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BMJ Editors’ Retreat: the certainty principle

12 May, 14 | by BMJ

Each year, BMJ invites the editors of its specialist journals to gather at BMA House and discuss the hottest issues affecting medical publishing. The first day of the retreat included presentations from Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge; Sir Muir Gray, Director of Better Value Healthcare; and Jeremy Laurance, The Independent. There was also a lively discussion regarding impact metrics between Marian Hollingsworth of Thomson Reuters and Euan Adie of


Pippa Smart, publishing consultant, led the second day of the retreat, covering topics such as making the news, publication ethics with Chris Graf of COPE, incentivising reviewers and reaching new audiences. She has written the following synopsis:


Get a group of medical editors together in a room, and what do they talk about? (I’m sure there is a joke there somewhere.) It was the second day of the BMJ editors’ retreat and feedback, comments, opinions and challenges were coming across fast and furious. It was an interesting day all round, with plenty of discussion, some disagreement and plenty of cynicism to lighten the debates. From these meetings people take away different things, and for me the highlight of all the discussions was the importance of editorial certainty in an uncertain world.

As a member of the public, and at the receiving end of the medical profession I really, really want certainty. I want my doctors to use tried, tested and accredited protocols and drugs: when I read the papers I want to believe their news items. However, I’m aware that real life, and scientific research, is a lot messier than this.

What editors are faced with every day is a mass of uncertainty. Both articles and authors can prove to be a disappointment – because of a mismatch of what is important and interesting, because of human error, and because they sometimes – frankly – cheat. Awareness of this didn’t however, dent the enthusiasm and energy of most of the participating editors at this meeting – they remained committed to certainty, and adamant in the face of opposing views that couldn’t be backed up with hard evidence.

So when it comes to what should be Press Released they were vehemently opposed to earning “a fast buck” on the back of a dodgy article or a sexed-up news report. (I remember with fondness the supposed life-giving properties of red wine…) When it came to examples of unethical authors they were unanimous in their condemnation (in fact, more draconian than the COPE advice). When it came to peer review they were committed to improving papers, even in the face of unreliable reviewers. And when it came to marketing, they stuck to the importance of making content as error-free, interesting and accessible as possible rather than focusing on sales.

Impressed? Yes I was. Perhaps I am more suspicious of people’s motives and don’t trust in readers’ intellect to the level that this group do. But what impressed me most was not the way that dodgy authors were censored, but the fact that the participants’ editorial certainty was upheld in an environment that they knew comprised uncertainty. Upholding a commitment to absolute values where research may only show partial and relative findings, and where individuals may not provide absolute truths is impressive.

The adherence of these editors to certainty is certainly not unique and I’m always relieved to come across similar values in other editors that I meet. And the principle of certainty and high values was endorsed in the BMJ Awards that took place in the evening of this meeting. Sir Iain Chalmers was honoured for his commitment to transparent clinical trials and research, and his demands for evidence-based medicine (I’m with him on that one). In a world where the press focuses on doom, despair and the occasional titbit of medical information, and where claims and counterclaims seem to bombard the public daily, it is refreshing to know that there is, after all, a backbone of certainty in this shifting landscape – and that it is making a material difference to our health and wellbeing.

In an imperfect world, I take my hat off to them all.

Pippa Smart, Research Communication and Publishing Consultant


We used the hashtag #bmjeds14 to capture conversations held over both days. Analytics and a full transcript can be found by clicking the image below:


Redefining impact – altmetrics now on journals from BMJ

21 Oct, 13 | by BMJ

In growing numbers, scholars are moving their daily work to the Internet. Online reference managers, such as Zotero and Mendeley, have grown in popularity, the latter claiming to store over 470 million articles (substantially more than PubMed). In addition, as many as a third of scholars are on Twitter and a growing number cultivate scholarly blogs.

As a result of the increasing scholarly use of social tools like Twitter, Facebook and Mendeley, there is a need to track scholarly impact on the social web by creating new filters. The call for new metrics has been answered by a group of researchers who have dubbed the movement as  ‘altmetrics‘.

In support of this year’s theme for Open Access Week, ‘redefining impact’, BMJ has introduced the Altmetric widget across all articles published in BMJ’s portfolio of journals.*


Will ‘portable peer review’ make science more efficient?

6 Sep, 13 | by BMJ

The academic publication process is not the most efficient of systems. Authors often go through several rounds of submission and rejection trying to find an appropriate publication venue. In fact, it takes on average nearly six months for a paper to reach publication from date of submission, during which time there is plenty of opportunity for competitors to publish similar results.

