An interview with Adrian Aldcroft

Adrian Aldcroft

Please tell us a little bit about yourself, your academic and professional background and what motivated you to become Editor-in-Chief?

Prior to becoming an editor, I was a researcher at The Brain and Mind Institute at Western University in Ontario, Canada, where we studied visual perception in the brain using fMRI. I learned a huge amount about conducting and analysing human subject research, which I really enjoyed, but I was probably more interested in writing and publishing the research. So, after moving to London, UK–and a few failed attempts at starting a career in teaching and freelance writing–I secured a job as an Assistant Editor at BMC, which suited my skills, experience, and interests. I progressed quickly at BMC before moving over to PLOS for a few years. In 2015 I started working on BMJ Open as the Editor. I was promoted to Editor in Chief when our founding EiC, Trish Groves, retired a few years ago.

I have many different interests, which has made for a complicated career path, but I feel like I’ve found my place as EiC on BMJ Open. I work with amazing editors, and BMJ’s focus on transparency and creating a healthier world is very much in line with my own beliefs on best practice in medical publishing.

Can you describe a day in the life of an Editor-in-Chief?

I’m involved in a lot of different projects and love the variability of my role, which is probably quite different from other EiC roles. Due to the volume of BMJ Open, I can’t be involved in the peer review of every single manuscript, but I do have an overview of everything that comes into the journal and enjoy advising my team when necessary. For me, being an editor is all about being decisive, while at the same time making compromises, and I try to instill these principles in my team.

In addition to having oversight of the content, I’m closely involved with the operational side of the journal as I’m probably best placed to understand our processes and our workflows. I am always working to make things better and more efficient. Finally, I’m very much involved in company strategy for BMJ. I see BMJ Open as being at the forefront of transparent publishing, and I like to think I can provide advice on the benefits and challenges involved in moving journals in that direction.

Finally, I have been focussed on conducting author workshops to help authors write strong, well-reported study protocols and research papers. In the last year we have been particularly focussed on helping authors in China.

Has there been a particular article that has stood out more to you and why?

I’ve been proud of many articles that we’ve published. While it’s always exciting to see our articles in the news, I find it more satisfying when we publish articles that directly impact practice or policy. For example, we have published a few papers (such as one by Visram et al and another by Hasem et al) that have influenced laws in the UK related to the sales of energy drinks to children. Nutrition and Public Health have always been a key area of publishing for BMJ Open.

An article that was very important to me as an editor was Wendy Rogers’ scoping review investigating the ethical standards relating to research publications from China involving organ transplantations. It was the opinion of the authors that more than 400 papers should be retracted from the scientific literature due to a lack of transparency in reporting. After publishing the article, I discussed the issue with BMJ’s ethics committee, and while BMJ Open was already quite stringent with our reporting of these studies, we added additional requirements for transparency in these research studies to ensure that we adhere to the highest ethical standards of what we publish. But what also inspired me was meeting other editors and publishers who were similarly looking into how to improve transparency relating to the issue, some of whom adopted similar policies to BMJ Open. It was fantastic to see this article have a real-world positive impact on such a pressing issue.

What are your plans for the journal and what would you like to achieve over the next few years?

Primarily, we need to stay the course that we started on 10 years ago, but do so in a bigger, better way that incorporates everything we’ve learned. But our values haven’t changed. We still want to publish all quality research, including negative results, in an effort to complete the scientific record, and we want to continue to encourage openness and transparency both in what we publish and how we publish it.

Currently we are looking at every stage in the publication process to find ways to improve our service to authors. This is a big initiative involving a diverse team from across BMJ. But we want to make publishing faster, more efficient, and more transparent.

A lot of this comes down to resources, and we are in the process of increasing our editorial capacity, which will no doubt have a positive impact on author experience. When I started at BMJ in 2015, we had an editorial team of 4. We are aiming to build up to a team of 13 over the next few months.

What advice can you give to people who are thinking of submitting their work to the journal?

I think the best advice I can give is “be honest”. More and more I think that people are realising the most shocking or groundbreaking results we see in science are often the most dubious. You’re more likely to be accepted in BMJ Open if you report your findings accurately and are up front about the limitations than if you attempt to impress the editors by “selling” your results.

I also advise to write in the most plain and simple manner possible, avoiding jargon and unnecessarily complex sentences. By being open access, our articles are available to anyone, which includes patients, the public, and caregivers–not just other researchers. We want what we publish to be readable to anyone if they have the motive to understand the article. While it’s not always the case, I do sometimes think that researchers hide behind jargon and complexity.

Authors also have the option of using the Penelope tool when submitting to BMJ Open, which provides automated feedback related to the structure and reporting of your manuscript to make the submission process easier. It also provides you with a template of an EQUATOR reporting checklist for your study type. Authors have been very positive in their feedback about the tool.

Above all, read what we’ve published, along with reading The BMJ, which shares our core publishing principles.