Personally, flicking through a journal such as The Lancet or the British Medical Journal, the most interesting section is the ‘comments’ or ‘letter’ section. The articles there are generally shorter than in other sections, and therefore it is easier to get a picture of new developments or current concerns. Most importantly, they usually involve some evaluation of previously published articles or developments. Not only are the ‘comments/letters’ articles interesting, but they are very important for future research.
Recently (November 2008) a comment was published by Boys et al. in The Lancet which commented on a TV programme and an editorial on prenatal screening for Down’s syndrome.1 The editorial and the TV program concluded that after prenatal serum or ultrasound screening for Down’s syndrome, two healthy babies are miscarried for every three Down’s syndrome births that are prevented.2-3 The Boys et al. comment evaluated both the methods used to get this and other statistics, and the appropriateness of the early online publication (according to Boys et al. it was published early to coincide with the television broadcast). In their opinion, the editorial would have benefited from an independent review process and submission to a peer-reviewed academic journal.
Aside from how interesting the commentary is (both the subject matter and the passion with which it is written make it a very stimulating read), it serves as a great example of how important these articles in the ‘comments/letters’ sections are. The article (similar to many others) evaluated the statistical methods and conduct of previous publications, and called research into question. Perhaps the more this happens, the more researchers will strive to improve the quality of their investigations.
1. Boys, C., Cunningham, C., McKenna, D., Robertson, P., Weeks, D.J., Wishart, J. (2008) Prenatal screening for Down’s syndrome: editorial responsibilities. Lancet 372 (9652) 1789-91
2. Channel 4 News. Exclusive: research suggests Down’s screening risk is ‘unacceptable’. Sept 16, 2008. Accessed on 12 Dec 2008 from Channel 4 website.
3. Buckley, F. & Buckley, S. Wrongful deaths and rightful lives – screening for Down syndrome. Down Syndrome Res Pract 2008; published online Sept 16. DOI: 10.3104/editorials.2087 (accessed Dec 12, 2008)