Author Affiliations: German Cochrane Center, Institute of Medical Biometry and Medical Informatics (Drs Meerpohl, Wolff, Antes, and von Elm), and Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology, Department of Pediatrics (Drs Meerpohl and Niemeyer), University Medical Center Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany; Kleijnen Systematic Reviews Ltd, York, England (Dr Wolff); and Swiss Paraplegic Research, Nottwil (Dr von Elm).
To study whether specific recommendations aiming to improve publication practice were included in author instructions of pediatric journals.
We identified 69 journals in the subject category “pediatrics” of the Journal Citation Report 2007 that publish original research articles. From the journals' online author instructions, we extracted information regarding endorsement of the Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts (URM) of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors and of 5 major reporting guidelines such as the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) statement, disclosure of conflicts of interest, and trial registration. Two investigators collected data independently.
The URM were mentioned in author instructions of 38 of the 69 journals (55%). Endorsement of reporting guidelines was low: CONSORT was referred to most frequently (14 journals; 20%); each of the other 4 reporting guidelines was mentioned in less than 10% of author instructions. Fifty-four journals (78%) explicitly required authors to disclose conflicts of interest, and 16 (23%) either recommended or required trial registration. The odds of endorsing the URM increased by 2.25 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.17-4.34) per additional impact factor point. Similarly, the odds increased by 2.32 (95% CI, 0.95-5.70) for requiring disclosure of conflicts of interest and by 3.66 (95% CI, 1.74-7.71) for requiring trial registration.
Many pediatric journals do not include recommendations that aim to improve publication practice in their author instructions. About one-fifth of journals do not require authors to disclose conflicts of interest on manuscript submission and more than three-quarters do not require/recommend trial registration.
There is accumulating evidence of publication bias and selective reporting of study results1 and continued concerns regarding undisclosed conflicts of interest of authors2 and cases of scientific misconduct.3 Nonreporting of study results has been identified in several fields of medical research including pediatrics.4 Different recommendations have been proposed to bring about change in the reporting and publication practice.
First, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors established the Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals (URM).5 This document covers issues such as ethical conduct and reporting of biomedical research, preparation and publishing of manuscripts, and editorial policies. To date, it has been endorsed by more than 700 journals worldwide.6 Second, specific reporting guidelines such as the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) statement aim at helping authors improve the completeness and accuracy of publications of clinical trials.7 Their bottom-line message is that all relevant information about a study should be made available so that readers can assess its validity. Third, authors but also journal editors and reviewers potentially have financial ties or personal interests in conflict with an article getting published or not.8,9 For instance, authors of articles favoring the use of calcium-channel blockers were reported to be more likely to have financial relationships with the drugs' manufacturers than those with a neutral or critical point of view.10 The journals' policies range from the requirement of full disclosure of conflicts of interest (eg, on the article's title page) to absence of any requirement. Finally, the problem of publication bias has been widely recognized and described in detail over the last 15 years.1 Registration of all clinical trials prior to patient enrollment has been advocated as an important first step to tackle it.11- 13 Several international and national registries such as ClinicalTrials.gov (www.clinicaltrials.gov) or the German Clinical Trials Register (www.germanctr.de) have been established and can be used free of charge to register or search ongoing and completed trials. A meta-register called the International Clinical Trials Registry Platform incorporating data of all accredited trial registries is being set up under the auspices of the World Health Organization (www.who.int/ictrp/en/).14
The current editorial practice in pediatrics has received only little attention until now. We wondered to what extent pediatric journals formally endorse existing recommendations that aim to improve publication practice. We set out to study the coverage of 4 aspects: whether journals (1) recommend use of the URM; (2) recommend major reporting guidelines; (3) have editorial policies on conflicts of interest; or (4) require trial registration.
We accessed the Journal Citation Report 2007 (Science Edition)15 on August 5, 2008, through the Institute for Scientific Information Web of Knowledge Web site and identified all journals listed in the subject category “pediatrics.” We excluded journals that do not publish original research articles because several of the reporting guidelines of interest only apply to original research. From the journals' Web sites, we downloaded the author instructions available in August 2008 and determined the geographical location of the editorial office. Two of us (J.J.M. and R.F.W.) read each document and used relevant key words in electronic full-text searches to identify information on the following aspects:
Endorsement of the URM.5
Editorial policies for disclosure of conflicts of interest.
