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The BMJ, spin, and the stockmarket

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 24 June 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:1737
  1. Richard Smith, editor
  1. BMJ

    One of the many anxieties of medical editors is that we have little measurable impact on anything. Systematic reviews have shown that written information is ineffective in changing doctors' practice. “All we do,” claimed my predecessor as editor, “is take in other people's washing.” I thus read with mixed feelings the Independent headline “BMJ admits ‘lapses’ after article wiped £30m off Scotia shares” (10 June). Could a BMJ mistake really have such dramatic consequences? Unsurprisingly, the story is much more complex than the headline suggests and provides yet another example of the story being spun to meet a commercial agenda.

    The story begins with us publishing a drug point that suggested that a new anticancer drug in phase I trials might cause skin burns in 40% of patients (6 May, p 1245). The drug—temoporfin (Foscan)—is a photosensitiser that accumulates in malignant tissues and then is activated by light to destroy the tissue. We published the drug point to alert readers to this possible side effect. Medical journals face a difficult problem with such reports, which are usually based on a single case or a small series of patients. We know that we don't get it right every time. Sometimes we publish reports of effects that turn out …

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