Research Article

Call for Transparency in Top Biomedical Journals’ Publication Practices: New England Journal of Medicine’s 2002–2017 Publication Patterns


Abstract Importance: High-impact journals (e.g., New England Journal of Medicine [NEJM]) transform clinical practice; these publications have been commonly used to quantify faculty performance in academic medical centers’ promotion and tenure decisions. Objectives: To support scientific transparency, the “unwritten” NEJM publication priorities and trends were documented. Design/Setting: From 2002 to 2017, PubMed extracts for all original NEJM research articles with a structured abstract (n = 2,419) were analyzed. For a sampling of articles, supplementary information was obtained from publicly available resources. Participants/Exposure: The NEJM author and research project characteristics were compared for the first authors with multiple first author publications (MP) vs. those with a single publication (SP). Main Outcome(s) and Measure(s): Publication-specific characteristics included National Library of Medicine medical subject headings disease category, clinical trial design, grant funding, coauthor count, collaborating author count, and other study-specific details (e.g., directionality of overall findings). First author-specific characteristics included gender, advanced degrees held, self-designated major clinical specialty, institutional location, and academic rank. Results: There were 2,065 first authors identified, of which 88% (n = 1,816) were SP first authors; these 1,816 SP first authors represented 75% of publications. Compared to SP first authors, MP first authors more often published clinical trials (96% vs. 80%; P < 0.001), had more collaborators (mean = 195 vs. 100; P = 0.006) since 2008, and were more frequently grant-funded (54% vs. 42%; P < 0.001). For a sampling of abstracts, MP vs. SP publications reported positive findings less often (73% vs. 96%, P = 0.036); MP […]

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