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Reviewers prefer positive findings

Journals may be less likely to publish equivocal studies

4:25pm, September 12, 2009

VANCOUVER, Canada — Peer reviewers for biomedical journals preferentially rate manuscripts with positive health outcomes as better, a new study reports.

The findings caused a buzz when presented September 11 at the International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication. If positive trials are preferentially published, explains Seth Leopold of the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, doctors will get a skewed impression of a therapy’s value: “Novel treatments will appear more effective than they actually are.”

To test whether journals give negative or equivocal findings short shrift—despite pledging not to—Leopold’s team asked more than 200 trained reviewers at two orthopedic journals to rate whether manuscripts were worthy of publication. The team included a bogus manuscript in two forms. Data in the first showed better prevention of infection by one of two antibiotic regimens. In the second version,
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