Intended for healthcare professionals


An open letter to The BMJ editors on qualitative research

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 10 February 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i563

Re: An open letter to The BMJ editors on qualitative research

Along with so many who are engaged in qualitative health research I wish to record support for the Greenhalgh et al open letter and my dismay at the BMJ turning its back on qualitative research. I have recently published a paper called “Teaching Critical Qualitative Health Research in the Land of the Randomized Controlled Trial” in which I reflect on the place and practice of qualitative research during the 35 years of my academic career as a qualitative researcher and teacher in the health sciences field.(Qualitative Inquiry, 22 (2): 107-118. ).

Ironically, in this paper which went to press before the news came out, I noted the BMJ’s publication of qualitative scholarship as a positive development in the history and future of qualitative inquiry in the health field! Oops. I am disappointed in BMJ’s regressive move – it denies its readership access to demonstrably valuable scientific and clinical knowledge that lies between and beyond bioscience, clinical trials and epidemiology, and is located at the core of the practice of medicine. As I discuss in my paper, the best quality qualitative research is that which fully exploits the singular potential of ‘value-added’ interpretive approaches, approaches that can offer deep insight and new perspective on the prevailing assumptions and practices of health care, and shed new light on those aspects of medical practice and health-related experience that are not well understood in numeric terms. Most importantly, qualitative research at its optimum can yield generalizable new concepts and explanations for the improvement and change of health care.

The BMJ does itself great discredit by de facto rejecting qualitative submissions. I urge the journal to re-visit its conclusions regarding the interests of its readership in qualitative research, and importantly, if hospitability to qualitative manuscripts is restored, to take advantage of the impressive array of highly qualified and committed qualitative researchers who have responded to this open letter to strengthen its reviewer rosters to ensure appropriate scientific assessment of qualitative papers, and effective selection (as with all BMJ submissions) of those most methodologically and substantively superior.

Competing interests: Past and founding director of the Centre for Critical Qualitative Health Research at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

24 February 2016
Joan M. Eakin
Professor Emerita
University of Toronto
155 College St. Toronto, Ontario, Canada