Forms, policies, and ethics

Transparency policy

The mission of The BMJ is to lead the debate on health and to engage, inform, and stimulate all doctors and health care researchers in ways that enable them to make better decisions and improve outcomes for patients.

Underpinning these aims, The BMJ has a set of ethical editorial principles, an ethics advisory committee, and a commitment to transparency. We try to ensure that readers, authors, and editors know as much about the background to each other’s work as possible. We do this through policies such as open peer review, declaring competing interests, and explaining the role of the bodies that fund research.

There are many other policies and principles that help The BMJ to be an ethical publisher, and we have brought all of them together in this single transparency policy. You can reach the policies listed below simply by clicking on the links.

We will add to The BMJ’s transparency policy as often as we need to. Please contact us if you feel there is anything missing.

Publication ethics

The BMJ aims to ensure that all articles published in The BMJ report on work that is morally acceptable, and expects authors to follow the World Medical Association's Declaration of Helsinki.

Copyright, open access and permission to reuse

Since January 2000, The BMJ has not asked authors of journal articles to assign us their copyright, instead requiring an exclusive licence from Authors. All Research articles published by The BMJ are published by default as open access (irrespective of who funded the research), whilst any other article that requires open access publication can also be published as such on request.

Competing interests

A competing interest — often called a conflict of interest — exists when professional judgment concerning a primary interest (such as patients' welfare or the validity of research) may be influenced by a secondary interest (such as financial gain or personal rivalry). We believe that, to make the best decision on how to deal with an article, we should know about any competing interests that authors may have, and that if we publish the article readers should know about them too.

Scientific misconduct

There are differing definitions of scientific misconduct. At The BMJ, we deal with these problems on a case by case basis while following guidance produced by the major publication ethics bodies.

Patient consent, confidentiality, and images of patients

Our policy is based on the UK's data protection law and the English common law of confidentiality. UK authors should be aware that the General Medical Council has extensive guidance on patient consent and confidentiality and that our policy is in line with GMC advice.

Editorial duty of confidentiality towards authors

The BMJ's editors treat all submitted manuscripts as confidential documents, which means they will not divulge information about a manuscript to anyone without the authors' permission. During the process of manuscript review the following people may also have access to manuscripts:
• Editors and editorial staff at The BMJ, including medical students on placement and occasional overseas visitors - usually doctors or editors from other journals;
• External reviewers, including statisticians and experts in trial methods;
• Members of the journal's editorial committees, comprising the final stage in our peer review process for original research articles;
• The only occasion when details about a manuscript might be passed to a third party without the authors’ permission is if the editor suspects serious research misconduct.

Criticism of health professionals

The BMJ sometimes publishes articles that criticise health professionals. Being a professional implies operating to a higher ethical standard than the general population. Thus, when balancing the interest of patients and the profession against those of an individual professional, The BMJ has an obligation to give more weight to the interests of patients and the profession than might be the case if a publication was balancing the interest of a lay individual against those of the general community.

The BMJ has guidelines on articles in which the health professionals are clearly identified and those in which they are not, and some elements are common to both.

ICMJE Requirements for all manuscripts submitted to The BMJ

All submissions to The BMJ must conform to the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors uniform requirements for manuscripts submitted to biomedical journals. Our requirements reflect those of the ICMJE, although we also have specific requirements for different types of article and particularly detailed ones for research articles.

Authorship and contributorship

The BMJ follows The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals (ICMJE Recommendations 2013) with regards to authorship, contributorship and group authorship.

Press and embargo policy

We have a clear embargo policy with recognised media organisations and journalists. We issue press releases ahead of publication to allow journalists and broadcasters to write a sensible, considered story about the articles that are press released. In return they undertake not to publish their stories before the embargo date. This is a well understood policy, to ours and the press’s mutual benefit, and in general the press observe it.

We do not “tip off” any other people or organisations who might like to know ahead of time what an article says.

The reasons for this are:
• Practical issues: It is hard to define exactly who might like to know in advance about an article in The BMJ – and particularly hard to draw a line of what sort of organisation should fall within the line. The deal with the press is easily defined, well understood, and The BMJ benefits from it as well as the press.
• We can’t be sure that organisations won’t leak information.
• It's a distraction from our job of publishing the best stuff we can.

NB: This policy does not mean that we and our writers won’t contact people who are mentioned in articles to gain a comment that we might include in the article.

If an organisation is contacted directly by a journalist for a comment on a particular paper, while under embargo, we do send them a copy of the paper to enable them to make an informed comment. But we always stress that the material is under embargo and should not be circulated.

Research about workforces

Guidelines about informing workforces about the results of research in which they have participated before publication in mass media. Research undertaken with workforces can take place only with their full cooperation. Understandably, they expect to hear from the researchers about the results of the research and its implications for them before publication in the mass media.