x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Observing Life: The doctor is not in

While published in medical journals, don't mistake this writer for a doctor.

I have a confession. I am leading a double life - or, rather, my name is.

A few years ago I wrote a number of papers for the British Medical Journal. Well, they were articles, but articles published in journals, complete with their own citation numbers, transformed into papers and enshrined forever in cross-referenced international academic databases.

On PubMed, the US government's online depository of more than 21 million biomedical citations, my work may be found alongside the likes of Einstein A (Time, Space and Gravitation, Science, 1920 Jan 2;51(1305):8-10) and Watson JD and Crick FH (The Structure of DNA, Cold Spring Harb Symp Quant Biol. 1953;18:123-31).

Impressed? It seems you are not the only one.

I have written 20 articles for the BMJ, on subjects including the controversy over claims for stem-cell cures, the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on the outcomes of drug trials, a row in Sweden over the psychiatric treatment of hyperactivity in children, the medical realities of abortion law in the UK and the prosecution of doctors who raise child-protection concerns.

And, over the past year or so, an odd thing has started to happen.

Rarely a week passes without an invitation to some medical conference popping into my inbox. Invariably, I am addressed as "Dear Dr Gornall" and, I have to confess, I have toyed with adopting a Catch Me If You Can-style lifestyle.

In July, for instance, I could have travelled to San Francisco for the International Conference on Clinical Research: Dermatology, Ophthalmology and Cardiology. It was, wrote the organisers, "our honour to welcome you to give a speech on your expertise... clinical research and bioethics".

I remain tempted by the gracious invitation from the organising committee of the International Transcultural Psychiatry Conference, to be held at the Ranchi Institute of Neuro-Psychiatry in India later this month. "We would like to welcome you to the conference as our valuable speaker," they wrote, "and present your recent work and ideas of hyperactivity in children."

Or I could stay in Dubai and take up the offer to showcase my research at the "3rd International Conference on Drug Discovery and Therapy" in February, and bluff my way through the "introductory social mixer" in the company of the several Nobel laureates who are billed to attend.

"Please join us in sunny Dubai for both work and enjoyment," wrote the organising secretariat (offering a shopping excursion as a lure). Well, as I live just down the road, it seems churlish not to.

I shan't, of course. That would be wrong. But should you ever encounter me sporting white coat and stethoscope, trust me: I'm not a doctor.