An open letter of 17 December 2021 by the editors of The British Medical Journal, or ‘The BMJ’ as they call this august organ, has just come to my attention. It’s addressed to the man who runs the social medium formerly called BookFace but which is now styled merely as ‘Meta’. The new title, a Greek prefix meaning over, beyond, or above, makes me wonder, whenever I hear it, meta-what?

The letter begins:

     Dear Mark Sugarmountain,

    We are Fiona Goodlee and Kamran Abbasi, editors of The BMJ, one of the world’s oldest and most influential general medical journals…

So what’s wrong with that? First, they should open with the addressee’s title: Dear Mr. Sugarmountain. Then, they should be more modest and leave out the self praise, ‘one of the oldest and most influential general medical journals’. And they don’t need to say who they are at the beginning of the letter because this information is stated, as it should be, at the end.

Mr. Sugarmountain comes in for a thorough telling off, as maybe he deserves:

    We are aware that The BMJ is not the only high quality information provider [more self praise] to have been affected by the incompetence of Meta’s fact checking regime [sic].

Pity the editors of one of the world’s oldest and most influential general medical journals don’t know the difference between ‘regime’ and ‘regimen’.

Now let’s skip to the end of this missive. The last paragraph reads:

    We hope you will act swiftly: specifically to correct the error relating to The BMJ’s article and to review the processes that led to the error; and generally to reconsider your investment in and approach to fact checking overall.

Apart from other infelicities, the colon and semi-colon should be replaced by commas. But they could simply say: We request that you correct the error relating to the The BMJ article.

It’s patronising for them to write to Mr. Sugarmountain as if he’s a naughty schoolboy, although he may be. Not only do they want him to correct the alleged error, which is fair enough, but they trot out a list of what they want him to do in addition. He should review the processes (note the plural) that led to the error, and reconsider his investment in and approach to fact checking overall. (The last word is redundant.).

And they end, not with ‘Yours sincerely’, but with insincere and meaningless ‘Best wishes’.

And finally, their competing interests: ‘As current and incoming editors in chief, we are responsible for everything The BMJ contains.’ This is stated twice, once under their names and again after the list of references. Apart from the lack of hyphenation, even saying it once is a statement of the obvious. But since both of them are not current and incoming editors-in-chief, they need to say, ‘As current and incoming editors-in-chief, respectively, we are responsible…’

What The BMJ needs, in my unhumble opinion, is for the editor-in-chief, whether current or incoming, to wield his or her proverbial blue pencil to try to achieve, if not stylistically pleasing prose, at least correct grammar and punctuation, and the conventional layout of their letter.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Picture credit: Brett Jordan on Unsplash