Politically correct—or just plain kooky?

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 16 June 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:a

“Sex,” “garlic,” “money” are all magic words for grabbing people's attention—and so is “ban.” Two weeks ago we banned the word “accident”—to highlight the reality that most events that injure people have a whole series of antecedents that are susceptible to intervention and prevention (BMJ 2001;322:1320). A flood of rapid responses on has berated us for political correctness (

We'll publish some of these responses in the print journal in due course, but it's fun to watch the evolving debate on the website. People urging the “daft political correctness” line started the ball rolling, but as I write this, on Monday evening, the tide is turning as many more injury prevention people have joined the debate—and we can expect the authors of the original editorial to weigh in soon.

No doubt this is just the sort of thing Roger Fisken is referring to in his letter (p 1486) when he talks of the “tide of political correctness, sackcloth and ashes, and plain kookiness” that has engulfed the BMJ. His is one of many letters on our theme issue on integrated medicine. It's not entirely clear which of these three things he thinks our theme issue represented (perhaps all three), but he certainly thinks that any joining of forces with alternative medicine is a retreat into “superstition, witchcraft, mumbo jumbo, and sheer quackery.” But his is only one voice in a correspondence that also sees the theme issue as “orthodox medicine's attempt to shore up it's monopoly” by bringing complementary medicine under it's wing (p 1484).

In medicine, as elsewhere, the immediate cause of an injury is often an individual's mistake. On p 1462 Anne Seymour reflects on a mistake made by a nurse, who gave a diabetic patient too much insulin. The important part of the story is the reaction to the mistake. Because the nurse immediately realised what she had done and called for help the patient was saved. Anne Seymour argued that the nurse should not be punished but congratulated because her confession saved the patient: punishing her would simply have made the next person who made a mistake more likely to hide the error.

It must be rare that words on our pages have the power of that nurse's mistake to teach something important. But last week we published a personal view that criticised seven surgeons for not introducing themselves, explaining what was going on, or dealing with the writer's anxieties about complications (BMJ 2001;322:1433). One of the seven surgeons responds in our last letter (p 1492): he describes how he and his team have discussed the article, addressed the issues, and hope “that our performance will be better in future.”


View Abstract

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription