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      Scientific Value of Systematic Reviews: Survey of Editors of Core Clinical Journals

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          Synthesizing research evidence using systematic and rigorous methods has become a key feature of evidence-based medicine and knowledge translation. Systematic reviews (SRs) may or may not include a meta-analysis depending on the suitability of available data. They are often being criticised as ‘secondary research’ and denied the status of original research. Scientific journals play an important role in the publication process. How they appraise a given type of research influences the status of that research in the scientific community. We investigated the attitudes of editors of core clinical journals towards SRs and their value for publication.


          We identified the 118 journals labelled as “core clinical journals” by the National Library of Medicine, USA in April 2009. The journals’ editors were surveyed by email in 2009 and asked whether they considered SRs as original research projects; whether they published SRs; and for which section of the journal they would consider a SR manuscript.


          The editors of 65 journals (55%) responded. Most respondents considered SRs to be original research (71%) and almost all journals (93%) published SRs. Several editors regarded the use of Cochrane methodology or a meta-analysis as quality criteria; for some respondents these criteria were premises for the consideration of SRs as original research. Journals placed SRs in various sections such as “Review” or “Feature article”. Characterization of non-responding journals showed that about two thirds do publish systematic reviews.


          Currently, the editors of most core clinical journals consider SRs original research. Our findings are limited by a non-responder rate of 45%. Individual comments suggest that this is a grey area and attitudes differ widely. A debate about the definition of ‘original research’ in the context of SRs is warranted.

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          Most cited references 16

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          Cumulative meta-analysis of therapeutic trials for myocardial infarction.

          The large volume of published randomized, controlled trials has led to a need for meta-analyses to track therapeutic advances. Performing a new meta-analysis whenever the results of a new trial of a particular therapy are published permits the study of trends in efficacy and makes it possible to determine when a new treatment appears to be significantly effective or deleterious. We describe the use of such a procedure, cumulative meta-analysis, to assess therapeutic trials among patients with myocardial infarction. We performed cumulative meta-analyses of clinical trials that evaluated 15 treatments and preventive measures for acute myocardial infarction. An example of this method is its application to the use of intravenous streptokinase as thrombolytic therapy for acute infarction. Thirty-three trials evaluating this therapy were performed between 1959 and 1988. We found that a consistent, statistically significant reduction in total mortality (odds ratios, 0.74; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.59 to 0.92) was achieved in 1973, after only eight trials involving 2432 patients had been completed. The results of the 25 subsequent trials, which enrolled an additional 34,542 patients through 1988, had little or no effect on the odds ratio establishing efficacy, but simply narrowed the 95 percent confidence interval. In particular, two very large trials, the Gruppo Italiano per lo Studio della Streptochinasi nell'Infarto Miocardico trial in 1986 (11,712 patients) and the Second International Study of Infarct Survival trial in 1988 (17,187 patients) did not modify the already established evidence of efficacy. We used a similar approach to study the accumulating evidence of efficacy (or lack of efficacy) of 14 other therapies and preventive measures for myocardial infarction. Cumulative meta-analysis of therapeutic trials facilitates the determination of clinical efficacy and harm and may be helpful in tracking trials, planning future trials, and making clinical recommendations for therapy.
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            Systematic reviews of evaluations of prognostic variables.

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              A comparison of results of meta-analyses of randomized control trials and recommendations of clinical experts. Treatments for myocardial infarction.

              To examine the temporal relationship between accumulating data from randomized control trials of treatments for myocardial infarction and the recommendations of clinical experts writing review articles and textbook chapters. (1) MEDLINE search from 1966 to present; search terms used were myocardial infarction, clinical trials, multicenter studies, double-blind method, meta-analysis, and the text word "random:"; (2) references from pertinent articles and books; and (3) all editions of English-language general medical texts and manuals and review articles on treatment of myocardial infarction. Randomized control trials of therapies for reducing the risk of total mortality in myocardial infarction (acute and secondary prevention). Review articles and textbook chapters dealing with the general clinical management of patients with myocardial infarction. Two authors read the material and recorded the results; disagreements were resolved by conference. We used the technique of cumulative meta-analysis (performing a new meta-analysis when the results of a new clinical trial are published) and compared the results with the recommendations of the experts for various treatments for myocardial infarction. Discrepancies were detected between the meta-analytic patterns of effectiveness in the randomized trials and the recommendations of reviewers. Review articles often failed to mention important advances or exhibited delays in recommending effective preventive measures. In some cases, treatments that have no effect on mortality or are potentially harmful continued to be recommended by several clinical experts. Finding and analyzing all therapeutic trials in a given field has become such a difficult and specialized task that the clinical experts called on to summarize the evidence in a timely fashion need access to better databases and new statistical techniques to assist them in this important task.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                1 May 2012
                : 7
                : 5
                [1 ]German Cochrane Center, Institute of Medical Biometry and Medical Informatics, University Medical Center Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
                [2 ]Pediatric Hematology and Oncology, Center for Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, University Medical Center Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
                [3 ]Department of Surgery, University Medical Center Mannheim, University of Heidelberg, Mannheim, Germany
                [4 ]Cochrane Switzerland, IUMSP, University Hospital Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
                McGill University Health Centre, McGill University, Canada
                Author notes

                Conceived and designed the experiments: JJM FH GA EvE. Performed the experiments: JJM FH. Analyzed the data: JJM FH EvE. Wrote the paper: JJM FH GA EvE.

                Meerpohl et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
                Page count
                Pages: 5
                Research Article
                Clinical Research Design
                Survey Research
                Systematic Reviews
                Non-Clinical Medicine
                Evidence-Based Medicine
                Medical Journals
                Science Policy
                Research Assessment
                Publication Practices
                Research Integrity
                Publication Ethics



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