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Content area experts as authors: helpful or harmful for systematic reviews and meta-analyses?

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 01 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7031
  1. Peter C Gøtzsche, professor1,
  2. John P A Ioannidis, professor 2
  1. 1Nordic Cochrane Centre, Rigshospitalet, Blegdamsvej 9, DK-2100 Copenhagen, Denmark
  2. 2Stanford Prevention Research Center, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to: P C Gøtzsche pcg{at}
  • Accepted 17 September 2012

Peter Gøtzsche and John Ioannidis argue that it is not always sensible to include subject experts as authors of systematic reviews and meta-analyses

Systematic reviews commonly include experts in the topic area as authors, as advised by the Cochrane Collaboration and the US Institute of Medicine (box 1).1 2 The Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research in the United States and Canada3 expects content experts to become authors of its evidence based practice reports and guidelines (Stephanie Chang, personal communication), as does the UK National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.4 In many countries, content area experts and their professional societies have a primary role in initiating health technology assessments, setting the agenda, specifying the questions and their boundaries, deciding what data should be included, and how the results should be interpreted and applied. Such experts are therefore probably the most influential contributors to these reports, even if none of them are authors.

Box 1: Recommendations of major groups regarding involvement of content area experts as authors of systematic reviews

Cochrane Collaboration

“Review teams must include expertise in the topic area being reviewed and include, or have access to, expertise in systematic review methodology (including statistical expertise).”1

Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, US

“Include expertise in the pertinent clinical content areas.”2

Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research Evidence-Practice Centers, US and Canada

“All EPCs collaborate with other medical and research organizations so that a broad range of experts is included in the development process.”3

National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, UK

“Between six and eight members of the GDG [Guideline Development Group] should be healthcare professionals (‘healthcare professional members’) who either treat people with the condition directly or manage services.”4

However, as evidence based medicine has gained momentum it has become clear that expert advice is often unreliable,5 raising questions about the validity of including content area experts as authors. We also wonder whether the pervasive incorporation of content area experts in systematic reviews and health technology assessments signifies the taming of evidence based medicine …

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