Wednesday, September 18, 2013

This Is A Really Worrying Article Regarding The Credibility Of Medical Research. Not Good At All.

This appeared during last week.

There's a whiff of realty agent about modern academia

12 September, 2013
There is something about the clinical research industry that — despite it giving the world the evidence on which it can base its medicine — generates a substantial amount of bloated, self-serving, pointless nonsense.
And that something has the whiff of the average real estate agent about it.
Each year it churns out in excess of 500,000 published papers ranging from those rarities that change medical practice for good to the mass of desultory studies that become fillers for the media, or the bin.
One small aspect of this publish-or-die world is the business of citations and authorship — the ways and means employed to tart up the work of some poorly paid, post-doctoral drone sweating over microscope slides and reams of statistical data.
Apparently there are three main forms of "citation and authorship manipulation" used in the industry, which is as status conscious as Paris Fashion Week.
The first is where you add the name of an "honorary author", who did bugger all for the study but it makes it look good.
The second — called "gratuitous citation" — is where you add an irrelevant reference to your study.
The last is "coercive citation" where editors of the journals themselves demand authors add an irrelevant reference. This coercion is done to boost the journal's citation rates and thereby the journal's all-important "impact factor".
More here:
This is the direct link to the Abstract- go to Page 5 of the .pdf file

Honorary Authorship and Coercive Citation in Medical Research

Allen Wilhite, Eric A. Fong
This project measures the extent of, incentives for, and reactions to citation and authorship manipulation in medical grant proposals and publication. We looked into 3 types of manipulation: honorary authorship (adding authors who do not contribute), gratuitous citation (adding citations that are not pertinent), and coercive citation (editors directing authors to add citations to articles from their journal with no indication the manuscript was lacking in attribution or missing content, and no direction to specific articles).
We studied these issues by e-mailing a survey to 37,500 medical researchers and nursing professors. We received 3,485 responses for a response rate of 9.3%. In addition to their knowledge of and personal experience with citation and authorship manipulation, we asked about their motives and opinions. We also gathered information on their academic rank, sex, publication success, and grant experience.
Of our respondents, 3,054 said they were aware of authorship manipulation. Honorary authorship was common: 1,101 respondents (31%) say they felt “obligated” to add an honorary author, even though 80% view the practice as inappropriate. Physicians reported that they most commonly added the directors of their laboratories, while nurses added authors who were “in a position of authority and could affect their career.” Similarly, 936 respondents said they have added honorary authors to grant proposals, and of those, 681 (72.7%) say they did so to increase their chances of being funded. Finally, 996 respondents said they are aware of coercive citation, and 258 reported that they have personally been directed by an editor to add citations to the editor’s journal even if the citations were not material to the research. Response bias is a serious limitation in these survey data, and one must be careful about generalizing, but the demographics of the respondents and our target population match up well.
Our study adds further evidence on the existence and extent of authorship and citation manipulation in medical research. We continue to suggest that blind review of grant proposals will reduce the incentive to add honorary authors to funding proposals.
College of Business Administration, University of Alabama in Huntsville, Huntsville, AL, USA,
Conflict of Interest Disclosures
None reported.
This project is partially supported by a summer research grant from the College of Business Administration, University of Alabama in Huntsville
----- End Abstract.
To me, knowing the level of pressure academics feel to ‘publish or perish’, this is a really worrying set of findings. How far is it from mucking about with authorship to mucking about with the accuracy of what is published. Not far I suspect.
I fear this article may disappear without trace,  suppressed by all those who do not want it to become clear just how  many bits of rubbish are being published.


Anonymous said...

It's not just medical research suffering from this credibility gap and dysfunction.

A close look at the recent research paper on the PCEHR also holds the stench of “gratuitous self-referential citations”, no doubt to boost the citation counts of its questionable self-serving authors.

Enrico Coiera said...

Interestingly, informatics is one of the disciplines that may help detect publication anomalies, especially if they point to problems with the clinical evidence base.

It's something we are actively looking at, for example creating and then analysing citation networks. In one recent paper we looked at the way industry affiliated authors may be able to shape evidence production about drugs:

Today it is straightforward to detect plagiarism in new papers, given powerful text processing systems widely available to journals (something unthinkable a few years ago). Our hope is that a new set of citation based tools will help detect some of the more significant anomalies in evidence production.
We may not be able to prevent gaming of the publication system for personal advancement, but we should be able to make sure that there is integrity in the evidence base. Trying, anyway!

Terry Hannan said...

I recommend to readers Eric Topol's "The Creative Destruction of Medicine" (in e-format)