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Readers’ editor: Clichéd series titles, and “Save our Des”

11 Mar, 14 | by BMJ Group

David PayneLast month the journal launched the first in a series of in-depth reviews written by international experts—State of the Art—to highlight important areas of clinical medicine and academic inquiry.

So far we have published two. The first article examined the mechanisms and clinical implications of neuropathic pain and, according to Google Analytics, has been viewed 21,930 times since its publication on 5 February. It is the 10th most viewed page on bmj.com, and we hope it and subsequent articles steer “an effective course between oversimplification and over-complication,” to quote one reviewer. The second article looked at drug treatments for epilepsy in adults. It went online on 28 February, and so far has 11,418 views, our 19th most popular page.

Early indications are that readers recognise their potential to generate debate and discussion. In their response to the article, for example, Laxmaiah Manchikanti  and colleagues warn that multiple diagnostic tests with a lack of demonstrated accuracy, could lead to increased estimations of prevalence that will lead to “an explosion of expensive drug therapy.”

But how do readers feel about the series’ name State of the Art? A terrible cliché, says retired anaesthetist Neville  Goodman in his response to deputy editor Trish Groves’ article launching the series. The term was first coined in the medical literature in 1959, he says, but by 1975 was used in 18.  How could The BMJ’s team of technical editors have let this through, he asks.

Do you agree with Neville? We did discuss alternative series titles before the articles went live (Specialist Review is one that springs to mind), but none of them, we felt, captured our hopes for the series, which, in the words of Trish Groves, are to “cover a breadth of topics relevant to all BMJ readers, with enough depth and novelty for specialists, academic clinicians, and researchers.”

Another cause for readers’ concerns is the departure of regular columnist Des Spence later this month. Consultant oncologist Santhanam Sundar asked in a response published yesterday: “Can we have more Spence please? Des Spence’s articles, over the years, quite often challenged the status quo and the uncertain evidence base of many medical treatments and procedures. He certainly has upset many with his views.”

Dr Sundary is not alone. GP Ted Wills says: “Des Spence is the only reason I look forward to The BMJ. He is deliberately provocative, but he always makes sense. We need to read more from him and others like him, not less. So please BMJ and Des—think again! And thank you for many interesting and entertaining articles.”

Des’s departure prompted a discussion here about whether we recruit another regular columnist, particularly for UK print readers. Some felt that we should choose a top blog or personal view each week to fill Des’s shoes, or rather his half-page. We decided that yes, we do need a successor, and we will be making an announcement soon.

Des will, of course, be a hard act to follow, but anaesthetist Kai Rabenstein is more resigned to his departure, telling him in a response. “I…wish Des a much-deserved retirement. You will be missed, mate.”

David Payne is digital editor and readers’ editor, The BMJ

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