CAF’s letter to the BMJ Group, on the conduct of Adrian Aldcroft

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to bring to your attention that the Editor in Chief of BMJ Open, Adrain Aldcroft, has been assessing papers for publication in part based on authors’ political commitments, as expressed on social media. 

In July 2022, Professor John Armstrong submitted a paper to the BMJ Open, titled “A time-series analysis of the impact of Athena Swan on the representation of women in senior Roles”. The paper purported to show that there is no correlation between membership of the Athena Swan scheme, and the number of women in senior roles in Higher Education institutions. 

The paper was rejected by the BMJ Open. Discussing the rejection of the paper, in an email obtained by Subject Access Request, Adrain Aldcroft, Editor in Chief, wrote: 

Focussing on the reanalysis aspect, I think we missed the broader tone of the manuscript, which is opposing the Athena Swan initiative. At first decision,<<redacted>> picked up on this and was very critical of the paper.  

The author’s social media account also coloured our impression of the manuscript as the author is very outspoken on issues relating to EDI. <<redacted>> It made it clear that he does have a broader agenda, rather than just questioning the statistical approach taken on the original article. 

Aldcroft states explicitly that his assessment of the manuscript is based on an examination of the author’s social media. Specifically, it is based on the “broader agenda” which he has inferred – presumably Armstrong’s political belief that the Athena Swan does not effectively advance women’s equality. 

We acknowledge that Aldcroft also gave other reasons for rejecting Armstrong’s paper: those which he was prepared to state openly in the letter of rejection. However, the question is not whether Armstrong’s paper should have been accepted, but whether it is appropriate for the BMJ Open to assess submissions on the basis of authors’ political commitments, as inferred from their social media. 

We are appalled that such considerations enter into the assessment of papers at a highly distinguished scientific journal such as BMJ Open

We would be happy to supply the full email from Adrain Aldcroft, obtained by Subject Access Request. 

Yours faithfully, 

Humphrey Allen