Lancet journal removes Buddha cover art following protest

Lancet inf disThe Lancet Infectious Diseases has removed a cover illustration of the Buddha contemplating a mosquito from its June, 2015 issue — a complement to a paper about malaria treatment in Cambodia — after receiving emails from readers who protested the depiction of the statue in a non-religious context.

After publishing the cover, the journal received “several emails” protesting the image, such as this one from Arjuna P R Aluwihare:

I am a Christian living and working in Sri Lanka and was shocked to see that an image of the Buddha was used on the cover of the June issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Generally, depiction of the Buddha statue is frowned upon in Sri Lanka unless in a Buddhist context. Thus your use as a cover illustration is not forbidden, but displays a lack of sense and sensibility, with which I have associated the Lancet journals in the past. This incident bears similarities to the French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s publication of images of the Prophet Muhammad, and the ridiculous and insulting competition held in Texas, USA, that encouraged people to draw anti-Islamic pictures.

So the journal removed the image, and posted this note in its July issue:

The journal has received several emails making the same point as made by Arjuna Aluwihare.

The cover drawing is based on the Article on dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine failure associated with a triple mutant including kelch13 C580Y in Cambodia, by Spring and colleagues, which was published in the June, 2015, issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

The drawing depicts a feature typical of Cambodia, a statue of the Buddha, with the statue contemplating a mosquito, the insect vector of the malaria parasite. No other interaction between the statue and the mosquito is intended or illustrated. The cover artist modelled the drawing on photographs of Cambodian Buddha statues that are freely available on the internet.

At the time of publication, we were not aware of any proscription against picturing statues of the Buddha. However, given the complaints received, the illustration was taken down from the journal’s website on May 22.

The online cover of the June, 2015 issue now lacks the illustration.

When asked for comment, Aluwihare sent us an additional paragraph that was left out of the letter:

Here it may cause more issues because the mosquito (who should be killed) is there and Buddhists are supposed not to kill — even a snake who may kill a man! However, many Buddhists are nonvegetarian — very contradictory. In this picture apart from religious feelings it might lead to mercy on ‘mossies’! At least to add ‘the picture of the Buddha should not be used as an excuse for sparing mosquitoes — like the one also in the picture.’

We’ve contacted the journal, and will update if anyone responds.

Update 7/6/15 11:47 a.m. eastern: We’ve heard from editor John McConnell, who told us the cover art removal is unprecedented.

…the journal has never previously removed cover art.

Hat tip: Kerry Grens

Like Retraction Watch? Consider supporting our growth. You can also follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, and sign up on our homepage for an email every time there’s a new post. Click here to review our Comments Policy.

15 thoughts on “Lancet journal removes Buddha cover art following protest”

  1. Now we know what must be done in order to do away with bad papers: just e-mail the editors and say poor research hurts our religious feelings!

    1. Is it any surprise that the person who complained isn’t even a Buddhist, but rather someone who took it upon themself to be “shocked” on their behalf?

  2. Well, “the offended” have a simple solution – unsubscribe from Lancet, stop reading it altogether and leave it as is for for the rest of “un-offended”.

    1. In general, I would agree with you. But in this particular case, no. Clearly a journal relating information on infectious diseases should do its very best not to offend people who live in the areas that have the diseases they study (thereby dissuading them from reading the information).

      By retracting the image, The Lancet made the right move here from a public health standpoint.

      1. True. But one could also argue, if the information is important enough, the type of cover art shouldn’t attract or dissuade any reader.

        In a way, it would be good if there was a clear separation between academic/research journals and magazines at the local convenience store. In the latter’s case, you might buy the magazine because of the cover art. In the former’s case, the cover art shouldn’t matter. A bit worrying when our views (as readers, but also as publishers) of these two mediums begin to merge.

  3. This reminds me of a quip that I believe came from 2 English comedians who suggested that a good retort to “I’ve never been so insulted in all my life!”
    “you need to get out more.”

  4. At the time of publication, we were not aware of any proscription against picturing statues of the Buddha.

    That’s probably because there aren’t any. I’m not in a position to delve into the flavors of Cambodian Theravada, but this appears to be a niche phenomenon.

    1. The original from the Phnom Penh Post is here. I have no idea what Aluwihare’s on about. The “additional paragraph” is incoherent, and there are certainly no “similarities to the French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s publication of images of the Prophet Muhammad.”

      Even coming at it from a Mahayana perspective, grasping at symbols in this fashion is just Not Getting The Idea. The folk habits encouraged among the laity certainly may diverge widely from even those expected of pre-aspirants, but it wasn’t a public outcry over that 100 riel note.

  5. Also, I may be wrong, but I believe that there are no proscriptions in any religion from killing insects…

    1. Hi Howard and Lee – thanks for the info I was not aware of that branch of religion.
      I don’t kill insects either (although only because I think life is tough enough on them as it is rather than through any religious inclination).
      Thanks again,


  6. As a Buddhist, I do not take serious offense at what Lancet published; but, that cover image is in very poor taste, perhaps due to ignorance of the editors or the publisher. After all, I seriously doubt Lancet will put a cover photo of the Christ on the Cross for an article on pain would they? I have not heard any furor over the cover from the Buddhist majority countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam etc. I am sure they took this in stride – the typical Buddhist way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.