The Alliance For Human Research Protection, a non-profit advocacy group for responsible and ethical medical research practices, has called for the suspension of JAMA editor-in-chief Catherine DeAngelis and exec deputy editor Phil Fontanarosa, and for an an investigation into allegations that they threatened a researcher who criticized a study published in the journal, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Jonathan Leo, a neuroanatomist in Harrogate, TN., and Jeffrey Lacasse, a professor at ASU (pictured at left), discovered that Robert Robinson, lead author of a May 2008 article on a comparison of Lexapro with problem-solving therapy in poststroke depression, reported relationships with two companies but not with Forest Laboratories, who makes Lexapro. (Forest said they did pay for speeches, but the Lexapro research was done independently.)

They notified JAMA in October 2008, and submitted an analysis of the study and the apparent conflict of interest, which appeared in the March 5 issue of BMJ. JAMA editors determined Leo and Lacasse were correct, and published a correction and apology in the March 11 issue of JAMA.

So what's all the fuss about? Leo (pictured at left) took the story to the NY Times, because, as he said in a March 5 email to JAMA, he didn't think the editors were going to do anything about it.

The editors fought back in a March 11 editorial, saying that Leo's BMJ posting and discussion with the NY Times "while the confidential investigation of unreported conflicts of interest is under way" was considered to be "a serious ethical breach of confidentiality that not only potentially damages our ability to complete a fair and thorough investigation (of the specific issue that Leo had brought to our attention), but also potentially damages JAMA's reputation by the insinuation that we would fail to do so."

And allegedly, the editors told Dr. Leo that "if his actions represented his apparent lack of confidence in and regard for JAMA, he certainly should not plan to submit future manuscripts or letters for publication." They also allegedly asked Leo to retract the BMJ article, and when he didn't, they contacted his dean saying the article was "an attack on the journal's reputation." Leo told reporters that Fontanarosa told him he was "banned from JAMA for life" and that he, his students, and his school would be sorry.

A number of people have come out in defense of Leo, saying he and BMJ "should be loudly applauded" for acting as David to JAMA's Goliath.

Meantime, JAMA has a new editorial policy, says MedPage Today: Individuals who spot undisclosed conflicts of interest by authors published in JAMA are invited to inform the journal's editors, but cannot disclose the information to third parties or the media while the investigation is underway.

Leo's statement to the WSJ can be seen here. Article on the issue from the Economist here.