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This Week in JAMA
June 5, 2002

This Week in JAMA

JAMA. 2002;287(21):2749. doi:10.1001/jama.287.21.2749
Peer review congress iv

Edited by Drummond Rennie, MD, and Annette Flanagin, RN, MA

Drummond Rennie heralded the First International Congress on Peer Review in Biomedical Publication in 1986. In an editorial in this issue of THE JOURNAL, which consists exclusively of studies and presentations from the Fourth International Congress on Peer Review, Rennie describes the growth of research on peer review and quality of the biomedical literature that has occurred since the first congress. Evidence to support the peer review process, however, continues to be weak, and Rennie suggests " . . . we are using the wrong tools to study the wrong factors." (Credit: Copyright 2001 Malcolm Willett)

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Authorship and Contributorship

Articles on authorship and contributorship report on honorary and ghost authorship in Cochrane reviewsArticle, problems indexing and citing articles with group authorship using current bibliographic databasesArticle, and diversity of opinion among contributors to a research articleArticle, which is commonly excluded from published reports.

Editorial Peer Review

Articles on peer review report that objectives of peer review are poorly defined, an intervention to improve the quality of peer reviews had no apparent benefit, and author satisfaction with peer review seemed to be tied more to the publication decision than to review quality. Other studies compared methods of recruiting peer reviewers and contacting tardy reviewers.

Quality of the Medical Literature

Research on quality issues includes how well discussion sections place results of a new controlled trial in the context of other relevant researchArticle, the relationship between reporting and methodologic qualityArticle, and identification of predictors of journal qualityArticle. Other issues investigated include quality of systematic reviews of economic evaluationsArticle, use of number needed to treat and absolute risk reduction to express findings in reports of controlled trialsArticle, accuracy of data presentationArticle, use of statistical expertise in medical researchArticle, and effects of technical editingArticle.


Research on biasArticle evaluated whether studies with positive results were more likely to be published than those with negative results and whether time to publicationArticle was associated with statistical significance of findings or other study characteristics. Another studyArticle evaluated the risk of introducing bias into a review by changing the research protocol.

Ethical and Legal Issues

Reporting on informed consent and ethics committee approval improved in trials published after 1997 compared with trials published before 1997Article. A second article Article discusses legal principles and techniques available to journals to protect the confidentiality of peer review and editorial processes in response to requests or subpeonas for confidential documents.

Postpublication Issues

In letters published in response to 3 clinical trials, authors failed to answer more than half of all criticisms, and important weaknesses in the trials were ignored in subsequently published practice guidelinesArticle. Another studyArticle found that the strongest predictor of subsequent citation of published research was the impact factor of the original publishing journal.

Communicating to Readers

Several articlesArticleArticleArticleArticle examine characteristics of publications that may influence comprehension or reader preference and also aspects of news media coverage of medical research.

e-Journals and Online Information

Articles on electronic publication report that journals that are completely electronic were found to lack the qualitative and quantitative complexity of traditional print journalsArticle; that use of the Internet varied widely among patients and groups of clinicians, and awareness of some of the most rigorously developed sources of information on the Internet was limitedArticle; and that despite concerns about the potential harm associated with use of poor health information on the Internet, few cases of harm are reported in the literatureArticle.

Open Peer Review

Godlee argues for replacing the current system of anonymous prepublication peer review with open peer review.

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Journals and Research Quality

Altman describes common methodologic errors and other weaknesses in medical articles and suggests how journal editors can help improve research quality.

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JAMA Patient Page

For your patients: Information about medical journals.

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