Open access publishing, article downloads, and citations: randomised controlled trial

E-publication bias - an emerging problem in biomedical research: A cross-sectional study of Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases

20 March 2010

Over the last decade electronic procedures have gained increasing importance in biomedical research, facilitating the process of submitting, reviewing, and subsequently publishing of research results. The concept of “Open Access” (OA) publishing means that scholarly communication is made available to everyone free of charge on the Internet(1). In the field of biomedical research OA publishing is often financed by authors or sponsors paying a fee to the publisher in order to have articles published with immediate free online access(2). A few journals operate entirely under this model, whereas others such as specialist journals published by the BMJ group use a hybrid model allowing authors to choose between subscription access and author-paid OA in all journal volumes.

In this cross-sectional report, we wanted to investigate the association between funding by industry of biomedical research and author- paid OA publishing of papers in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases (ARD) (3,4). Studies published during a one-year period, Vol.66 no.10 (Oct 2007) to Vol.67 no.9 (Sept 2008) referred to as “Extended Reports”, were considered eligible for inclusion. The primary exposure was defined as declaration of study funding from an industrial source with commercial interests in the area studied, while other author-industry affiliations was considered as secondary exposures. The unambiguous dichotomous access status defined as subscription access (“locked”) or OA (“unlocked”) was registered as the outcome measure.

The results are presented in table 1 and 2. Out of 216 papers, 71 (33%) declared to have received funding from an industrial sponsor considered to have commercial interests within the field. A significantly higher proportion of industry-funded studies were published “unlocked” (12/71 [17%] industry funding vs. 11/145 [8%] no industry funding, OR=2.48 (1.03 to 5.94); Chi2= 4.35, p=0.037). Furthermore, studies with at least one author declaring other affiliations with industry showed a significantly higher frequency of ”unlocked” papers (Chi2= 10.04, p=0.002). In 41 (19%) studies at least one author was employed by industry with commercial interests in the field, but only 22 (54%) of these studies had authors who met the requirement of declaring this potential competing interest. As expected, a larger proportion of studies funded by industry were RCTs (12/71 [17%]), compared to papers that received no funding from industry (5/145 [3%]); two-sided Fisher’s exact test (p=0.002). However, there was no significant interaction between study design and funding status in relation to OA.

Our results indicate that author-paid OA publishing in the biomedical field preferentially increases accessibility to studies funded by industry. This may potentially favour dissemination of pro-industry results to researchers as well as to non-researching physicians(5-7). We suggest the term “e-publication bias” for this emerging type of publication bias in OA hybrid journals. Our results may very well have relevance beyond the BMJ journal ARD and the medical field of Rheumatology. Furthermore, we found that adequate disclosure of employment by an industrial company was missing in as many as 46% of the cases, which supports the continuous need for propagating correct declaration of actual or potential conflicting interests and funding by industry(3,8,9).

Funding: No external funding was received for this study. The salaries of all researchers during the study period were paid by the main employers (AKJ, RP and LEK: Region Skåne; RC, EMB: The Parker Institute, which is funded by the Oak Foundation. Employers had no influence on the study conduct, interpretation and reporting of results or the decision to submit this article for publication.


1. Craig ID, Plume AM, McVeigh ME, Pringle J, Amin M. Do open access articles have greater citation impact? A critical review of the literature. J Informetrics 2007;1:239-248.

2. Giglia E. Open access in the biomedical field: a unique opportunity for researchers (and research itself). Eura Medicophys 2007;43:203-13.

3. Bekelman JE, Li Y, Gross GP. Scope and impact of financial conflicts of interest in biomedical research: a systematic review. JAMA 2003;289:454-65.

4. Patsopoulos NA, Ioannidis JPA, Analatos AA. Origin and funding of the most frequently cited papers in medicine: database analysis. BMJ 2006;332:1061-4.

5. Korn D. Conflicts of interest in biomedical research. JAMA 2000;284:2234-7.

6. Angell M. Industry-sponsored clinical research: A broken system. JAMA 2008;300:1069-71.

7. Choudhry NK, Stelfox HT, Detsky AS. Relationships between authors of clinical practice guidelines and the pharmaceutical industry. JAMA 2002;287:612-7.

8. Gross CP, Gupta AR, Krumholz HM. Disclosure of financial competing interests in randomised controlled trials: cross sectional review. BMJ 2003;326:526-7.

9. Hussain A, Smith R. Declaring financial competing interests: survey of five general medical journals. BMJ 2001;323:263-4.

Competing interests: RC: is editor in the Cochrane Collaboration (Cochrane Musculoskeletal Review group [CMSG]).

Competing interests: None declared

Ane Krag Jakobsen, MD

Robin Christensen, Robert Persson, Else M Bartels, and Lars Erik Kristensen

Dep urology, 4000 Roskilde, DK

Click to like: