Howard Bauchner, JAMA‘s editor-in-chief. Photo: Moody College of Communication/Wikimedia Commons
New Delhi: Howard Bauchner, editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), was placed on administrative leave after he denied the existence of structural racism on an episode of the journal’s podcast, The Scientist reported.
The podcast was published on February 23 and has since been withdrawn. A tweet that promoted the episode and which has since been deleted said, “No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care?” according to BMJ.
The podcast’s host Ed Livingston, previously JAMA’s deputy editor for clinical reviews and education, told MedPage Today, “Structural racism is an unfortunate term. Personally, I think taking racism out of the conversation will help. Many of us are offended by the concept that we are racist.”
In conversation with Mitch Katz, editor at JAMA Internal Medicine and CEO of NYC Health+ hospitals in New York City, Livingston denied that racism exists because it is now “illegal.” He also openly voiced his discomfort with using the word “racism” to describe white supremacy in medicine, according to BMJ.
Livingston resigned as deputy editor of JAMA on March 10, according to WebMD.
The podcast was a discussion for sceptics and featured two white doctors only, AP said.
A petition on ‘Change.org’, organised by the Institute for Antiracism in Medicine and signed by over 7,000 people, subsequently asked JAMA to review Bauchner’s leadership and to restructure its editorial staff with a focus on anti-racism and equity.
The American Medical Association (AMA) announced on March 25 that Bauchner would be replaced by an interim editor while an investigation was on, The New York Times reported.
AMA had adopted a policy in November 2020 recognising racism as a public health threat, Forbes reported. In February 2021, AMA’s CEO James L. Madara published a viewpoint acknowledging that decisions made by AMA leaders in the past had contributed to inequalities in the health care system, an AMA statement noted.
Dr Aletha Maybank, the chief health equity officer of AMA, acknowledged in a tweet that JAMA’s podcast and tweet were actually “a demonstration of structural and institutional racism”. She added that the “absolutely appalling” podcast would impact AMA’s credibility.
Madara said in a statement issued by JAMA that “Structural racism in healthcare and our society exists and it is incumbent on all of us to fix it.” He also asserted that the JAMA journals are editorially independent from AMA.
Nancy Baxter, head of Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, Australia, called out an apology statement issued by JAMA on Twitter saying, “Think about how the beliefs of your [JAMA’s] editorial board influences the manuscripts you publish.”
JAMA had also announced revisions to its editorial style last month for reporting on race and ethnicity. This had come after an eight-month long review that examined the definitions and use of race, ethnicity and geographic origin as identifiers, the Hill reported.
An article published by the New England Journal of Medicine on February 25 argued that racism is not simply the result of prejudices held by individuals but also has a structural basis – that it is reproduced by laws and practices, and is embedded in economic and societal systems.
Tsedale M. Melaku and Angie Beeman, researchers and authors of books on systemic racism and white supremacy, wrote for Harvard Business Review in June last year that a liberal white supremacy dominates discussions of race among academic faculties.
The article mentioned that when people of colour give voice to their experiences of discrimination and why academic departments have an obligation to address racial hostility, they are often silenced by their white colleagues.
Note: This article was edited at 2:23 pm on April 14, 2021, to remove reference to a study about the pain tolerance of Black people after having been alerted to a misinterpretation of the results.