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The British Medical Journal (BMJ), is one of the most popular and widely-read peer-reviewed general medical journals around the world. It is published by the BMJ Publishing Group (owned by the British Medical Association), whose other publications include the popular sub-speciality journals like The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, Heart, Thorax, among others, and Student BMJ for medical students around the world.
The current editor of the BMJ is Fiona Godlee, who replaced the former editor-in-chief, Richard Smith after he resigned in July 2004. The former was appointed in February 2005, and Kamran Abbasi served as the acting editor in the interim.
The BMJ is an emphatic advocate of evidence-based medicine, and publishes original research, clinical reviews, news, editorial perspectives, personal views and career focus articles to mention a few. Recently, its readership has witnessed a surge in the number of articles focussing on medical ethics and health in developing nations.
The Journal also releases a number of 'theme issues' every year, when it publishes research and review articles pertaining to the theme addressed. Some of the popular theme issues in recent years include 'Health in Africa', 'Management of Chronic Dieseases' and 'Global Vocies on the AIDS Catastrophe'. Apart from these, a special two-week 'Christmas Issue' is released every year, on the Friday preceding the year's Christmas.
BMJ has four paper editions (which have the same content but different advertising):
- General Practice edition for General Practitioners.
- Clinical Research for hospital doctors.
- International edition for overseas subscribers.
- Compact Edition for retired members of the BMA.
Some of the international editions are also available in local languages.
Functioning of the Journal
Submission of manuscripts to the BMJ is done via a completely online manuscript processing system called BenchPress (a service of Stanford University's HighWire Press). Several authors have welcomed this all-online system, as it removes several cumbersome procedures employed by several other general medical journals while submitting a manusript.
The BMJ has an open peer-review system, wherein the authors will be informed who reviewed their manuscripts. About 60 to 65% of all the submissions to the journals are rejected without a peer-review. The acceptance rate is less than 7% for original research articles. Articles chosen for peer-review are first 'refereed' to experts, who comment on their importance and suitability for publication before they are sent for external review.
Decisions for those manuscripts sent for external review are usually reached within eight weeks. If not, the decisions are usually reached within two weeks.
Impact and Readership
The journal began its journey in 1840 as the Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal, and quickly attracted the attention of physicians around the world through its publication of high-impact original research articles and unique case reports. For a long time, its sole competitor was the Lancet (also from the UK), but with increasing globalisation, the BMJ has faced tough competition from other medical journals, particulary the New England Journal of Medicine and JAMA.
The BMJ is considered to be one of the 'core' general medical journals; the others being the New England Journal of Medicine (N Engl J Med), the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and The Lancet. Few authorities also include the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) and Annals of Internal Medicine also in this category, although the latter is a monthly publication unlike the rest.
The impact factor of the journal was 7.209 in 2003. The journal has long criticised the misuse of impact factor, especially its increasing usage to recruit researchers by academic institutions.
The BMJ Website and Access Policies
The BMJ went fully online in 1995, and has archived all its issues dating back to 1994 on the internet. In addition to the print content, supportive material for original research articles, additional news stories, and electronic letters to the editors are its principal attractions. The BMJ website has a remarkable policy of publishing most e-letters to the journal, called 'Rapid Responses', and is shaped like a fully moderated internet forum. However, concerns remain, even among the web-editors of the journal, that this feature may be abused by correspondents who might not want to contribute anything substantial to the topic under discussion. A Firefox/Greasemonkey killfile filter obtainable from http://www.userscripts.org/scripts/show/1956 was developed for this reason, to avoid annoyance, by some British doctors.
In the past all content of the BMJ was freely available online; however, it recently (2005) changed to a subscription model. Original research articles shall continue to be available freely; however, from January 2006, all other contents, including clinical reviews and editorials, shall require a subscription to the website. All access restrictions will be lifted a year after the publication of an issue.
The BMJ, like N Engl J Med, allows complete free access for visitors from economically disadvantaged countries. Of the major general medical journals, only the Canadian Medical Association Journal is available under complete open access (i.e. no registration/login is required). The Journal of Clinical Investigation (J Clin Invest), though not a general medical journal, is a notable biomedical research journal whose entire archive (dating back to 1924) is available freely online.
The BMJ website was judged one of the web's five most useful health sites by the Guardian Online in 2004.
- Journal of the American Medical Association
- New England Journal of Medicine
- The Lancet
- Canadian Medical Association Journal
- Student BMJ
- List of medical journals
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