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Communicating to Readers
June 5, 2002

Comparison of Review Articles Published in Peer-Reviewed and Throwaway Journals

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Kunin-Lunenfeld Applied Research Unit (Drs Rochon and Streiner, Mr Bay, and Mss Gold and Dergal) and Rotman Research Institute (Mr Binns), Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, Department of Medicine, University of Toronto and Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (Dr Rochon), Toronto, Ontario; Department of Clinical Pharmacy, School of Pharmacy, and Institute for Health Policy Studies, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco (Dr Bero); Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario (Dr Streiner); and Meyers Primary Care Institute, Fallon Healthcare System, and University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester (Dr Gurwitz).

JAMA. 2002;287(21):2853-2856. doi:10.1001/jama.287.21.2853

Context To compare the quality, presentation, readability, and clinical relevance of review articles published in peer-reviewed and "throwaway" journals.

Methods We reviewed articles that focused on the diagnosis or treatment of a medical condition published between January 1 and December 31, 1998, in the 5 leading peer-reviewed general medical journals and high-circulation throwaway journals. Reviewers independently assessed the methodologic and reporting quality, and evaluated each article's presentation and readability. Clinical relevance was evaluated independently by 6 physicians.

Results Of the 394 articles in our sample, 16 (4.1%) were peer-reviewed systematic reviews, 135 (34.3%) were peer-reviewed nonsystematic reviews, and 243 (61.7%) were nonsystematic reviews published in throwaway journals. The mean (SD) quality scores were highest for peer-reviewed articles (0.94 [0.09] for systematic reviews and 0.30 [0.19] for nonsystematic reviews) compared with throwaway journal articles (0.23 [0.03], F2,391 = 280.8, P<.001). Throwaway journal articles used more tables (P = .02), figures (P = .01), photographs (P<.001), color (P<.001), and larger font sizes (P<.001) compared with peer-reviewed articles. Readability scores were more often in the college or higher range for peer-reviewed journals compared with the throwaway journal articles (104 [77.0%] vs 156 [64.2%]; P = .01). Peer-reviewed article titles were judged less relevant to clinical practice than throwaway journal article titles (P<.001).

Conclusions Although lower in methodologic and reporting quality, review articles published in throwaway journals have characteristics that appeal to physician readers.