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      Attitudes of editors of core clinical journals about whether systematic reviews are original research: a mixed-methods study

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          In 2009, not all journal editors considered systematic reviews (SRs) to be original research studies, and not all PubMed Core Clinical Journals published SRs. The aim of this study was to conduct a new analysis about editors’ opinion regarding SRs as original research.


          We conducted a survey and qualitative interview study of journal editors.


          All editors listed as editor-in chief of 118 PubMed Core Clinical Journals.


          We contacted editors via email and asked them whether they considered SRs original research, whether they published SRs in the journal and, if yes, in which section. We searched PubMed for any SRs (or meta-analyses) published in the included journals in 2017; if we did not find any, we hand-searched these journals. Editors were invited to participate in a follow-up qualitative interview study.


          We received responses from 73 editors representing 72 (62%) journals. Fifty-two (80%) editors considered SRs original research, either for any type of SR (65%) or only for SRs with a meta-analysis (15%) and almost all (91%) of editors published SRs. Compared with the results of the 2009 study of Core Clinical Journals, a similar proportion of editors considered SRs to be original studies (71%), accepted SRs as original on certain condition such as presence of meta-analysis (14%) or published SRs (94%). Interviews with editors showed that they used various criteria to decide whether a SR is original research, including methodology, reproducibility, originality of idea and level of novelty.


          The majority of editors of core clinical journals consider that SRs are original research. Among editors, there was no uniform approach to defining what makes a SR, or any study, original. This indicates that the concepts of originality of SRs and research are evolving and that this would be a relevant topic for further discussion.

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          Most cited references 5

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          A Brief History of Research Synthesis

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            The rough guide to systematic reviews and meta-analyses

            The hierarchy of evidence based medicine postulates that systematic reviews of homogenous randomized trials represent one of the uppermost levels of clinical evidence. Indeed, the current overwhelming role of systematic reviews, meta-analyses and meta-regression analyses in evidence based heath care calls for a thorough knowledge of the pros and cons of these study designs, even for the busy clinician. Despite this sore need, few succinct but thorough resources are available to guide users or would-be authors of systematic reviews. This article provides a rough guide to reading and, summarily, designing and conducting systematic reviews and meta-analyses
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              Scientific Value of Systematic Reviews: Survey of Editors of Core Clinical Journals

              Background 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. Methods 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. Results 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. Discussion 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.

                Author and article information

                BMJ Open
                BMJ Open
                BMJ Open
                BMJ Publishing Group (BMA House, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9JR )
                30 August 2019
                : 9
                : 8
                [1 ] departmentDepartment of Otorhinolaryngology , University Hospital Split , Split, Croatia
                [2 ] departmentInstitute for Evidence in Medicine , Medical Center - University of Freiburg, Medical Faculty, University of Freiburg , Freiburg, Germany
                [3 ] Cochrane Germany, Cochrane Germany Foundation , Freiburg, Germany
                [4 ] departmentCochrane Switzerland, Center for Primary Care and Public Health (Unisanté) , University of Lausanne , Lausanne, Switzerland
                [5 ] departmentSurgical Department , University Medical Centre Mannheim , Mannheim, Germany
                [6 ] departmentDepartment of Research in Biomedicine and Health , University of Split School of Medicine , Split, Croatia
                [7 ] departmentCenter for Evidence-Based Medicine and Health Care , Catholic University of Croatia , Zagreb, Croatia
                Author notes
                [Correspondence to ] Professor Livia Puljak; livia.puljak@ ; livia.puljak@
                © Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2019. Re-use permitted under CC BY-NC. No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ.

                This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:

                Research Methods
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                systematic reviews, editors, original research, opinions


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