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It seems like only yesterday, but the brief run of less than entirely complimentary Christmas articles about orthopaedic surgeons was over by 1990. Yet some orthopaedic surgeons, like elephants, never forget. One recently set a medical student the task of testing his hypothesis that orthopaedic surgeons had been singled out for especially negative treatment in Christmas issues of the BMJ.
Journal etiquette demands that I can’t tell you what Tracy Sorkin found because we rejected her article. But in her efforts to settle one of the last remaining orthopaedic questions, she generated a wealth of useful information that she has happily shared with us. Her research entailed reviewing the last 20 Christmas BMJs and classifying their articles as either “serious” or “lighthearted” on the basis of their titles. Then she further subdivided the lighthearted articles into 15 categories (figure(figure).
By the time I read her article, I was becoming increasingly bored with the roll call of Christmas chestnuts: chocolate, alcohol, hobbies, odd psychiatric states, sex (this year, in the form of a strikingly nude David Beckham, which, like Sorkin’s article, hasn’t made the grade). But Sorkin’s pie chart helped me to an epiphany—these topics were the stuff of life; banish them and you banish all the world.
One could quibble over the breakdown in the chart. With proverbs/sayings and literature together topping the list, and money/wealth almost failing to register, it’s probably more indicative of the editorial team’s enthusiasms over the past two decades than our readers’ interests. But, aware that the highest priority of the BMJ Group “is to identify and meet the needs of our community,” I can see we’ll need to align the content of future Christmas issues more closely with what readers want.
We can tell that we’ve located the sweet spot when all stakeholders are delighted. The Christmas article on magnetic resonance imaging during coitus (BMJ 1999;319:1596-600; www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/319/7225/1596) is a good example. Not only does it hold the record for the most downloaded BMJ article of all time (http://resources.bmj.com/bmj/about-bmj/visitor-statistics) but it also won the Ig Nobel prize for medicine in 2000: “Arguably the highlight of the scientific calendar” (Nature), these awards are given for achievements that first make people laugh, then make them think.
The lead research paper from last year’s Christmas issue, “Sword swallowing and its side effects” (BMJ 2007;333:1285-7; doi: 10.1136/bmj.39027.676690.55) was our second Ig Nobel prizewinner. There’s lots in this year’s Christmas issue you’ll find equally original and beguiling. Happy reading.