Top medical journal editor suspended over podcast on racism in health care

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The top editor at the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) was placed on administrative leave Thursday after a podcast featuring two white doctors included controversial comments about racism in health care. 

Howard Bauchner will be replaced as the editor in chief at JAMA, one of the world’s leading medical journals, pending the results of an investigation, The New York Times reported.

The independent association committee that oversees the journal launched the probe after the podcast on structural racism and a subsequent tweet sparked controversy. 

“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.

During a Feb. 24 podcast episode produced on the JAMA Network, deputy editor Ed Livingston said structural racism no longer existed in the United States.

“Structural racism is an unfortunate term,” said Livingston, who is white. “Personally, I think taking racism out of the conversation will help. Many people like myself are offended by the implication that we are somehow racist.”

In a now-deleted tweet promoting the episode, JAMA wrote: “No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care?”

The remarks triggered fierce backlash, with a group of doctors initiating a petition asking for Bauchner to be held accountable. The petition reached more than 6,800 signatures.

The journal took down the podcast, stating that comments by the panelists were “inaccurate, offensive, hurtful and inconsistent with the standards of JAMA.”

Livingston later resigned and Bauchner apologized for his role in the controversy.

“The language of the tweet, as well as portions of the podcast, do not reflect my commitment as editorial leader of JAMA and JAMA Network to call out and discuss the adverse effects of injustice, inequity, and racism in medicine and society as JAMA has done for many years,” he wrote.

Raymond Givens, a Black cardiologist in New York, told The Associated Press on Friday that Bauchner being sidelined is a “reasonable first step but it should not be seen as mission accomplished.” 

He noted that only one of the seven committee members overseeing the investigation is Black. 

“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.’″

In January, JAMA announced revisions to its editorial style for reporting on race and ethnicity after an eight-month-long review that examined the definitions and use of race, ethnicity, geographic origin and regionalization as identifiers. 

Tags Discrimination Howard Bauchner Institutional racism JAMA Journal of the American Medical Association Racism

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