May 8, 2023 - 4:00pm

Richard Horton has been editor-in-chief of The Lancet for almost three decades. In that time, he has weathered his fair share of controversies. A common accusation is that Horton uses The Lancet — one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious scientific journals, founded in London two centuries ago — as a mouthpiece for his political views.

Horton’s public statements have not exactly helped to dispel this concern. “Publishing has a special responsibility to be political,” he proclaimed in a 2016 interview. And in 2020, he told publishers at a conference that the scientific journal “needs to be more activist in its engagement with the challenges of society”.

Horton’s latest editorial may be his most partisan statement yet — though also his most cringeworthy. It begins: “Occasionally, someone says something so appalling, so shocking, and so disheartening that you just stop in disbelief.” To what was Horton referring? A deeply flawed claim made by a putative expert? An announcement of dramatic funding cuts to basic research?

No, he was referring to something Suella Braveman said about migrants crossing the English Channel, namely that they “possess values which are at odds with our country” and are associated with “heightened levels of criminality”.

Now, it’s entirely appropriate to ask the Home Secretary for the evidence behind these claims, as others have done. What’s less appropriate is scrutinising them in the pages of a medical journal. You don’t find denunciations of Labour’s housing policy in the Journal of Zoology. So why is The Lancet attacking the Government’s stance on immigration?

The editorial goes on to discuss Antonio Gramsci — the Marxist philosopher and one-time leader of the Italian Communist Party. “His great insight,” Horton notes, “was to recognise the way in which the dominant group uses culture to exert its controlling influence”. So which is the “dominant group” that threatens to take “controlling influence” today? According to Horton, it’s “populists”.

Gramsci had urged his fellow communists to fight the cultural hegemony of the ruling class through a “war of position”, which Horton says is a war “we must not be afraid to engage in”. The “we” naturally refers to “progressives” or those who wish to “advance a more hopeful, compassionate, and liberal vision of the future”. In short, Horton is exploiting his editorship to rally progressive culture warriors.

This is the sort of thing you’d expect to read on a flyer for some far-Left student group, not in the pages of a once-great medical journal. What’s more, it’s embarrassingly obtuse. The notion that “populists” have anything close to “controlling influence” in the broader culture is laughable.

Communists may have lost the Cold War, but progressives have stormed to victory in Gramsci’s “war of position”. Their triumph is now so complete that editors of prestigious medical journals can publish student Marxist-style manifestos in the comment section and still expect others to take them seriously.

Noah Carl is an independent researcher and writer.