Intended for healthcare professionals

Editor's Choice Editor’s choice

Thinking caps on

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 16 December 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b5471
  1. Tony Delamothe, deputy editor, BMJ
  1. tdelamothe{at}

    When I was a medical student a helpful anaesthetist explained that surgeons wore caps in theatre to stop the bright lights from transilluminating their skulls. Now an anaesthetist has lifted the lid and discovered that surgeons have brains very similar to those of higher primates, with surprisingly complex wiring. Apparently, anaesthetists’ brains differ markedly from surgeons’(doi:10.1136/bmj.b5490). Who would have thought?

    While this is brand new research, readers will discover many articles in this issue with a historical theme—intentionally chosen to mark the year that our complete archive (1840-2009) was made available online. We’ve included a short description of the nine videos we commissioned to bring to life some of the important figures from the archive (doi:10.1136/bmj.b5439). They’re vieweable free at And we publish the winners of our £1000 prize for the most interesting use of the archive. Tom Jefferson and Eliana Ferroni reviewed what the BMJ published on the Spanish flu 1918-1924, unearthing observations that may have lessons for today (doi:10.1136/bmj.b5313).

    A quick glance at our editorials might suggest that this fixation on the past includes an unhealthy dollop of nostalgia—for a time when junior doctors could recognise whispering pectoriloquy (doi:10.1136/bmj.b5448) and Nurse would gladly stick a bunch of flowers in a vase (doi:10.1136/bmj.b5406). But David Colquhoun uses the centenary of the publication of Secret Remedies (doi:10.1136/bmj.b5415) to urge us to look hard at the efficacy of medicines, now (doi:10.1136/bmj.b5432). His editorial is timely, given that too many at the top of British medicine seem frozen in the headlights of the complementary medicine bandwagon. He describes a recent session of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, devoted to homoeopathy, as “pure comedy gold.”

    We usually reject articles suggesting diagnoses for the illustrious dead because the hypotheses are untestable, and armchair diagnosticians usually come up with some equally plausible alternative within a year or two. But we’ve made an exception for Charles Darwin in his anniversary year (doi:10.1136/bmj.b4968). John Hayman’s hypothesis that he had a mitochondrial disorder could be tested by checking descendants of his female relatives for the suspected genetic abnormality. We’ve included articles about possible causes of death of Diane de Poitiers (doi:10.1136/bmj.b5311) and 17 Norwegian sealers (doi:10.1136/bmj.b5038) but in these cases there was some tissue to analyse. Both have accompanying videos on

    For one year only, we’ve suspended our prohibition against publishing spoofs in the Christmas BMJ. I’m not revealing which article it is but I can tell you that not all BMJ editors and outside reviewers spotted it. And for those of you who would like to stretch themselves mentally after a heavy Christmas meal, we have a short pathology quiz (doi:10.1136/bmj.b5355).


    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b5471