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Some of you are upset. Some of you are even angry. No, this is not about junior doctors' training, NHS restructuring, US health care, the inhumanities in Darfur and Zimbabwe—all of which justify such emotions and more. This is about the new-look BMJ. Not everyone is upset. Readers' feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, comparing the magazine content with the best periodicals, telling us there is no longer enough time in the day to read the journal, saying you have cancelled your subscriptions to other journals—all of which is music to our ears.
No, it's researchers who are cross. You tell us that the BMJ has gone soft on research, that there are too few research papers each week, and that these have been relegated to the back of the print journal. What is the BMJ playing at? Don't we know that the life blood of a journal is its research?
Let me explain. Far from going soft on research, we've hardened up. Over the past 18 months, our acceptance rate has fallen from around 4% to 2% for research papers. Have we done this to boost our impact factor? No. Indeed, given the vagaries of the impact factor, what we've done may have the opposite effect. We've done it because we want research that has direct application in clinical practice, public health, or policy making, and there are fewer of these papers around than we would like (wherein lies a whole debate about the future of medical research).
But the message is now getting out, and more research of the sort that we want is coming in. After a few months of publishing two or three studies a week, the BMJ's acceptance rates are returning to normal, and we expect to stabilise at a regular supply of four studies a week by the end of this year.
But exactly what sort of research does the BMJ want? It used to be clear what a BMJ paper was, you say—but now you can't tell. I'm not sure it ever was that clear, but what we are publishing now shows what we want to publish. Take a look at the research channel on bmj.com (at the far left on the horizontal navigation bar). At the time of writing (it changes every day) it's a great mix of decision-changing research in primary and secondary care, in the developed and developing world, from the UK and beyond, covering aetiology, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. All research is published online as soon as it's been edited (about four weeks after acceptance), and it's published in print about four weeks after that.
We want our growing number of print and online readers to find research that has the potential to change what they do and how they think. Like the best airlines and supermarkets, we know that authors have a choice. So we offer speed (including fast track) and visibility (through open access and a wide international clinical and academic readership). And here's a special message for those of you facing the UK's research assessment exercise: submit your best papers now and we can publish those we accept in time for October.