Intended for healthcare professionals


Twenty thousand conversations

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 18 May 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:1171

Rapid responses suggest new models of knowledge creation

  1. Tony Delamothe, web editor,
  2. Richard Smith, editor
  1. BMJBMJ, London WC1H 9JR

    Conversation is a meeting of minds with different memories and habits. When minds meet, they don't just exchange facts: they transform them, reshape them, draw different implications from them, and engage in new trains of thought. Conversation doesn't just reshuffle the cards; it creates new cards.1

    Four years ago we added a feature to, which we called “rapid responses.”2 The feature allows readers to respond to articles directly via the website as they are reading them. We don't regard them as second class letters: they are just as eligible for inclusion in the paper journal as letters received in other forms. In fact, most of the letters to the editor that we now print in the paper journal started life as rapid responses.

    Our original intention was to post all but the libellous, gratuitously rude, trivial, irrelevant, or incomprehensible on the website within 72 hours.We hoped that, at the very least, it would solve the problem of receiving far more letters to the editor than we could possibly print in the paper journal. We wondered whether rapid responses marked the most democratic step that the journal had ever taken.

    So how has it gone? With 20 000 rapid responses now published on the website we consider the experiment a success. Particularly gratifying has been the participation of readers from outside the United Kingdom; in fact, …

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