Pharmageddon in 350 words? Is that all?


In our Call for Abstracts for the inaugural conference on ‘Pharmageddon? we asked for submissions of no more than 350 words – but, especially since announcing the grant from the Allen Lane Foundation, we have had second thoughts.

A few otherwise good submissions have exceeded that length. Moreover, we don’t want this restriction to penalise submissions written in/translated from languages other than English. Thus, a 350 word count in English might translate as more in French, or many more in Japanese – though the 17 syllables in Haiku can go a long way ...

More recently, we have been asked if we can accept a submission in the form of a short film. As the point of this competition is to inform and support a conference, all our instincts were to say yes, a short film would be fine. However, even if the storyboard/commentary kept to the word limit, there would be two obvious complications – both to do with keeping a level playing field.

We wouldn't want to give a film-maker any competitive advantage over a wordsmith. Moreover, we want to keep the judging 'blind' - and a film among written entries stands apart. So where do we go from here?

We are still searching for the best solution, but part of it has to be some relaxation of the rules. There was and still is a good reason for asking for submissions of <350 words. But we accept the need to be flexible and intend to interpret the rules in a generous spirit, rather than to the letter.

The main reason for originally proposing that strict word length was simply to promote quality and not to over-burden readers. There's too much verbiage as it is and most people can't/won't/don't want to read much more than one page.

However, we are looking for submissions that capture the imagination. Clarity, brevity and cogency matter hugely, but think of the 350 word limit as a target, not a tripwire.

In short, we’re looking for the Big Picture. If it can be captured in a film, still, cartoon or other medium, we’ll welcome it.


Charles Medawar
26 October 2007

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