Requirement of trial registration.
Endorsement of the following 5 reporting guidelines and related explanatory articles: CONSORT16,17 and extensions; Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE)18,19; Standards for Reporting of Diagnostic Accuracy (STARD)20,21; Meta-analysis of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (MOOSE)22; and Quality of Reporting of Meta-analyses (QUOROM).23 The PRISMA statement (a revised version of the QUOROM statement) was published in July 2009.24
For each item, we distinguished whether it was “required” (ie, a submitted manuscript would not be accepted if the item was not considered), “recommended” (ie, its use or fulfillment ought to be considered), or “not mentioned.” Two of us (J.J.M. and R.F.W.) extracted and categorized information independently. Discrepancies occurred in 22 of 3588 extracted items (0.6%). They were resolved by rechecking the respective Web sites and discussion among the investigators.
Geographical location of journal editorial offices was grouped into “North America” (United States and Canada), “United Kingdom,” “Europe without the United Kingdom,” and “other countries.” To determine any associations between the journals' impact factor scores25 (used as a continuous variable) and the presence or absence of journal recommendations, we calculated odds ratios (ORs) using logistic regression models. Statistical analyses were performed using Stata software (release 10.0; StataCorp, College Station, Texas).
We identified 78 journals in the subject category “pediatrics.” Eight journals were excluded because they do not publish original research articles. The journals Biology of the Neonate and Neonatology (and their instructions) were identical; we included only the first title. Our final study sample comprised 69 pediatric journals. Their impact factor ranged from 0.151 to 4.655. For 35 journals (51%), the editorial office was located in North America; for 14 (20%), in the United Kingdom; for 15 (22%), in other European countries; and for the remaining 5 (7%), in Australia or India. The editorial offices of all 6 journals with an impact factor of more than 3 were located in North America.
The URM were mentioned in the author instructions of 38 journals (55%). Of these, 18 referenced the URM Web site only; 6, a print version only; and 8, both the Web site and the print version (Table 1). Six did not include any reference to the URM. If author instructions mentioned URM, they mostly did so in the section on manuscript preparation and references. Often, it was not clear whether the entire document was meant or only a part. Impact factor was associated with recommendation of the URM (OR, 2.25; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.17-4.34 for each additional 1-point increase in impact factor).
The author instructions of 54 journals (78%) included a statement on disclosure of conflicts of interest (Table 1). Journals with a higher impact factor were more likely to have a formal policy on conflicts of interest (OR, 2.32 per impact factor point; 95% CI, 0.95-5.70). Presence of a conflict of interest policy showed little variation by geographic location (Table 1). When analyzing the author instructions, it was not always clear what authors were expected to do, eg, whether their potential conflicts of interest should only be disclosed in the covering letter to the editor or should be published as part of the article.
Trial registration was mentioned by 16 journals (23%); 11 required that a trial be registered as a condition of publication and 5 simply recommended registration. Seven journals suggested suitable trial registries (eg, www.clinicaltrials.gov, www.isrctn.org, www.controlled-trials.com). Recommendations for trial registration were least common in journals in Europe without the United Kingdom (7%) and most common among journals in the United Kingdom (43%), but the variation was not statistically significant (Table 1). Further, journals with a higher impact factor were more likely to mention trial registration (OR, 3.66 per impact factor point; 95% CI, 1.74-7.71).
The CONSORT statement was referenced by 14 journals, of which 3 required authors to follow this reporting guideline (Table 2). Use of the CONSORT checklist and flowchart was recommended by 8 and 6 journals, respectively. Some journals gave no Web or printed citation for CONSORT material. Other reporting guidelines, such as STROBE for observational studies, MOOSE for meta-analyses of observational studies, QUOROM for meta-analyses of trials, and STARD for diagnostic test accuracy studies, were mentioned only rarely (Table 2). None of the journals provided a reference to the detailed explanatory articles accompanying the CONSORT, STARD, or STROBE statements.
We analyzed the author instructions of pediatric journals for recommendations aiming to improve publication practice. The endorsement of several reporting guidelines and other recommendations was low. However, journals with a higher impact factor were more likely to have adopted some recommendations (eg, the URM).
