An Interview with Mun-Keat Looi: International Features Editor for The BMJ

 Mun-Keat Looi is International Features Editor at The BMJ. He lectures on journalism at Imperial College London and is an author on two books, ‘Big Questions in Science: The quest to solve the great unknowns‘ (2013) and the Geek Guide to Life (2016). He has written and produced news, features, podcasts, and videos. Here he’s in conversation with Viney Kirpal, a health and personal essay writer.

Viney: With stringent editorial guidelines and 70+medical/science journals, what do you like writers to publish in your publication? Is it easy to implement the guidelines and keep up pace with the demands of the frequency of publication?

Mun-Keat: Broadly, we’re one of the oldest medical journals in the world and our audience is, naturally, mainly doctors (globally, even if our print publication goes mainly to UK) as well as healthcare professionals and academics. We have a front half of news and views–which is whether journalism I commission and edit goes–as well as the back half which is the more traditional journal papers, education and training articles.

We cover stories about the jobbing life of doctors and healthcare systems, but also general health, global and public health stories–the pandemic has obviously widened things a lot. What we report on the journalism side can be quite broad, but we try to offer value to our readers and not just repeat what is already being covered well in the mainstream national or international media. That’s not easy–especially since the pandemic when everyone seems to be covering health and medicine much more than before–but I think with our authoritative brand, history and the fact that we are traditionally a weekly, that means we can be a bit more big picture–particularly in the features part where I work–than other places. And with the lens of doctor audiences we can try to be a bit more specific with what we cover.

Viney: Is there room for diverse freelance writers to contribute to BMJ? What topics do you prefer come from them?

Mun-Keat: Definitely. We focus a lot on diversity both on staff and within our freelance pool. It helps us both to get a wider variety of more interesting stories for our readers, but also to combat biases and to really get a sense of what is affecting and interesting our readership, which itself is global and very diverse of course.

I’m after what we can’t get generally–new stories on topics that aren’t covered but have a wider impact on society (the pandemic has shown how something happening in one place can have a major impact on the globe). Or at least a different take on general universal topics, like mental health, workforce shortages, cost of living, climate change.
Viney: With your recent decision not to publish research with missing clinical trial data, would you not, inadvertently, encourage such research to go scot-free?

Mun-Keat: It’s not that we’re letting them go ‘scot free’. It’s that other places tend to cover these things, which tends to inflate them and give exposure when it hasn’t really earned it by publishing the data. If something legitimately turns out to be a true breakthrough then it will be covered by us eventually–when we can look at the data/published evidence. What we won’t be is part of the PR cycle.

Viney: You’re so right! I suppose there’s room for writers to expose research with dubious clinical data in your OPED section. But tell me, how can freelancers who write for wellness publications, yours or another, protect themselves from dubious clinical trial research?

Mun-Keat: Firstly, I don’t think we’re a wellness publication, we’re a medical journal. But I think protecting yourself as a journalist or writer from being taken in by dubious practices is just a matter of practicing good journalism. Always be sceptical from the start–look at the data directly yourself and talk to many different people in the field who can tell you what they think. A journalist reports what experts think, and you’ll usually turn up if something is not quite right, despite what companies and PR might say about it. As I said above, anything truly good and worthwhile is accompanied by the right evidence through the right channels and will stand up to scrutiny from peers. Our job as journalists is to report that, and not things that don’t.

Viney:. What message would you give writers aiming to become an editor at a medical publication?

Mun-Keat: Read and write as much as you can. All writers and journalists at all levels can and should be doing this. You only learn more by reading and analysing stuff around you–what you like, admire and would like to emulate, but also what you don’t and why. Also be clear about what a publication covers and doesn’t cover, and think about who the audience is. I’m always surprised how many forget their readers!

Viney: Thank you, Mun-Keat for a wonderful interview! Understanding your stance has been a great and enjoyable learning experience. Writers can visit to know more about this authoritative medical journal. Pitches can be mailed to



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