Forthcoming theme issues and how we chose themBMJ 2001; 323 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.323.7316.766 (Published 06 October 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:766
The web allows readers to participate in the decision
- Tony Delamothe, editor bmj.com
Beginning with our theme issue marking the 50th anniversary of the Nuremberg doctors' trial in 1996 we have published 34 theme issues on a wide range of subjects.1 Sometimes these have arisen from an explicit decision to raise the profile of a particular topic; in other cases they seem to have assembled themselves from material that has been sent in unsolicited. Of the infinite number of topics that could have been chosen, the journal's editorial team has had the final say. When it comes to readers' needs we have known best.
Elsewhere in the journal we have been chiselling away at this notion of editorial omniscience. For example, for our latest journal redesign, we asked readers to say which of three possible designs they preferred—and then we instituted the most popular choice.2 The advent of the world wide web has made such interactivity much easier, and we now frequently canvas website visitors' opinions on journal policies and practices.3
We thought it was time to involve readers in decisions about content and have started with the selection of topics for theme issues. Beginning with a list of suggestions from our editorial board, we asked visitors to bmj.com to add their own ideas. We then instituted a two stage voting process on the website. Firstly we asked readers to whittle down the 75 initial suggestions to a shortlist of 20, and then we asked them to select up to six topics from this shortlist.
Some voting irregularities occurred, with enthusiasts for a few topics following Al Capone's advice to the Chicago electorate to vote early and vote often. Although voting was anonymous, such behaviour can be detected and corrected for, by using the visitors' log, which links each website visit to a unique internet protocol number. What we couldn't correct for, although we suspected it was occurring, was that the friends (or, more correctly, the enemies) of endometriosis were using their bulletin boards and discussion groups to alert fellow sufferers to the poll.
We therefore asked BMA members, as part of our annual readership questionnaire, to vote on the same shortlist of topics. We combined the two sets of results to obtain the final ranking.4 (Endometriosis, which had topped the web poll, came a poor last in the members' poll. Nevertheless, we have published a review article on endometriosis since the poll.5)
Starting next year, we intend publishing a theme issue most months from January to November, with the usual Christmas issue in December. Of any 11 theme issue topics, six will come from the readers' poll and five will be chosen in house (box).
Eventually, we hope to extend readers' participation to the commissioning of ABC series, editorials, and other educational articles—selecting authors as well as topics. The journal has always striven to be responsive to readers' wants and needs, using the best resources we could identify. The internet allows us to increase this responsiveness while at the same time increasing the range of resources we can easily call on.
For a continuously updated list of theme issues, with their guest editors and editorial contacts, see: http://bmj.com/misc/fcissues.shtml