Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

At the frontier of biomedical publication: Chicago 2005

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 06 October 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:838
  1. Kristina Fister, Roger Robinson editorial registrar1 (
  1. BMJ, London WC1H 9JR

    Last month the fifth congress on peer review and biomedical publication was held in Chicago. The presentations highlighted that we still have plenty of room to improve the quality of published research


    Evidence started to matter in biomedical publishing soon after it came to matter in medicine—relatively recently. The first international congress on peer review and biomedical publication was held in Chicago in 1989. At the time of the third congress, in 1997, only 146 original scientific articles had been published on peer review, of which 22 were prospective studies and 11 randomised controlled trials.1 Since then, the body of evidence has been growing, with about 200 abstracts indexed in Medline a year.2 We now have plenty of evidence to support the contention that peer review is “expensive, slow, subjective and biased, open to abuse, patchy at detecting important methodological defects, and almost useless at detecting fraud or misconduct.”3 The evidence on how to improve the process is scarce. What did the fifth congress add?

    Industry funding

    Some of the presented research looked into what happens when the pharmaceutical industry sponsors meta-analyses—the top of the hierarchy of evidence. Yank and colleagues analysed the agreement between results and conclusions in 71 meta-analyses of antihypertensive drugs published between 1966 and 2002.4 In about a third, authors disclosed financial ties with the pharmaceutical industry. Meta-analyses sponsored by industry were five times more likely than those funded by other sources to report conclusions favouring the study drug when such conclusions were not supported by the results. Meta-analyses funded by academic institutions showed no disagreement between the results and conclusions. Richard Smith, former editor of the BMJ, said: “It's a marvellous study and very disturbing.” This indicates an embarrassing editorial failure, commented Yank. But she refused to be drawn on the identity of …

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