Medical journals with advertising are more likely than subscription journals to recommend drugs

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 01 March 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1335

Medical advertising: The truth still lies in our hearts

The report covered by Roehr [1] is truly astounding to all readers of
medical journals. When it comes to the question of publication preference,
I think free journals are bound to be confined within certain economical
restrictions. However, I have several points that need to be discussed:

First, can this kind of differential reporting also be classified as
"Publication bias"? As the publication bias denotes preferential
publication of study results in a certain direction (either clinically
significant or insignificant), a recently updated technological report [2]
points out that this phenomenon has not changed obviously for decades,
ever since the first inception of this term in 1960s. There have been several
ways created to discover publication bias (such as Funnel plotting,
inclusion of unpublished studies, etc.). In this case, I am wondering
whether we can detect the difference between the style of free and
subscription-only journals in a similar way?

Second, I think no matter how frequently positive findings appear in
a free medical journal pertaining to new drugs, we should all
apply our strenuous effort to scrutinize the methodology, analytic
technique, and statistical results. The editorial board can be in some way
or not biased against or in support of the result, but readers are not.

The option of free or subscription-only journal should not interfere in
our thinking about the strength of a study. Rather, the emphasis should be
placed upon the evidence level and the robustness that supports it.


1. Roehr B. Medical journals with advertising are more likely than
subscription journals to recommend drugs. BMJ 2011;342:d1335

2. Song F, Parekh S, Hooper L, et al. Dissemination and publication
of research findings: an updated review of related biases. Health Technol
Assess 2010;14:1-193

Competing interests: No competing interests

02 March 2011
Chia-Ter Chao
Division of Nephrology, Department of Internal Medicine, National Taiwan University Hospital