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New beginnings

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 14 December 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:0-f
  1. Fiona Godlee, editor (fgodlee{at}

    As the year comes to a close, so too does one of the BMJ's great institutions. This week we publish the last article in the last of our ABC series. ABCs first appeared in the BMJ in 1978—the brain child of the then editor, Stephen Lock. Over the years they have been praised and criticised in equal measure, and with the move of ABC books (part of BMJ Books) to Blackwell Publishing and the forthcoming relaunch of the BMJ, this seemed the right moment to stop our serialisations.

    In their place we are creating a range of new series in the Practice section, aimed at helping to bridge the gap between primary and secondary care and between research and practice. We see this section as representing the “how” of medicine, the place in the journal where, as far as possible, our authors report on the areas of certainty in medicine, surgery, and public health. Readers will find respite here, should they wish it, from the debate, controversy, and uncertainty all around them.

    The need for clear, impartial advice has never been greater, especially in the light of increasingly sophisticated drug company marketing, as delegates heard at last week's NICE conference (doi: 10.1136/bmj.39059.512269.DB). Annette Tuffs reports that sponsorship of patient groups by drug companies is growing (doi: 10.1136/bmj.39062.360289.DB), one medical society has been torn apart by concerns about industry influence, and in an extraordinary case, a US federal researcher has admitted covertly selling clinical samples from the National Institutes of Health to Pfizer (doi: 10.1136/bmj.39062.603495.DB).

    What about interpreting the evidence? At the NICE conference, Neal Maskrey, medical director of the National Centre for Prescribing, is reported as saying that most general practitioners don't know what absolute risk is (doi: 10.1136/bmj.39059.512269.DB). If he's right, medical journals must take part of the blame. According to Lisa Schwartz and colleagues, six major medical journals, including the BMJ, did a poor job in 2003-4 of reporting absolute risk in research articles, and especially in the abstract (doi: 10.1136/bmj.38985.564317.7C). We ask for absolute event rates, relative risk reduction, and number needed to treat or harm in reports of clinical trials. Of the two trials in this week's BMJ, one gives this information in the abstract and the text (doi: 10.1136/bmj.38989.684178.AE), the other only in the text (doi: 10.1136/bmj.39010.581354.55). So there's still room for improvement.

    It's a little early for New Year's resolutions, but next week is our Christmas issue and after that it will be too late. Apart from doing better on reporting of trials, this week's journal has a couple of ideas. Julian Crane and Brent Caldwell have calculated the carbon footprint of the European Respiratory Society's annual congress (doi: 10.1136/bmj.39050.686111.DE). The travel alone would require 784 000 trees to offset it. So how about we all travel far less and plant more trees? A moving rapid response from Anthony Read, a factory worker in Wallsend who was inspired by transplant pioneer Roy Taylor to donate a kidney to his brother (, reminds us all to thank the people we want to thank before they die.

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