Recently, the content of author instructions of medical journals with high impact factors was analyzed by Hopewell et al.26 The URM and the CONSORT statement were endorsed by 42% and 38% of 165 journals, respectively. We found the proportion of pediatric journals referring to the URM to be larger (55%), while the proportion of journals endorsing the CONSORT statement (23%) was lower.26 Schriger et al27 compared the methodological and statistical content of the author instructions of high-profile journals in 33 clinical categories; most of these instructions gave no advice about statistical methods (61%) or publication guidelines such as URM (59%) or CONSORT (78%). Matarese28 compared the quality of author instructions and editorial leadership of Italian and British journals and reported that Italian journals scored worse (eg, none of the Italian journals recommended trial registration).
The importance of good publication practice, including registration of clinical trials, in children has been recognized and efforts taken to translate it into editorial practice.29- 31 However, few pediatric journals recommended trial registration to their authors despite the ongoing discussion about this topic and the benefit of supplementary trial information made available in registries.11,32,33 Further, most pediatric journals ask authors to disclose any conflicts of interest. But a substantial number of journals still neither have a published policy on conflicts of interest nor require authors to disclose any. The journals' policies vary greatly: some require authors to mention any potential conflicts of interest in the submission letter without conveying this information to readers while others publish it as part of the article. Only a few pediatric journals provided information on potential conflicts of interest of their editors or reviewers, which is consistent with data from gastroenterology journals.9 However, we did not search the author instructions and Web sites of the journals specifically for this aspect. Given the crucial role of reviewers and editors in the dissemination of research evidence, journals may consider disclosure of potential conflicts of interest of these additional groups involved in the publication process.
Deficiencies in reports from clinical pediatric research have been found in various pediatric subspecialties including pediatric urology, pediatric orthopedics, and drug trials.34- 37 Generic reporting guidelines have been developed by groups of scientists, methodologists, and journal editors with the aim to improve the quality of research reports. There is now first evidence of a positive impact of such guidelines on reporting quality.7,38 To date, only a few pediatric journals endorse major reporting guidelines. Possible reasons are that, first, for a particular journal, a specific recommendation may not be applicable (eg, QUOROM for a journal not publishing systematic reviews of randomized controlled trials). However, if a journal publishes original clinical research, at least part of the included reporting guidelines are relevant. Second, reporting guidelines may be perceived as an attempt to standardize research reporting. Consequently, journals may choose to abstain from requiring their authors to follow them. However, rather than producing boilerplate manuscripts, many authors would likely use these recommendations in a sensible way to ensure the completeness and accuracy of their manuscripts before submission.
There are some limitations to our study. Not all pediatric journals are indexed in the Journal Citation Report, and consequently, our sample may not be representative of all pediatric publications. Next, we took the impact factor as an indicator of the profile of pediatric journals, bearing in mind its multiple weaknesses.25,39,40 Finally, we did not survey journal editors on whether and how they actually implement and monitor their policies or whether they have any implicit rules or policies that are not reflected by author instructions.
We found that current international recommendations aiming to improve publication practice have not yet been implemented widely in pediatric journals. Adherence to the URM and to reporting guidelines such as CONSORT has a potential to improve the completeness and clarity of biomedical publications. Further, the registration of trials as a prerequisite for publication of ensuing reports and the disclosure of conflicts of interests represent solutions to tackle the problem of publication bias and to enhance transparency.
Correspondence: Joerg J. Meerpohl, MD, German Cochrane Center, Institute of Medical Biometry and Medical Informatics, University Medical Center Freiburg, Stefan-Meier-Strasse 26, 79104 Freiburg, Germany (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Accepted for Publication: October 10, 2009.
Author Contributions:Study concept and design: Meerpohl, Wolff, Niemeyer, and von Elm. Acquisition of data: Meerpohl and Wolff. Analysis and interpretation of data: Meerpohl, Wolff, Antes, and von Elm. Drafting of the manuscript: Meerpohl. Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Meerpohl, Wolff, Niemeyer, Antes, and von Elm. Statistical analysis: Meerpohl, Wolff, and von Elm. Administrative, technical, and material support: Antes. Study supervision: Antes and von Elm.
Financial Disclosure: None reported.
Additional Information: Dr von Elm is one of the authors of the STROBE statement and academic editor of PLoS ONE. Dr Niemeyer is academic editor of Pediatric Blood and Cancer.
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