A journal received a simple, cross-sectional survey of Palestinian refugees. The author was a Palestinian, employed by a charity and undertaking research based at a university overseas. The study contained new data and within the constraints of a cross-sectional survey seemed methodologically sound. The paper was sent to two peer reviewers with expertise in the area, experience in international issues in the Middle East, and an understanding of the sensitivities involved. The paper was accepted for publication after revision. The politics of the paper had a Palestinian overtone, but this was not felt to detract from the research findings. And given the clear evidence of the affiliations of the author, it was decided to respect this individual’s views and allow readers to draw their own conclusions. After publication an e-mail arrived almost immediately from a researcher in public health and a director of “conflict resolution” at an Israeli University. They did not question the scientific underpinnings of the article, but attacked the review process and accused the editors of political bias on the grounds that they had published “a scientific paper with a clear political agenda expressed through selective and misleading presentation of background facts.” The editors gave right of reply to the first author and published both the letter and the reply together. They also commented on the correspondence, pointing out that the decision to publish was based on the science and the new findings. The editors acknowledged the politics present in both the article and correspondence, but stated that they considered their readers intelligent enough to understand such issues and take them into account. They also indicated that they would review their procedures. The two Israeli correspondents also presented a political polemic and used this to attack the editorial and peer review process. This is not dissimilar to the situation in areas such as archaeology, where nationalistic narratives have become part of the ongoing battleground of the near and Middle East. - Did the editors allow any political bias to affect the peer review or editorial decision making process?
- There was no evidence of political bias, but it might have been possible to take a more careful approach, with more extensive peer review given the strong political context. - Medicine does not exist in a political vacuum and these issues need to be discussed and published.
No action required.