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Publication bias begins at home
  1. Ellen J Weber
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ellen J Weber, Emergency Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143-0208, USA; ellen.weber{at}ucsf.edu

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A few times a year, I have the opportunity to speak to emergency medicine clinicians about how to get their research published. Somewhere during the session, I’ll usually ask how many people have done research, and presented it at a scientific meeting—and the majority of hands go up. I then will ask how many have had their research published; a few hands go up. I then ask—how many of you have research projects you’ve presented which you have never published. This time, as with the first question, most hands come up, everyone looks at each other, and an embarrassed chuckle is shared.

Prior to all our work being done on computers, failure to publish a completed research study was called the ‘file drawer phenomenon’. An individual performs a study, writes up the abstract, perhaps gets their department to send them to an academic meeting to present it, and FULL STOP. It ends there. The research was seen only by the meeting attendees, and maybe those who happen to read abstracts published in that society’s journal. And what if the abstract was not accepted for the meeting? Then only the research team, a perhaps a few abstract scorers, know that the work was done.

Studies in just about all specialties, including emergency medicine, confirm that only about half of all research submitted to an academic meeting is ever published.1 While some may just see this as a career opportunity missed, the failure is much greater than this. Doing research often requires some resource investment (even in unfunded studies), and risk to patients (even if it is just loss to privacy). Those ‘costs’ have now …

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