ESC study reveals how and why research gets published

A study published online on 6 June in the European Heart Journal (EHJ) suggests that the main factors determining acceptance of an abstract at the European Society of Cardiology's (ESC) annual congress were the number of enrolled patients (more than 100) and prospective study design.

The study also found that academic institutions are more successful in publishing their work than nonaffiliated authors and that male senior authors appear to have better chances to publish their research -- which may indicate previously unrecognized bias against nonacademic institutions and female senior authors in journal study selection, the ESC said.

The peer-review process at the ESC annual congress works well and provides important quality control, the authors reported.

Lead author Dr. Stephan Winnik of University Hospital of Zurich, Switzerland, and colleagues culled 10,020 abstracts that were submitted to the 2006 World Congress of Cardiology in Barcelona (which combined the ESC and World Heart Federation congresses) and analyzed them according to whether they were accepted or rejected for presentation, and whether accepted studies were oral or poster presentations. Winnik's group then analyzed a representative random selection of 10% of all submitted abstracts according to a prespecified set of variables, with the study cohort followed for five years for full-text publication and subsequent citation.

Winnik's group found that:

  • The journal publication rate of accepted congress abstracts was 38%, whereas only 24% of rejected congress abstracts were subsequently published.
  • Factors predicting success at congress level were basic research, patient number of more than 100, prospective study design and randomized controlled study design.
  • Factors that predicted full text publication in a peer reviewed journal were basic research, institutional affiliation to a university, and gender of senior author, with female senior authorship being negatively associated with publication.
  • Factors that predicted frequency of citation were randomized controlled study design and prospective study design.

Abstracts submitted to the ESC congress are subject to a double-blinded peer-reviewed process (where authors don't know reviewers nor vice versa); while the majority of scientific and medical journals (around 80%) use single-blinded peer review, where the reviewers know the identity of the authors, but the authors do not know the identity of reviewers, Winnik's team wrote.

"Peer review has been and will be the sacred pillar of science, nonetheless our study suggests that introducing a double-blinded approach to journal review merits serious consideration," Winnik and colleagues wrote.

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