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Editor's Choice

Stay at home

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 15 September 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:0-f
  1. Fiona Godlee (fgodlee{at}, editor

    It's conference season again. The summer break is over and people all over the globe are leaping on planes and heading off to exotic, and not so exotic, locations to flit through windowless conference centres in anonymous air conditioned airport hotels, to give or watch or sleep through ever more elaborate PowerPoint presentations in darkened lecture halls. It's fun. It's traditional. But is it necessary? And is it good for us or the planet?

    The terror threat might have given pause to some of us. But not for long. In the immediate aftermath of the London bombs, Rubin and colleagues found that people were slightly less willing to travel by tube and bus (p 606), but necessity breeds courage, or indifference, and international airlines continue to report record passenger numbers. US immigration controls may put off others, especially Muslim academics, says Gavin Yamey after his strange brush with the FBI at a conference last year (p 642).

    And what about the impact of all this air travel on the environment? On p 643, a Dr B A Miles (alias Ian Roberts) confesses his excessive air travel to conferences and crimes against the planet. Aviation emissions have twice the impact on the climate as emissions at ground level, and they are set to increase by 3% each year. And to what end? There are far more effective means of keeping up to date. But as Dr Miles plaintively points out, he is not the only doctor who has used more than his fair share of the atmosphere.

    No, we are all doing it. Even the BMJ's editors are off, heading for Chicago this week for a brief immersion in the esoteric world of the science of peer review. It's a chance to meet mentors and colleagues who have over the years become important friends; four days in which to bask in the shared delusion that what we do actually matters.

    While we jet off across the Atlantic, we seem to have done nothing to bridge the divide between the sexes. Several, presumably white, males have been hurt by the italic subheading we used on the journal's cover last week: “The days of white male dominated medicine are numbered.” Dr Anonymous emailed us to say that he found it “aggressive, insulting, prejudicial and [it] would not be tolerated for any other societal group.” He asks how I would have felt as a medical student to have the impending absence of my gender from medicine celebrated on the BMJ's cover. Not great I am sure. Except that the subheading celebrates nothing of the sort. The words, taken from Isobel Allen's article in last week's journal, simply reflect the changing demographics of medicine, and absence of white men was not what she was predicting. But then who could possibly be in favour of continuing domination by any ethnic group or sex? Isn't representative diversity what we are looking for? Getting on that plane may be the answer after all.


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