Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Editor's Choice

Pills, thrills, and bellyaches

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 17 February 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:0-h

Rapid Response:


When Richard Smith said: "everybody I speak to says that the journal
is better," [1] there are those who would not be surprised to find just
how wrong he is...he could not have been MORE wrong.

There are those who regard "the restrictions on access to the BMJ are
a major problem. I appreciate the business arguments for your decision but
I feel very strongly that they are regressive and in the long run
counterproductive." [2] And, touchingly, there are still those who love
BMJ very deeply: "Perhaps without being aware of it, the BMJ, through its
open access and general attitude toward making information available, is
doing a tremendously important service, a genuine public service." [3]
Open access? Not since January…

Now over to the facts!

In the past 2 months I have been collecting data on the rapid
responses and watching its massive decline compared to the
October/November figures. It is only a whopping 70% drop!! Therefore, it
is quite absurd to say "everybody I speak to says that the journal is
better." [1] It is in fact the voice of an ostrich. The journal is worse,
far worse than many readers imagine.

Not only has the number and average of rapid responses tumbled
massively since last year, but the amount of what I call 'BMJ activity'*
has also collapsed by roughly the same amount from 230-240 per month for
the past 5 years to only 80 or so for December and January—a drop of about
two thirds. At 82 items, January 2005 is 63.5% down on the 2000-2003
average. This massive decline started in 2003 but has continued through
2004 and most especially since July 2004, since which time it has run

Throughout January and February 2005 the average rapid response per
article has been running at between 1 and 1.5 compared with figures like
3.9 to 4.5 in October, November and December. The average of current
"rapid response per article" as a percentage of November averages is
running at between 22 and 39% for the whole of January and February, and
is persistently in the 28-29% bracket for this entire 8 week period. That
is some drop.

I would suggest that these are quite shocking figures, and that the
BMJ ought to ponder long and hard on the likely reasons behind them. By
stopping unpaid open access to articles, a policy announced in October,
unilaterally and without any warning or consultation, people have simply
stopped visiting the site or have stopped responding to articles they
cannot read anyway. I cannot think of any other reason that would cause
this massive collapse of readership and usefulness of the journal.

If BMJ wishes to publish the entire tracking details, I can send it
in, not that it makes very joyful reading.


[1] Richard Smith, Great news for the BMJ and the BMJ Publishing
Group, 11 Feb 2005

[2] Harry Rutter, Please reconsider, 24 February 2005

[3] Dr. Herbert H. Nehrlich, Re: PILLS THRILL BUT COULD KILL, 19 Feb

* BMJ activity is the total number of all publications listed by the
search engine for any month you enter. For example, if you type in July
2000 you get 252; if you type in July 2004 you get 187, and so on. It
includes both articles and rapid responses. Tracking of this figure for
each month for the last five years reveals a recent and massive decline
since about last July.

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

25 February 2005
Peter Morrell
Hon Research Associate, History of Medicine
Staffordshire University, UK