Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Reed-Elsevier: Publishing Journals and Selling Bombs

The following is an update on my earlier article about Reed-Elsevier. More damning revelations have emerged about Reed's activities as you will see...

Reed-Elsevier are one of the biggest publishers of mathematics journals in the world - they list 102 mathematics journals on their website including the likes of "Topology", "Journal of Number Theory" and "Journal of Algebra". What is less well known is that Reed also organises arms fairs.

Through their subsidiary companies, Reed Exhibitions and Spearhead Exhibitions, Reed-Elsevier are responsible for organising some of the biggest arms fairs in the world including the biennial DSEi arms fair in London, the Idex Fair in Abu Dhabi and Shot Show, a North American small arms exhibition.

Reed's defence of their involvement in the arms trade is that they are involved in a legitimate business operating under tight regulation. But consider some of the facts. The list of invitees to DSEi 2005 included seven of the twenty countries on the UK Foreign Office’s list of regimes which commit the most severe abuses of human rights - such notorious regimes as Indonesia and Colombia were amongst those present. And picture the delights that were promoted at DSEi: small arms (responsible for 500,000 deaths every year), torture equipment (including leg irons, stun guns and stun batons), cluster bombs and the list goes on...

The sale of cluster bombs in particular brought a storm of criticism from the public. Human Rights Watch estimates that cluster bombs were responsible for more civilian casualties during the invasion of Iraq than any other military tactic. The public outcry at their sale at DSEi resulted in Reed’s company secretary rushing out a statement that “there were no cluster bombs at DSEi. They were not displayed and not offered for sale…”

But they were. It was subsequently revealed that p.182 of DSEi’s official catalogue openly listed components for “aircraft deployed cluster bombs” amongst the products on offer. This page is missing, along with a bunch of others, in the copy of the catalogue on DSEi’s website: an embarrassing reprographical error for a publishing company like Reed Elsevier! And if you wanted more than just cluster bomb components you could always speak to representatives from the 14 cluster bomb manufacturers who attended DSEi and who would happily flog you the whole bomb.

Controversy has arisen again in relation to this year's Idex arms fair. It has just emerged that the Sudanese defence minister was one of those invited to Idex, despite being the representative of a regime that stands accused of genocide by the United States. Once again cluster bombs were promoted at the show - a Reed spokesman was forced to concede that although cluster munitions were supposedly not marketed at Reed's arms fairs there was an "incident" of this happening at Idex 2007.

Finally let me mention Shot Show 2006. As at DSEi, torture equipment was for sale at the Shot Show, this time including electroshock batons and stun guns made by the company Security Equipment Coroporation whose tagline is "Making Grown Men Cry Since 1975."

Unsurprisingly Reed’s arms fairs have attracted the wrath of a number of different groups. Because of Reed’s “other role” as a publishing house, their services are used by many people for whom the arms trade is anathema. The medical community has led the way - in September 2005 the editorial board of The Lancet, arguably the world’s most prestigious medical journal and one which is published by Reed, issued a scathing condemnation of Reed Elsevier’s role in the global arms trade. They called on the company “to divest itself of all business interests that threaten human, and especially civilian, health and well-being.”

In the last three months the British Journal of Medicine and the Royal Society of Medicine have also published excoriating editorials with regards to Reed's involvement in the arms trade; Richard Smith wrote in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine that the people in the strongest position to take action against Reed-Elsevier are "the authors and readers of The Lancet and the 2000 other journals". The most recent issue of The Lancet included three pages of letters about Reed's connection to the arms trade; correspondents were unanimously appalled.

Other groups have joined the chorus of dismay: In 2006, on the eve of the London Book Fair, also organised by Reed, thirteen internationally renowned writers – including 2 Nobel Prize winners and 6 winners of the Man Booker prize – issued a public letter criticising the company’s arms fairs. The writers included AS Byatt, JM Coetzee and Ian McEwan.

And now the academics are getting in on the act. Close to 140 academics recently signed an open letter to Reed Elsevier in which they called on Reed to cease all involvement in arms fairs. The letter was printed in the Times Higher Education Supplement; amongst other things the correspondents wrote that that Reed’s involvement in the arms trade “is entirely at odds with the ethical and social obligations we have to promote the beneficial applications of our work and prevent its misuse, to anticipate and evaluate the possible unintended consequences of scientific and technological developments, and to consider at all times the moral responsibility we carry for our work.”

The letter was signed by some of the most respected minds in academia - including a number of very prominent mathematicians. Mathematicians have also joined other academics, including such luminaries as Noam Chomsky, in supporting an on-line petition against Reed's involvement in the arms trade:

Many have gone further and have joined an on-line boycott against publishing in Reed-Elsevier journals:

One of the boycotters, Prof Sir Michael Atiyah, one of the greatest mathematicians of the last hundred years, recently commented that "science and technology offer enormous opportunities for the betterment of mankind. Unfortunately these potential benefits are overshadowed by the exploitation of science for military ends.”

Professor Atiyah’s words echo sentiments of Albert Einstein expressed some seventy years earlier: “Concern for man himself and his fate must always be the chief interest of all technical endeavours... in order that the creations of our mind shall be a blessing and not a curse to mankind.”

Reed Elsevier is effectively exploiting the respectable and worthwhile work of mathematicians and other academics to mask its sinister and deadly role in the global arms trade. This exploitation is indeed a curse for millions of victims of the arms trade the world over. As the letter, petition and boycott show, mathematicians will not accept this and are prepared to speak out. It is to be hoped that, sooner or later, Reed Elsevier will get the message.

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