The reality is that before a paper is accepted by a journal, it is often rejected by one or more others. The reason for rejection need not be a methodological flaw – perhaps the research just isn’t innovative enough for the prestigious titles. During this time, each journal sends the paper for appraisal by experts in the relevant field; peer review. Endless cycles of repetitive review and requests for additional experiments from multiple journals does not necessarily make for efficient scientists, or efficient science.


Rubriq: the future of scientific peer review?

21 Feb, 13 | by BMJ

Rubriq is a new startup attempting to reduce inefficiencies in publishing by providing peer review independent of journals. While others, such as Faculty of 1000, offer this with post-publication reviews, Rubriq focuses on pre-submission review. Rather than replacing peer review completely, Rubriq hopes to provide editors with initial insight, allowing them to reduce time to first decision or use it as a filter (by setting a threshold for a minimum score needed to submit). Rubriq see the R-Score (an overall score for the paper based on Quality of Research, Quality of Presentation, and Novelty and Interest) as a new article level metric.


Article-level metrics: which service to choose?

26 Oct, 12 | by BMJ

Article-level metrics (or ALMs) were a hot topic at this week’s HighWire publisher meeting in Washington. (Highwire hosts both the BMJ and its stable of 42 specialist journals). From SAGE to eLife, publishers seem sold on the benefits of displaying additional context to articles, thereby enabling readers to assess their impact. These statistics range from traditional indicators, such as usage statistics and citations, to alternative values (or altmetrics) like mentions on Twitter and in the mainstream media.

So, what services are available to bring this information together in one simple interface? There are quite a few contenders in this area, including Plum Analytics, PLoS Article-Level Metrics application, Science Card, CitedIn and ReaderMeter. One system in particular has received a good deal of attention in the past few weeks; ImpactStory, a relaunched version of total-impact. It’s a free, open-source webapp that’s been built with financial help from the Sloan Foundation (and others) “to help researchers uncover data-driven stories about their broader impacts”.


ORCID: an end to author ambiguity?

19 Oct, 12 | by BMJ

Publishers face authorship issues on a daily basis. Who should be listed as an author? How can an author role be appropriately acknowledged? How can we discern author responsibility? Linked to this is conflict-of-interest reporting: who needs to report what, and in what context?

A registry that will grant scientists a unique identifying number, helping readers of the literature to distinguish between authors with similar names, launched this week. ORCID, the Open Researcher and Contributor ID, seeks to remedy the systemic name ambiguity problems seen in scholarly research by assigning unique identifiers linkable to an individual’s research output. more…

Scholar Updates: helping authors to make new connections?

30 Aug, 12 | by BMJ

A common goal of academics is to read all relevant publications within a particular field of expertise. Locating these materials is a challenge (to say the least) and the task is becoming more and more difficult as the number of papers published annually increases year-on-year.

Earlier this month, changes were made to Google Scholar to encourage the serendipitous discovery of new research during a scholar’s routine activity. The new service, Scholar Updates, conducts a search on the author’s behalf and provides a list of recommended publications. It builds upon existing research alerts offered by Google Scholar, similar in nature to those of ISI Web of Science and other academic databases.


ResearchGate: an alternative to traditional publishing?

22 Aug, 12 | by BMJ

ResearchGate, a Q&A site that soon became known as ‘Facebook for scientists‘, has announced its intention to function as a publishing platform for scientific researchers and offer an alternative measure of reputation in that community.

Started in 2008 with few features, ResearchGate was reshaped with feedback from scientists and has attracted several million dollars in venture capital from some of the original investors of Twitter, eBay and Facebook. According to the website, more than 1.9 million scientists currently share papers, publish data and engage in discussions on its platform. Now an ‘RG Score’ has been designed to make those interactions visible and quantifiable.


Plagiarism detection: CrossRef, CrossCheck and iThenticate

12 Jun, 12 | by BMJ

Most authors are aware that plagiarism is an unethical publication practice. However, it is still a serious problem and arguably the most common ethical issue afflicting medical writing.

The World Association of Medical Editors (WAME) defines plagiarism as:

Plagiarism is the use of others’ published and unpublished ideas or words (or other intellectual property) without attribution or permission, and presenting them as new and original rather than derived from an existing source. The intent and effect of plagiarism is to mislead the reader as to the contributions of the plagiarizer. more…

New service for authors: post-acceptance tracking system

10 Feb, 12 | by BMJ

In 2011, BMJ Journals implemented a new production tracking system called ‘Publishing At Work’. The system enables a range of users (authors, production staff, editors and suppliers) to track the progress of articles from acceptance through to Online First and issue publication.

To track the progress of your accepted article, please follow the steps below:

1. Go to (either directly or by following a link from the footer of each journal’s website)
2. Click ‘log in’ (top left corner of the screen) more…

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