Censorship typically is not desired in the peer-reviewed literature, and JAMA Ophthalmology is no exception. However, there are some words you typically won’t see in the journal because they are removed during the reviewing or editing process. I’m not talking about “4-letter words” that one might avoid around a 3-year-old grandchild as she begins to parrot much of what she hears at the dinner table. Instead, let’s start with why JAMA Ophthalmology prefers to describe individuals with diabetes mellitus as “people with diabetes” instead of using the word “diabetics?”
The rationale for preferring the term “people with diabetes” is summarized well by the 2016 Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes, where the Summary Revisions section states, “In alignment with the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA’s) position that diabetes does not define people, the word ‘diabetic’ will no longer be used when referring to individuals with diabetes in the ‘Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes.’ The ADA will continue to use the term ‘diabetic’ as an adjective for complications related to diabetes (e.g., diabetic retinopathy).”
Thus, JAMA Ophthalmology has no concern with an individual who chooses to describe herself or himself as a diabetic. However, when authors are describing these individuals, the journal prefers that the condition, diabetes mellitus, not be considered synonymous with the person who has that condition. In that way, the health care professionals also avoid lumping all of the patients whom they see with diabetes as one entity, ie, diabetics. Furthermore, ophthalmologists might be more likely to perceive these patients as individuals with a specific condition (patients with diabetes) in which that condition (diabetes) manifests itself in a myriad of ways.
There are a few other words that might pop up into a submission in any given month that the journal tries not to let slip through. One of these is the realization that “funduscopic” (sometimes even spelled “fundoscopic”) is not a word. Usually, the authors meant to use the word “ophthalmoscopic.” Why is “funduscopic” not considered a word? Quite simply, it implies that there is an instrument called the “funduscope,” when, in reality, the instrument is an ophthalmoscope, and the examination is considered an ophthalmoscopic examination.
Another style embraced by the journal is to avoid nontechnical uses of technical terms in statistics, such as the use of the word “significant” in the phrase, “age-related macular degeneration is a significant problem for many people over 75 years old.” The journal prefers to reserve the use of the term “significant” as a statistical term, such as “statistically significant” when defining a priori that a P value to reflect the probability of a Type 1 error (the probability that a difference does not exist when a difference is identified between groups) for a primary outcome in a randomized clinical trial is less than .05. While the term “significant” might be used in everyday speech, the word carries such importance as a statistical term within the medical literature, that the journal prefers to reserve its use only as a technical, statistical term and avoid any ambiguity. Thus, the phrase on macular degeneration might be edited to state, “age-related macular degeneration is a common and often debilitating problem for people over 75 years old.”
Some other technical terms for which the journal prefers to avoid in the setting of a nontechnical phrase include the words random, normal, and correlation. Styles for the peer-reviewed literature evolve over time, but for now, don’t expect JAMA Ophthalmology to publish anything like, “The funduscopic examination of diabetics sometimes shows significant damage”—because it’s just not right.