Responsibilities of medical journals

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 46, No. 8, October 2004, Page 384 Editorials

Editorial writing in this province is generally a piece of cake. There is so much stuff happening most of the time that editorialists like me have the luxury of picking a topic from a potpourri of very sexy, very current newsy items.

However, occasionally in the dog-days of a long hot summer the topic stream dries up with our lawns and gardens. I invariably find myself kind of aimlessly stumbling about looking for something interesting to write about, usually about 24 hours before an editorial is due. In this “dog-days of summer” episode I tried poking about on the net, reading some local, national, and several non-Canadian publications, but still nothing. My creative well-spring was as empty as Michael Jackson’s morality bank account.

Whenever this happens I resort to a strategy that an editor friend of mine suggested to me years ago. She said that whenever she’s blocked and can’t write, she just writes about not being able to write and invariably at some point during the process (almost miraculously) a theme emerges. I’ve followed this advice a number of times and it has always worked. In this instance, as I’ve been jotting down this stream-of-boring-consciousness, I started to think about the responsibilities that medical/scientific journals have to the individual reader (you), the medical/scientific community, and to society as a whole.

I think that the magazine should, first of all, look good. I know that many journals go out of their way to do just the opposite and if you’re the New England Journal you can fly without cover artwork. However, we are in a highly competitive arena and want to grab our potential readers’ attention so they are interested enough to take the first step and open the book. One of the important ways we have of keeping our readers interested in continuing to turn the pages is with attractive, reader-friendly page design and formatting, eye-catching artwork, and an easy-to-navigate internal organizational structure.

However, it doesn’t matter how nice it looks, how great the artwork and page design is if the scientific core is crap. It is our responsibility to publish well-written, properly reviewed, well-edited, educational, and we hope clinically relevant manuscripts for an interested, learned audience. We hope we succeed.

Finally, everything that we publish is part of the public record and, more importantly, the record of science. We are constantly aware of the responsibility we have to provide proper, prudent journalistic stewardship of the entries we make to the permanent record of medical science. With every issue we strive toward publishing excellence; toward making this journal an ever-more relevant purveyor of medical/scientific information.

For the most part, I think the BCMJ manages to pay attention to its responsibilities extremely well, most of the time quite unconsciously. It doesn’t hurt however, to articulate these things occasionally for everyone’s edification. The fact that the writing of all this served to deliver me from “writer’s block wasteland” makes the exercise almost worthwhile.


James A. Wilson, MD. Responsibilities of medical journals. BCMJ, Vol. 46, No. 8, October, 2004, Page(s) 384 - Editorials.

Above is the information needed to cite this article in your paper or presentation. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) recommends the following citation style, which is the now nearly universally accepted citation style for scientific papers:
Halpern SD, Ubel PA, Caplan AL, Marion DW, Palmer AM, Schiding JK, et al. Solid-organ transplantation in HIV-infected patients. N Engl J Med. 2002;347:284-7.

About the ICMJE and citation styles

The ICMJE is small group of editors of general medical journals who first met informally in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1978 to establish guidelines for the format of manuscripts submitted to their journals. The group became known as the Vancouver Group. Its requirements for manuscripts, including formats for bibliographic references developed by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), were first published in 1979. The Vancouver Group expanded and evolved into the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), which meets annually. The ICMJE created the Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals to help authors and editors create and distribute accurate, clear, easily accessible reports of biomedical studies.

An alternate version of ICMJE style is to additionally list the month an issue number, but since most journals use continuous pagination, the shorter form provides sufficient information to locate the reference. The NLM now lists all authors.

BCMJ standard citation style is a slight modification of the ICMJE/NLM style, as follows:

  • Only the first three authors are listed, followed by "et al."
  • There is no period after the journal name.
  • Page numbers are not abbreviated.

For more information on the ICMJE Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals, visit

BCMJ Guidelines for Authors

Leave a Reply