news articles reporting on Executive Board activities...as I believe that these will be the easiest for journal readers to find, should they wish to obtain additional information."
Wait a minute. The editor-in-chief of a peer reviewed, scientific journal aimed at a community of professionals who engage in the practice of evidence based medicine thinks it necessary to substitute press releases from his sponsoring organization for the references provided by the submitting authors- because he doesn't think the readers will be able to find the ones provided? Or even want to?
Interesting editing indeed from someone who also emailed us,
"as a general policy, we always prefer that authors cite primary rather than secondary sources. This allows interested readers to locate the source material and draw their own conclusions, rather than relying on the conclusions of someone else."
So, the primary source for information on the Executive Board and the AVMA's policies is...press releases about them. Published in his own magazine. Paid for by the organization the Executive Board administers.
I can't help but appreciate the pressure Dr. Matushek must be under. It would seem unlikely he is unable to advance new ideas in the journal against an uninterested and incapable readership. This leaves me wondering if he is unwilling to do so as it would be unacceptable to the organization that cuts his check- an organization that seems to have copied their information flow diagram from the Politburo.
The core of our complaint is that we are not heard. We know how that turned out for the Politburo and communism. We hope, and our efforts are directed toward this end, that it goes differently for the AVMA and veterinary medicine. Our profession depends on it.
*Jim Wilson- we miss you, best of luck and hope things improved!