Editor's Choice Editor's choice

Hands across the ocean

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/sbmj.39035.480972.F7 (Published 16 November 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:0-f
  1. Fiona Godlee, editor (fgodlee{at}bmj.com)

    Two of the world's greatest nations, both of which have serious image problems, last week achieved milestones that raise new hopes for a better, more open and equitable world. After a heated campaign, China's Dr Margaret Chan has won the contest to become WHO's next director general. As Anne Glusker reports (doi: 10.1136/bmj.39034.630926.DB), optimists see this as a chance for China to become more engaged in the war against infectious disease. But much will depend on Chan's willingness to challenge the secrecy of China's political regime.

    The United States is also set to undergo a transformation after last week's Democratic party victory in the mid-term elections. Janice Hopkins Tanne describes how this has already reinvigorated the debate about universal health care, liberalisation of abortion, and stem cell research (doi: 10.1136/bmj.39031.429514.DB).

    The fact that the BMJ celebrates these changes is evidence of its liberal world view, but we hope never to forget that liberalism is just one view among many. Matthew Links (doi: 10.1136/bmj.38966.487350.68) delineates the spectrum of approaches to interpreting medical literature and draws parallels with religious belief systems: from fundamentalists, who take a strict and literal view and tend to undervalue non-randomised evidence; through conservatives, who seek clarity and well defined rules about which evidence to include; to liberals, who believe that the totality of evidence, including non-randomised data, should be taken into account. He then risks falling into the trap that all liberals fall into from time to time—preaching tolerance (saying that debates on evidence need to acknowledge the validity of alternative world views) without seeing that he is preaching liberalism. Tolerance is something that fundamentalists won't tolerate, by definition.

    On a more trivial note, I suggested in my Editor's Choice on 2 September that there might be a network of readings of George Bernard Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma on 20 November, building on Muir Gray's idea that we should mark the centenary of its first performance in 1906. One respondent in Italy said he might put on a reading in his clinic, and in London we got busy pulling together an all star medical cast for a reading at the Royal College of Physicians. We have a script edited by Michael O'Donnell, former editor of World Medicine, who also plays the part of Shaw, and we look forward to a good evening this Monday at 7 30 pm in aid of Médecins Sans Frontières. (A few tickets are still available; see bmj.com).

    Now I've just heard from Anne Hudson Jones that there will definitely be one other reading on that day—at the Strand Theatre in Galveston, Texas, performed by faculty and students of the John P McGovern Academy of Oslerian Medicine and the Institute for the Medical Humanities (see bmj.com). Stephen Lock, former editor of the BMJ, has emailed to ask if anyone can find a medical excuse to do the same for Monteverdi's Orfeo, premiered in Mantua on 23 February 1607. Over to you.

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