Of facts and factoids

Thank you [Dr Oetter] for your timely piece “Licensing of foreign-trained physicians” in the April issue (BCMJ 2005;3:125). A version prepared for the press would do much to defuse the emotional treatment this topic receives in the media.

Your use of the term “factoid” disturbs me. Not only does it sound awful but it is incorrect in the current context. The Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus, American Edition, Oxford University Press, 1996 defines the term “factoid” as follows:

• An assumption or speculation that is reported and repeated so often that it becomes accepted as fact.

• A simulated or imagined fact.

• A trivial fact or news item.

Since you are presenting facts I am sure that none of these definitions is appropriate to your intent.

—Nicholas Rety, MD

 Dr Oetter replies

I appreciate that Dr. Rety was not amused with my use of the word “factoid.” Editorials by their very nature are meant to be provocative and I hope that the readership took note of the deliberate use of the word and how it relates to the press.

As physicians we spend a good deal of our training learning the art of extracting an exact history from our patients. Supplemented with a thorough physical exam and useful diagnostic tests, we hone the skill of diagnosis and management of our patients presenting problems. We are all scientists at heart and enjoy the art of measurement. As physicians, we assume that journalists follow suit in the course of developing a story, using the detective approach to determination of truth. However, fear and sensationalism are the currency of popular media, and somewhere the “the facts ma’am, just the facts” get lost in the process. This brings us back to the use of the word factoid. The information is out there, but reporting the facts is not newsworthy. Pursuing a story that “qualified” physicians are driving taxis is likely to sell more papers.

I found another definition of factoid in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, third edition: “Unverified or inaccurate information that is presented in the press as factual, often as part of a publicity effort, and that is then accepted as true because of constant repetition.”


Nicholas Rety, MD, Heidi M. Oetter, MD. Of facts and factoids. BCMJ, Vol. 47, No. 6, July, August, 2005, Page(s) 282 - Letters.

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

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