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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:


Honourable hackers

11 Jul, 13 | by BMJ

BMJ hack day’s winning project  – a smartphone app for patients to collect and compute home blood pressure readings – has triggered lots of social media attention and press coverage in titles such as Medical News Today,  Nursing in Practice, and Mobile World Live.

The two other winners – a revision game for medical students to compete with each other using BMJ OnExamination data, and an Open Access Button that creates a “map of frustration” each time a reader hits a journal article paywall, have also generated a fair degree of attention. This BMJ article explains more.

But what of the other 10 projects? Four more idea were deservedly singled out for “honourable mentions” by BMJ chief executive Tim Brooks and his fellow judges.



Elsevier reveals new layout for Article of the Future

25 Jan, 13 | by BMJ

The Article of the Future project is Elsevier’s “never-ending quest to explore better ways to create and deliver the formal published record”.

In the latest phase of this ‘quest’, the project team have worked with more than 150 researchers, authors, publishers and editors to come up with multiple prototypes for a new article design, with each one tailored to a specific subject area.

Following previous changes to improve in-article navigation and readability, all ScienceDirect articles have now been transformed using an interactive HTML5 format. Click here to see one in action.


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”.


Plum Analytics: a new player in the field of altmetrics?

28 Sep, 12 | by BMJ

The “publish or perish” model of the academic world has followed a similar pattern since the middle of the last century. It generally takes around seven years from the conception of an idea, to the publishing of a paper, to the point where a critical mass of citations are formally gathered around it.

“Clearly the world moves much, much faster than that now,” argues Andrea Michalek, co-founder of startup Plum Analytics, with researchers posting slides online about their work even before it’s published, and tweets mentioning those discussions and linking back to the content. “All this data exhaust is happening in advance of researchers’ getting those cited-by counts,” she says, and once a paper is published, the opportunities for online references to it grow.


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.


ReadCube: just another reference manager?

26 Jul, 12 | by BMJ

Last month, ReadCube (a free, cross-platform reference manager) announced a host of new features in the form of  ‘enhanced PDFs’. Articles published by Nature, PLOS and Wiley can now be enhanced with active in-line references and automatic fetching of supplementary data.


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…

Total-Impact: tool for researchers combines traditional and alternative metrics

24 Feb, 12 | by BMJ

“As the volume of academic literature explodes, scholars rely on filters to select the most relevant and significant sources from the rest,” the altmetrics manifesto argues. “Unfortunately, scholarship’s three main filters for importance are failing.” Peer review “has served scholarship well” but has become slow and unwieldy and rewards conventional thinking. Citation-counting measures such as the h-index take too long to accumulate. And the impact factor of journals gets misapplied as a way to assess an individual researcher’s performance, which it wasn’t designed to do.

There are various tools that provide an easy interface for finding out readership metrics for a researcher. Until recently, none of these allowed users to choose what is included or enabled non-traditional artefacts to be combined with traditional ones. This is where Total-Impact, a new offering from the altmetric community, comes in. more…

FigShare: striving for greater efficiency in scientific research

17 Feb, 12 | by BMJ

Scientific publishing as it stands is an inefficient way to do science on a global scale. A lot of time and money is being wasted by groups around the world duplicating research that has already been carried out.

FigShare wants to change this. A data sharing platform where researchers can add figures that might otherwise go unpublished, FigShare has recently been relaunched following investment from Nature’s sister company, Digital Science. It allows researchers to publish all of their findings in an easily citable and discoverable manner.

“During my PhD I became very aware that a lot of my research data would never see the light of day outside my lab meetings. It made more sense to me to make all of my research data openly available,” said Mark Hahnel, founder of FigShare. As the first online repository for storing and sharing preliminary findings in the form of individual figures, datasets, media or filesets, users can post preprint figures to claim priority and receive feedback on findings prior to formal publication. In doing this, it is thought that other researchers will not duplicate the work, thus making research more efficient and releasing hidden, raw data. more…

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