New edicts for letters

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.326.7396.985/a (Published 03 May 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:985

Restrictions should not be imposed on post-publication peer review

  1. Douglas G Altman, professor of statistics in medicine (doug.altman@cancer.org.uk)
  1. Cancer Research UK, NHS Centre for Statistics in Medicine, Institute of Health Sciences, Oxford OX3 7LF
  2. Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Perth, WA 6009, Australia
  3. Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup DA14 6LT
  4. 6 Sussex Avenue, Didsbury, Manchester M20 6AQ
  5. East Pallant Cottage, East Pallant, Chichester, West Sussex PO19 1TZ

    EDITOR—I often read the short letters in newspapers and journals in preference to the long ones. They are simpler to assimilate, quicker to read, and often amusing too. But I know that the important stuff is generally in the longer letters.

    Research published in scientific journals should be open to comment and correction in published correspondence.1 The BMJ has reduced its word limit for letters from 400 to 300 words (barely more than the length of the abstract of the paper one might be writing about), at the same time as Lancet reduced the time window from eight weeks to two. 2 3

    What next—a maximum of 800 words for research papers? More people would read them, I'm sure.

    There is an effective “statute of limitations” in leading journals, whereby authors of papers are immune to disclosure of methodological weaknesses once some arbitrary (short) period has elapsed.4 Such time limits (four weeks at the BMJ) discourage post-publication peer review. Similarly, one …

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